Thursday, November 01, 2012

please follow me to my new home

This blog is no longer active. "don't eat alone" has moved to its new home: Please find me there. You can still subscribe by RSS feed or by email by following the links in the left hand sidebar.


Monday, October 29, 2012

teach us to measure our days . . .

REMINDER: The days will soon be accomplished that this blog will move to Please change your bookmarks, or follow the link and subscribe on the other site.

This past Sunday, our church finished a month long celebration of our 125th anniversary. One Sunday we returned to the little wooden church out in the woods where our congregation began; two Sundays ago, we spent the afternoon listening to Jeremy, our amazing accompanist, transport us with his words and music. And it was on that same Sunday as we sat in worship and Ginger “went off book” following the Spirit with prophetic words of challenge for us that I began thinking about how we could best measure our time, both past and future, as a congregation.

You’re probably way ahead of me. Before I had even begun to write down what was passing through my head, it already had a soundtrack: “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes . . .” and I wrote, “How do you measure the life of a church?” Then I listed:

  • in bricks
  • in coffee hours
  • in committee meetings
  • in spagetti dinners
  • in mission trips
  • in sermons
  • in hymns
  • in Christmas pageants
  • in workdays
  • in pastors
  • in conflicts
  • in capital campaigns
  • in budgets
  • in baptisms
  • in Communions
We say a great deal about who we are by how we mark our time. And by how we spend it. Life in the Brasher-Cunningham house is hectic right now and I never quite get to the bottom of the list. (So different from other times in my life!) The other night, Ginger asked if I had done something that had she had asked about before and I answered, “I haven’t had time.” She responded with a correction we offer each other as a gentle reminder of reality: “You haven’t made time.” And I corrected myself.

We both work to be diligent about remembering that “I don’t have time” is, for the most part, a euphemism for “that is not important to me” -- or at least not as important. How I mark my time and spend my time shows me what matters. Coming to terms with what really matters based on the way I spend my time is not always a pleasant realization. The same is true for congregations. When we look at how we actually mark our days and spend our time, what matters most?

How do we measure a year in our lives together?

You know, when it gets right down to it, the folks from RENT answer well: how about love -- seasons of love. So may it be.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

ch-ch-ch-changes . . .

So here's the deal: I am days away from giving this blog a new home. (You can actually see the home-building in progress at Blogger has been very good to me, but Wordpress gives me a few more options.

I will mirror posts on both blogs for the next week or two, and then this site will remain but will become an archive.

If you subscribe by email, you will find a link on the new page to continue getting the posts.

If you like to get the posts by RSS feed, there's a link for you as well.

Either way, I hope you will follow me across platforms and into the next chapters of this adventure.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

good work

this morning while the sun was waking
and the air was waiting to be warmed
we walked as though we had no other
purpose but to walk together

as though nothing else was as important
as passing under the changing leaves
and letting the schnauzers sniff
most everything along our way

then we circled back to meet the demands
of our day the stuff of schedules and
promises important and immediate
and both came home tired

however loud the daily drums beat
however long the list of all that must be done
let me not forget -- or perhaps always remember
walking with you is the best of my time


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

stories and supper

A friend of mine had this little poster on her Facebook page this morning. It showed up on the heels of a conversation at work last night about the nature of atoms and how much space there is in them. (I didn’t understand everything, but I did listen.) One of my colleagues said, “Atoms are made of mostly nothing.”

Not so with stories.

Over the past two Saturdays, I’ve had the privilege to gather with groups of people in two different area churches to talk about my book. The first was a potluck where we invited people to bring a dish that had a story with it. As we ate, we told the stories: pizza that carried memories of being an AFS exchange student; applesauce flavored with other fruit, as grandma used to do; green tomato relish, from another grandmother; Waldorf salad from childhood; Christmas tamales; Key Lime Pie and memories of the Woolworth lunch counter; mom’s sausage rolls; mom’s biscuits; mom’s bean salad; Nebraskan corn casserole; German muesli; and Italian mushrooms and tomatoes.

We shared the stories with tears and laughter, digesting the love and tenacity with which each of us held those memories. And the humor. One told of sitting in a doctor’s office one day and seeing a magazine with the word “posthumous” on it -- a new word to her: after death. She first confused the word with hummus, so she brought hummus to our meal, saying it reminded her of the way we bring food to one another after a funeral. Post hummus.

The second gathering was over tea, with some snacks, and in the course of our conversation I asked those gathered to talk about what meal time was like growing up, which also led us to talk about what meal times are like now -- what we have held on to and what we have worked to change. Before long, we were talking about much more than food: family dynamics, dreams found and lost, the unexpected turns of life. Once again, we digested the gifts offered to one another and left stronger and feeling more loved, even in the midst of much that remained unsettled and unsure.

Each time I have a chance to hear people tell their stories, I am more convinced that when Jesus said, “As often as you do this . . .” he wasn’t talking about the ritual of Communion as much as he was every time we break bread, together or alone. When we stop to nourish our bodies we must also remember we are nourishing our souls, lest we fail to do so. Every meal from a ham sandwich to a high holy day is a chance to remember, to digest -- again -- the truth that we are wonderfully and uniquely created in the image of God and worthy to be loved.

Let’s eat.


Monday, October 08, 2012

sometimes late at night

I find myself wishing
there were no passive voice
(an odd wish, I know)

but I don’t care much
for a world where
things were said

mistakes were made
damage was done
lives were lost

as though the mistakes
made themselves
or the violence

happens without
death without killers

too many years
teaching English
to sleep well


Sunday, October 07, 2012

this is the sound of one voice

There was much about today's worship that moved me. We observed World Communion Sunday and our meal was accompanied by some amazing music, which is what I want to share tonight. Three women at church covered a song by the Wailin' Jennys called "One Voice." I had not heard it before. It is as fine a Communion hymn as any I know. So tonight, I share their words and music -- with gratitude.

One Voice

This is the sound of one voice
One spirit, one voice
The sound of one who makes a choice
This is the sound of one voice

This is the sound of voices two
The sound of me singing with you
Helping each other to make it through
This is the sound of voices two

This is the sound of voices three
Singing together in harmony
Surrendering to the mystery
This is the sound of voices three

This is the sound of all of us
Singing with love and the will to trust
Leave the rest behind it will turn to dust
This is the sound of all of us

This is the sound of one voice
One people, one voice
A song for every one of us
This is the sound of one voice
This is the sound of one voice

I will write more tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

changing the channel

Tonight the Red Sox will play the last game of a disappointing season that ended long ago, as far as any aspirations for the post season were concerned. The only thing that matters about tonight is that it would be nice to beat the Yankees on the way out. As far as the Yanks go, the game matters only as far as bragging rights go; win or lose, they are going to the playoffs. That said, I’m going to watch the game tonight instead of the presidential debate because the game has more significance. The debate is the political equivalent of professional wrestling: all posture and no substance.

Ever since Richard Nixon’s loss to John Kennedy was attributed to his poor showing in their televised debate, candidates on both sides have worked to master the medium, to make sure they come off in the best light, and to learn how to spar and wait for the right moment to deliver a “zinger.” So they talk about how well the other one debates in order to lower expectations, the pour over old tapes to look for strengths and weaknesses, and they sequester themselves to practice, practice, practice so we can all gather around our televisions like a mob at a cock fight to cheer for our favorite and shout down the other. When the debate is over, all that will be added to the equation is  fodder for the 24 news cycle, who are the ones who fomented the fervor in the first place.

So watch baseball or Law and Order reruns or something that matters. Skip the debates. Better yet, get together with a group of people you trust and who don’t all agree with you and have a discussion about what needs to happen in our country that avoids the catch phrases and cliches that fill our airwaves. Talk about health care without using the word “Obamacare.” Talk about class issues in our country without referring to the “Forty-seven percent.” Don’t run to opposite poles and scream at each other. Don’t settle for political theater and honest discourse. Get together, eat together, and then listen more than you talk.

And while you’re at it, pull for the Sox.


Monday, October 01, 2012

the week of luxurious leftovers

In the days when I was actively engaged as a songwriter, my friend Billy and I maintained the practice of sending each other three titles and four lines of verse every night. Each of the titles had to be able to be explained (“This song would be about . . .) and the lines needed to be attached to one of them. We were writing long distance in the days before email and texting, so we faxed our work back and forth, often in the early hours of the morning. I still have the notebooks filled with great titles whose ideas were never fully birthed.

My practice for a number of years has been to carry a Moleskin notebook in my back pocket, which is the receptacle for ideas, possibilities, sermon notes, grocery lists, reminders, addresses, and just about anything else that needs to be written down -- including the occasional title, even though I haven’t written a song in a long, long time. Looking back through my notes on Italy, I found a title suggested by my friend Lori, who was one of the participants in our Days in the Villa. One morning after breakfast, she said, “You need to write one post called ‘The Week of Luxurious Leftovers.’”

Here it is.

A professional kitchen lives and dies on its food costs. One of the ways that you control how much you spend is by how well you use what you buy. When I managed the kitchen at Duke, we never had a big budget, so one of the things I learned how to do well was use ingredients in more than one way. In my kitchen at home, I have always enjoyed figuring out what to do with what’s left over, which is one of the reasons I love making soups. The best ones have no recipe, you just use what you have. One night at the villa, I made polenta that I baked and cut into squares and served with Chicken Limone and grilled vegetables (expertly grilled by Lori’s husband, Terry). At the end of the meal, we had polenta and veggies left over. For breakfast the next morning, I pan-fried the polenta, made a hash out of the vegetables by adding a little prosciutto, and poached some eggs to top it all off: uova della villa. Another night we took the left over risotto, formed it into cakes, dipped it in egg wash and bread crumbs, and pan-fried them to go with a roasted pork tenderloin. One of the most enjoyable parts of the week was figuring out what to do with what was left from before.

When I open the fridge to see what I have to work with, whatever I’m in, I work to think of what might be rather than what was. Sure, there are times when we reheat a dish as it was and eat it a second time, but I’m talking about finding the containers with leftovers that are not enough on their own or who have lost their companions. I try to think about combinations that were not there before, about ways the colors and textures and tastes of the foods can compliment each other and become something new, even though nothing is. So leftover polenta becomes a variation on eggs Benedict, several meals of leftover vegetables become an improvised minestrone, or pita bread becomes crust for a pizza topped with cheese and apples.

Life is about leftovers more often than it is about new things. Few of us ever step where no one has gone before, think things no one has thought, do what no one has ever done and (not but) we take the pieces of what has been handed down and used before and make something new with our lives. Both things are true. No one has been more before, just as no one has ever been you. The recipes of our lives, if you will, are new offerings when we choose to look for what might be rather than continuing to use the menus handed down. Our plates fill up with grief and grace, with hope and heartache, with joy and pain, disappointment, surprise, anger, compassion, longing and love. What we make of the leftovers is up to us.

The stuff I find in the fridge is easier to manipulate that the stuff that fills up life, certainly, yet making the most of the leftovers in either arena requires of me to take my time, to move deliberately, and -- most of all -- to make sure I have help. That’s right: don’t cook alone. Our week of leftovers became luxurious because we had time to make it so. The best dishes take time: healing, befriending, dreaming, loving.

Now, why don’t we can see what we can make of what we have left?


Thursday, September 27, 2012

better reception

Last night, the Red Sox lost their last home game of the season. We have six away games left -- three with the Orioles and then three with the Yankees -- and then our season will be over. We will finish with a losing record for the first time in fifteen years. If Toronto continues to oblige, we may be able to avoid finishing last.

The lectionary passage from last Sunday seems well chosen for the end of the baseball season:

And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
In seasons such as this, I wish it worked that way in baseball. Between the Red Sox descent, the rise of ridiculous rhetoric in the election cycle, and my continued thoughts about our time in Tuscany, the passage has hung with me. What I quoted here was only a segment of the passage (Mark (:30-37) that began with Jesus making a prediction about his death. Mark’s economic prose doesn’t make it clear if the discussion of the pecking order grew out of that prediction, or if the struggle over superiority had kept them from hearing anything he had said to that point. Either way, they missed said point because they were so taken with themselves. Jesus moves them to the back of the metaphorical bus and then picks up a kid (I suppose one was nearby) and said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me,” as though that cleared everything up.

You have to wonder what the kid thought about it all.

Though his admonition to servanthood is what is most often pulled from this passage, I’m intrigued by the verb in the last sentence: receive. Whoever receives a child in my name, receives me. It’s not about importance; it’s about hospitality. Who wants to come to dinner where the hosts begins by saying, “I brought you all here tonight to remind you I matter most.” But to be received -- welcomed, included, brought in. Now we’re on to something.

And notice the verb that doesn’t show up in the sentence: deserve.

Some years ago, my friend Billy and I wrote a song called “The Last in Line.” The first verse said,
the last in line doesn’t ever make the team
doesn’t get a second chance
doesn’t find a field of dreams
the last in line doesn’t get a special prize
doesn’t ever hear his name
you don’t look him in the eyes
nobody wants to be the last in line
In our election climate, every candidate at every level, it seems, is required to pay homage to the fact that we are the greatest country in the history of the world. We’re Number One. U-S-A. U-S-A. I wonder who we are trying to convince, or why we feel compelled to make the point every chance we get? We are much like the disciples on the road with Jesus: too caught up in ourselves to hear the rest of the conversation.

The central part of the town of Lucca, where we were in Tuscany, is a medieval city still surrounded by the old city walls. As we drove one day, I saw ruins of an old aqueduct. The people of Italy live out their lives on top of and among the ruins of greatness and seem quite content to be an also-ran, if you will. Yes, they have their problems. But they didn’t seem to be keeping score. I was there for ten days, so I won’t claim to have a handle on the Italian cultural psyche. Maybe I’d do better to say I understood life differently among the ruins. No one stays Number One forever. Five falls ago, the Red Sox were World Series champions. And so it goes . . . .

Ther sports metaphor falls short, however, when Jesus starts talking about receiving the child (though I suppose I could switch to football . . .) because hospitality is not about what anyone deserves or has accomplished. Jesus brought the little one into the circle and said, “Receive her and you’ll see God with new eyes.” And we will see ourselves differently, too.We spend most of our American conversation around who deserves what or who is getting what they don’t deserve, or why I deserve to keep what’s mine and perhaps take some of what’s yours since you don’t deserve it as much. We get upset when other countries seem weary of our self-promotion. Perhaps we would do well to notice we are almost the only ones who feel compelled to keep proving we’re Number One. Or maybe simply come to terms with the truth that it just doesn’t matter.

What matters is how we welcomed one another, fed one another, included one another. Loved. One. Another. In her sermon Sunday, Ginger reminded us that such an approach to life and faith gets “messy and smelly.” Yes. When we move beyond the dichotomy of winner and losers and begin to receive one another, life gets smelly and messy and requires us to think about most every encounter, rather than lean on categories and cliches.

As Mark recounted beyond the lectionary passage, the disciples responded with a “yes, but,” asking about the other guy in town who was casting out demons. Jesus told them to receive him as well. Start with what brings us together. Start there. Now stay and receive whomever we can find. Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily as “We’re Number One,” which is fine.

We’re not.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

wrapping it up . . .

The Kickstarter campaign to raise money for my book tour ends tonight at 9:20 Eastern time. Please pass the link along in these final hours. Thanks for all the support and encouragement.

My book, Keeping the Feast: Metaphors for the Meal, will be released on October 1.


pass this along . . .


    Goodreads Book Giveaway


        Keeping the Feast by Milton Brasher-Cunningham



          Keeping the Feast


          by Milton Brasher-Cunningham


            Giveaway ends October 01, 2012.

            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.




      Enter to win

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

sky blue

There is not a cloud in the sky on this fall morning in Durham. Here's where the sky took me.

sky blue
oh, they tell me of a home far beyond the skies . . .
oh, they tell me of an unclouded day

on this unclouded day the sky
is the color of heartache
same as the azure canopy
that sheltered us
that september morning
yes -- that one

though today may prove to be
one of unremarkable
catastrophe the sky
is unrelenting
in its invitation to see
that home is

not something beyond the blue
but here in this unclouded
day in this mix of joy and pain
 in shades of blue
that color our hearts
tell me of that home

Saturday, September 22, 2012

il cuoco della villa

Several years ago, NPR ran a story in which they asked several award winning photographers to describe the best photograph they never took: a moment when they saw the picture and didn’t raise the camera. Then they asked them to tell why they chose to simply hold the image in their respective memories. Most all of them, in one form or another, spoke of coming face to face with the sacredness of the moment called them to be participant rather than observer, which meant they had to put their cameras down and just be.

The Wednesday after Labor Day, Ginger and I joined friends for ten days in Italy. Just to type the sentence feels opulent. Still. We spent two days in Florence as preamble to our true purpose: a week together in a villa in Tuscany. No, we weren’t in a movie. For a week, this was our lives. Our group numbered sixteen in all. The villa was on the outskirts of the town of Lucca, which dates back a millennium. Both town and villa ere surrounded by farms and vineyards and olive groves. Walking the grounds around our temporary home I picked pears and figs. At night we gathered around a large table just outside the kitchen covered by an arbor. And it was good.

I went not only as one of the group but also to be il cuoco della villa -- the chef of the house. My invitation was to create our evening meals out under the stars and arbor, and  to help create a memory. I did my research into Tuscan cooking, brought a few ideas of my own, and learned some new things once we got to town. The menus included risotto with roasted chicken and grilled vegetables, chicken limone, spaghetti bolognese, and chingiale (wild boar) stew with polenta; for dessert we had apple pie with limoncello glaze, tiramisu, and risotto al cioccolato (that’s right -- chocolate risotto). Each afternoon, my designated sous chef, Terry, and anyone else who cared to join us gathered in the kitchen and we cooked and talked and laughed and shared a littler pre-prandial vino rosso. As the sun began to fall behind the trees, the others began to fill the circle of chairs next to the dining table for appetizers, and then somewhere around eight we moved to the table where we stayed long after the food was finished.

When we left to go to Italy, I had plans to blog everyday. Somewhere in the middle of the second afternoon of preparation I thought about those photographers and realized I would write about it someday, but not in real time. My job, if you will, for the week, was to share food with friends in Tuscany and remember everything I could. I was not there to write a book; I was there to cook and incarnate the very things I have written about. “As often as you do this,” Jesus said, “remember,” as he sat around a table with his friends. We have been back a week and those memories seem to just now be ripening into words I can share.

Part of the reticence in writing, I think, comes from the sheer extravagance of the trip. As soon as I write, “I spent a week in a villa in Tuscany,” I feel as though I’ve separated myself somehow. I’m old enough to feel as though Robin Leach should be bellowing it out. That feeling is mostly drowned out by gratitude. Alongside the thankfulness I’ve also returned with some disquietude. The pace of life in Tuscany -- even in the cities -- was kinder and more spacious. The people of Tuscany understand what the word enough means better than I do.

The housekeeper at the villa was a woman named Issa. She was in her sixties, I guess mostly because she said she had a forty-year old daughter. Her eyes sparkled with the same worn vibrancy of the Tuscan sunset and her hospitality was unflappable. She came by the house for a couple of hours each day and we had a chance to ask her some of our questions about life in Lucca and beyond. One day I asked her how to say, “Don’t eat alone.”

Non mangiare da solo,” she answered.

I wasn’t sure how to explain the blog or why the phrase mattered and I wondered, after seeing the lives lived around us, whether it was an admonition that carried any necessity at all in Tuscan life, which seemed aimed at tables filled with people who were committed to taking time to be together. Almost seven years into this blog and on the eve of a book about what it means to be at the table together, I understand it in ways I have not before.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

shameless commerce division

On October 1, Keeping the Feast: Metaphors for the Meal will be in bookstores.

I can’t believe it. Life, for me right now, is a flurry of activity. Perhaps the biggest learning curve is understanding the fine art of self-promotion. I am proud of the book and I want to get it to as many people as possible and writing to anyone to say, “Won’t you please spend your time and energy talking about me?” is not an erasy thing to.

That said, I need your help and energy in these next few days.

I have one week left in my Kickstarter campaign to raise money to fund a book tour. We have reached our basic goal, which means the project will be funded, and I am hopeful we can raise another three or four thousand dollars to help the tour continue through the spring. Please share the link and the story with as many people as you can.

The first leg of the tour will fall somewhere between November 6-19 between Durham and Boston. Right now, we have possible events in the DC area, Philadelphia, New York City, and in and around Boston. After the first of the year, I will aim west moving through the South and on to Texas. I would  love to hear any suggestions you might have about bookstores, churches, or events. I will have a press kit available early next week that will be downloadable.

Between now and the first of October, please go into your local bookstore -- particularly the independent ones -- and ask if they will be stocking the book. Whether on not you order the book from Amazon, you can go to the book page and write a review. My publisher tells me this is a significant action. If you know someone in your town who reviews books for newspapers, magazines, or websites please let me know and I will send a copy to them.

Thanks for your patience and support. When I get to your town, let’s have dinner.