Tuesday, October 30, 2007

painting the town red sox

Here are the pictures of the Red Sox celebration in Boston today. I only had my camera phone, so the quality isn't great and I didn't get some shots, but here is our day in images (and a few words).

We rode in on the train, along with every high school kid skipping school . . .

our two favorite brands: Red Sox and Dunkin Donuts . . .

this woman, in her mid-sixties, did what she could to see the parade . . .

if you own the team, you get to ride in the front car . . .

some of our favorite pitchers . . .

they even let Gagne ride along . . .

Pedroia and Youuuuuuuuk . . .

Papelbon and the Dropkick Murphys . . .

Ginger and I celebrating our champions.


Monday, October 29, 2007

love that dirty water

Some time this summer, as it became apparent that the Red Sox had an amazing team, I said to Ginger, “Wouldn’t it be great if the Sox won the World Series as we were leaving New England.” Last night, as you may have heard, they obliged. For the second time in four years, our boys are the champions.

Jonathan Papelbon, our amazing closer, has become somewhat famous for his dancing after clinching the American League East and then winning the ALCS. Last night, he seemed humbled in his post game interview. He didn’t show the bravado and the Bull-Durham-we’ve-just-
got-to-take-it-one-day-at-a-time mentality that makes for most of what passes as interviews on ESPN. The weight of winning seemed to settle him down. He didn’t gloat or brag; he just said thank you.

Most of the teams I’ve cheered for in my life have been of the close-but-no-cigar variety. I am a graduate of Baylor University, better known of late as the whipping boy of the Big Twelve. My freshman year at Baylor, our football team won the Southwest Conference for the first time in fifty years. Ginger and I were here in New England in 2004 when the Sox reversed the Curse that had kept them from winning a championship for eighty-six years. Tonight, I turned on the TV to watch the news and a commercial said,

The last time the Red Sox won the World Series,
gas cost over two dollars a gallon,
George W. Bush was president,
and the Patriots were the best team in football.

We’ve waited a long time for this.
Thanks to the Red Sox for winning the Series again.
This is the first time in my life I’ve rooted for the best team in baseball. We weren’t the come from behind kids this year. We led our division all year, tied for the best record in baseball, and won the championship decidedly. Yes, we have the second biggest payroll and we got to see the kids we’ve raised in our farm system – Papelbon, Youkilis, Ellsbury, Pedroia, Lester – come into their own. One local commentator said, “We watched our veterans play with a kid’s enthusiasm and our kids play like veterans. In 2004, the victory was a relief; this year we get to relish it. What an amazing gift. We won the Series in 1903, 1912, 1915, 1918, 2004, and 2007. I don’t expect to win every year, or even every four years. Hey – we won this year.

Tomorrow Ginger and I are going into Boston with a couple of million of our closest friends for the “Rolling Rally” of celebration, in what will likely be our last trip into the city before we head to Carolina. I’m sure the loudspeakers will be blaring the song that plays at the end of every Sox victory at home and, for the last time, we will get to sing
I love that Dirty Water
Oh – Boston – you’re my home.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

pan handling

This has been a week. Sunday was our last day at the Marshfield church, Tuesday I gave my notice at the restaurant (effective Nov. 11), Wednesday and Thursday we were in Durham looking for a house (and found one to rent, for now), and then last night I left work early because the hay fever that’s been dogging me all week finally got the best of me (I’m feeling better today). Life is moving fast and furiously.

I did stay at work long enough to help finish the prep work for the dinner service. Chef had a couple of new things to add to my station and a special, which meant I had to do some reconfiguring of what went where so the station could work. The cold top can hold up to eighteen sixth pans; the four drawers up to sixth third pans each (or combinations of six and thirds). I should explain: the pans are named for the space they take up. Two sixth pans, for instance, take up the same space as one third pan. You get the idea. My point is the way things are laid out has to change to accommodate the menu and the night of the week. Friday and Saturday nights require back up pans of the things we use most, and we try to get as many of those in the drawer as possible so the cook doesn’t have to run to the walk-in while things are busy. I spent as much time, I think, trying to figure out what needed to stay in the cold station and what needed to go as I did prepping things and filling pans. As I stepped off the line so Sous could take over for service, I noticed she began rearranging things because she had a different idea of how to make it work.

While I was cutting and chopping, Ginger was home putting things into boxes that will travel to North Carolina so we can figure out how to set up our “line” there for the new menu that will be our lives in Durham. Many things will go, many things will be left behind or passed on to someone else, and we will have some new ingredients to add once we get there. All this shifting around is much easier to do in the kitchen than it is in real life.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007


“The jewelery box lid is broken.”
“I can fix it,” I told her, years ago.
I can fix it. I just haven’t done so.

The top of the box is a painting
of Boston Common on a snowy day
in another time, people walking
across the park at twilight.

The four pieces that framed it
lie on top of the dresser, waiting
to be remembered into wholeness.

I walk by every morning without
the glue or the intention to fix
what is broken. Now I have gone
so long that broken seems normal.

How did I become accustomed
to a life of unfinished and disrepair?
I can fix it; I just haven’t done so.


*This is a response to the Poetry Party at Abbey of the Arts.

Monday, October 22, 2007

thanks for everything

There’s an old Seinfeld episode (I guess they’re all old now) where George keeps trying to figure out what to do after he tells a joke in a meeting. As soon as people start laughing, all he can think about is he doesn’t know what to do next and he ends up wrecking the moment. So he decides to take a page from Jerry’s standup and leave as soon as he gets the laugh, whether the meeting is over or not. The next time the joke works, he gets up and says, “Thanks for everything. You’ve been great!” and leaves the room, even though things aren’t finished just because he doesn’t know what else to do and he wants to go out on top.

In terms of affirmation and affection, Ginger and I could not be leaving Marshfield with any larger sense of our being loved. People have been amazing. The service yesterday was packed full of meaning and emotion; it was really good and really hard at the same time. Ginger baptized for the last time with the now almost seven-year old girl who was her first baptism standing beside her. We had ten new members join the church. And we said goodbye, even though there’s not an easy way to do that with people you love and there’s never a good time, if by good time we mean everything is wrapped up neatly.

This week, my task is to give my notice at the restaurant. Friday night, after Chef left, Sous was talking to me about how Chef has begun to move me around to different stations. She said, “He’s doing it because next year, when they open the new restaurant, he is going to put you and me in charge here to run this one.” I’m not sure I know how to describe the crash of emotions I felt in hearing the affirmation in a possibility that will not be birthed. I know, at least in part, what my future holds and it’s not here. I also don’t know how to be somewhere and not invest as though it’s something other than temporary, since the paradox of our lives is we live by eternal and temporal clocks at once everyday.

George wanted to leave them laughing because he didn’t want to feel uncomfortable; he left that emotion for those he left in the room. It makes for good situation comedy but lousy living. My part in our mutual grief is to carry my part of the weight. As difficult as it is to be the one who is packing up the plans in rented moving vans, I think it is harder, in some ways, to be the one who stays. I carved a place for myself at the restaurant: I have become the one who makes the corn sauce and slices the shallots and sees when we need to slow roast additional tomatoes. Just about the time they've gotten used to me doing those things, I’m going in to say I’m going to do them somewhere else. I know it’s my job and I get paid to do what I do, and I want more out of life and work than to walk in and say, “So long and thanks for the fish,” when it’s time to go.

The restaurant, like the church, will go on without me. Neither one will hang a sign on the door that says, “We can’t do this anymore because Milton left.” I’m not indispensable, and I’ve flavored the world I’ve lived in for these past seven years just as they have spiced up my existence. I’m aware that, like the widow in the lectionary parable yesterday, I'm repeating the same theme over and over in my posts: leaving is messy and meaningful.

When I was a youth minister, I took a glass of water one night at youth group and put my hand into it; then I pulled it out. “Here’s how life works,” I said. “As long as my hand is in the water, you can see its place. As soon as I pull it out, the water fills in. The only evidence it was ever there is my hand is wet.” That our lives will go on without the daily contact is true, but that’s not what I want to take away with me as I go. What matters is we got to spend any days together at all. Of all the churches and towns and restaurants in the world, I have been here for these days and I have been changed by those I have lived with. And now I go, soaked in love and encouragement, dripping with the hope of what lies ahead.

Thanks. For everything. You’ve been great.


Friday, October 19, 2007

the litany of farewell

Yesterday I had my final meeting with my spiritual director, Ken, who is also a dear friend and a lover of poetry. We shared poems as a part of our litany of farewell; I share some of them, now, with you.

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,

and I am not who I was,

though some principle of being

abides, from which I struggle

not to stray.

When I look behind,

as I am compelled to look

before I can gather strength

to proceed on my journey,

I see the milestones dwindling

toward the horizon

and the slow fires trailing

from the abandoned camp-sites,

over which scavenger angels

wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe

out of my true affections,

and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled

to its feast of losses?

In a rising wind

the manic dust of my friends,

those who fell along the way,

bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,

exulting somewhat,

with my will intact to go

wherever I need to go,

and every stone on the road

precious to me.

In my darkest night,

when the moon was covered

and I roamed through wreckage,

a nimbus-clouded voice

directed me:

"Live in the layers,

not on the litter."

Though I lack the art

to decipher it,

no doubt the next chapter

in my book of transformations

is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

Stanley Kunitz

Fishing in the Keep of Silence

There is a hush now while the hills rise up

and God is going to sleep. He trusts the ship

of Heaven to take over and proceed beautifully

as he lies dreaming in the lap of the world.

He knows the owls will guard the sweetness

of the soul in their massive keep of silence,

looking out with eyes open or closed over

the length of Tomales Bay that the herons

conform to, whitely broad in flight, white

and slim in standing. God, who thinks about

poetry all the time, breathes happily as He

repeats to Himself: There are fish in the net,
lots of fish this time in the net of the heart.

Linda Gregg

By a departing light,

We saw acuter, quite,

Than by a light that stays.

There’s something in the flight,

That clarifies the sight,

And decks the rays.

Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

here's to lights & virtues

I’ve had my share of days when I wondered why I was on the planet; Sunday was not one of them. The wonderful folks at our church here in Marshfield and several other friends gathered to remember what our years here together have meant and to wish Ginger and me well in what is to come as we head south to Durham in a few weeks. The evening was affirming, amazing, and crammed full of fun and meaning.

When we leave Coffee Hour this coming Sunday, we will leave the church for good. Ginger’s final service will include a baptism and the welcoming of ten new members into the congregation. The closing of this chapter of our lives together falls in the middle of the manuscript of a story far larger than ourselves.

The story Ginger told from the pulpit was one of gratitude: Jesus’ encounter with the one leper who came back to say thanks for his healing. She talked about how easy it is to be hard on the nine who didn’t return and cautioned us not to take the easy path so quickly. We don’t have any idea of what was going on in the hearts and minds of those who didn’t come back to Jesus. She recounted how one of our foster daughters, who lived with us for six months while her mom was in prison and she was in middle school, told us how much she loved us but she couldn’t see us anymore because we were a reminder of the most painful time in her life. Even healing hurts sometimes.

So does love. Leaving people you love is like trying to unmix brownie batter: the ingredients don’t separate easily. When I first started doing weddings, the image I had whenever I said, “What God has joined together let no one tear apart” was of two pieces of metal welded into one. Tearing them apart would leave both pieces damaged. The relationship between a pastor and a congregation is, by definition, not as permanent as a marriage and the attachments are deep and difficult to release. We have loved our days here in Marshfield almost as much as we love the people we have gotten to share them with. It is hard to say goodbye and that’s a good thing. The tragedy would be to leave and not hurt at all.

Jackson Browne has a song on his World in Motion record that fits here:

here’s to lights and virtues
here’s to truths yet to be known
knowledge to light the darkness
the search for things of your own

here’s to lights and virtues
here’s to reaching higher ground
a life of hope and purpose
here’s to strength yet to be found
honor -- though it goes unrecognized
and truth -- though liars abound

the pleasure of love and friendship
the courage to be alone
One of the passages of scripture I know I have quoted before and find to be one of the true touchstones of my life is John’s description of Jesus as he prepared to wash the disciples’ feet: “knowing he had come from God and was going to God . . .” We were breathed into existence to live our lives in a circle of grace and gratitude. I’m a fortunate person to have had a night when a room filled with people took the time to tell me they loved me and gave me the chance to tell them the same. The pleasure of love and friendship fuels the courage to move farther round the circle, and deeper into grace.


P. S. -- Speaking of church friends, there's a new recipe.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

message in a bottle

I am one who walks along the shore
looking for answers and sea glass.
If it were not for the cleansing tides,
the beach would be a well-worn path,

but twice a day the waves come
and wash away my searches and sins
and lay them at someone else’s feet,
or let them sink into the deep.

I imagine an armada of ambivalence,
anger, and angst floating and sinking,
like bottles tossed by castaways
wishing life would feel less lonely.

As the waves wipe away the first
of my footsteps, she starts a fire,
uncorks the wine, and waits
for me to find my way home.


*This is a response to the prompt at Writer's Island.

Monday, October 15, 2007

god in the dirt

I’m an NPR nerd.

Several years ago, when we were on a mission trip to Philadelphia, we were walking to see the Liberty Bell and passed the building that houses WHYY. “That’s where Terry Gross is,” I exclaimed. Then I laughed at myself.

Sometimes as I drive, I switch over to our local talk radio station just to see what is being said. It doesn’t take long for me to realize how accustomed I’ve become to the tone of conversation that happens on public radio because I feel accosted by the volume and venom of what I hear from the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Jay Severin who appear to relish in their rancorous rhetoric. And I’m not talking about content; I’m talking about delivery. I can’t listen for long because I’m so agitated by what I hear.

I understand the differences in opinion. I don’t understand why we have to berate and excoriate one another.

When I punched in on Saturday, the talk was about Al Gore’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. I managed to hang in for most of my ride to work because I was intrigued by the reticence to give any credence at all to the reality of global climate change, or (perhaps, better put) to make climate change a partisan issue. I know there are more ways to look at the causes and consequences of our presence on the planet that what can be seen in An Inconvenient Truth and that a fair amount of what passes for “the environmental movement” is fleeting fashion. I am not a global warming fundamentalist and I take our human impact on the planet too seriously to leave it to the posturing of our politicians and actors. So enough about them. I’ll talk for me.

I wrote a few weeks back about my discomfort with the old gospel hymn that begins,

this world is not my home
I’m just a-passing through
my treasure’s all laid up
somewhere beyond the blue.
The song comes to mind again this morning because I think it voices an error in Christian theology that has left us behind the curve on environmental issues (understanding of course, that the response of Christians is not monolithic). Much of evangelical Christianity, which is where I grew up, has seen the need to care for our planet as superfluous at best. What I remember being taught, basically, was the point of our being here is to get everyone to heaven and our stay here is temporary anyway. Going green doesn’t rank high on that list of priorities. Though we talk more about the environment in the liberal branch of Christianity where I have found a home, we hop too easily onto the cultural bandwagon, picking up the slogans but not necessarily being any more substantive in our stance. On both ends of the continuum, we seem to see the issue as political and/or social before we think of it as spiritual. And we preach at each other much more than we converse.

Here’s my attempt to do the latter on this Blog Action Day.

“God claims Earth and everything in it, God claims World and all who live on it,” proclaimed the Psalmist (24:1, The Message), pulling together our care for the planet with our concern for one another, and calling us to a more thoughtful, intentional, nuanced, and incarnational theology that perhaps most of us want to engage. If that verse is true, then life has no discards; every action matters. I have to consider, as I stand in the supermarket, that the bananas from Costa Rica that cost me 69 cents a pound do not reflect the real cost of the fruit. Seriously. I can’t fly to Costa Rica for 69 cents a pound. Am I to believe that the people who picked them were paid a living wage and the owners of the farm are making the best environmental decisions for that kind of money? I might do well to consider another source of potassium for my diet.

Yikes. I’m dangerously close to preaching and not talking.

One of the best sermons I ever heard on the parable of the Good Samaritan was called “Christ in the Ditch.” (If I could only remember who preached it.) The point was the Christ-figure in the story was not the Samaritan, but the wounded one left for dead by the side of the road. Our call is to allow the Jesus in us to respond to the Jesus in those who have been discarded and beaten up by the world around them. We incarnate God’s love best when we see Jesus in the ditch. If God is in the downtrodden, then we might pull the psalm and the parable together to say God is in the dirt as well. What we do to the planet, we do to God. Like the old song says:
When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee,
How great thou art, how great thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee,
How great thou art, how great thou art.
Why I carry my recycling bin to the curb every Tuesday morning makes about as much sense as why I get up and go to church on Sunday morning or why we put our twenty-five bucks in the pot at Kiva.org so one woman in Mexico could try a make a living selling tacos. It doesn’t make sense, but it makes faith. We were breathed into existence by a God who relishes in what one life can do. The universe our God created is layer upon layer of infinite and infinitesimal activity, the minute and the magnificent both packed full of significance. Rather than oscillate between the arrogance of thinking we can do whatever we want without consequence to creation and the cynicism that says nothing we do matters anyway, let us choose the narrow path of intentionality and hope, believing that every step chosen well leads us closer to being the creation God imagined in the beginning.


Sunday, October 14, 2007


That was the nickname I had for the song "Thankful Boys and Girls" when my friend Billy and I wrote it many (dare I say many, many?) years ago. Ginger asked me to sing the song as a part of worship today and several folks stopped me at coffee hour and asked me to post the lyric. So, here it is.

let us be thankful boys and girls
for eyes and ears and toes
and puppies with wet noses

let us be thankful boys and girls
for lessons we have learned
and love we have not earned

we follow the beat of amazing grace
oh let us be thankful boys and girls

let us be thankful boys and girls
for kisses on the mouth
and teenage heartbeats pounding

let us be thankful boys and girls
for lightning in the sky
and laughter in the eye

we follow the beat of amazing grace
oh let us be thankful boys and girls

for all that brought us here
and all that will see us through

the passages of life that lead to you
lead us to you

let us be thankful boys and girls
for a little common sense
and painted picket fences

let us be thankful boys and girls
when packing up the plans
in rented moving vans

we follow the beat of amazing grace
oh let us be thankful boys and girls

let us be thankful boys and girls
for mendelson and brahms
and shadows growing longer

let us be thankful boys and girls
for years that slowly grow
and grandkids we can hold

for memories to keep
and sorrows running deep

oh let us be thankful boys and girls

for all that brought us here
and all that will see us through

the passages of life that lead to you
lead us to you

let us be thankful boys and girls
when hope is not enough
that death can’t bury love

let us be thankful boys and girls
for wine and bread and hymns
remembering again

we follow the beat of amazing grace
oh let us be thankful boys and girls
The song is on Billy's Red Bird, Blue Sky CD.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

hakuna batata

I’m watching Chef walk an interesting creative line these days. He’s in the process of making some menu changes that work to incorporate his culinary creativity with the fact that our restaurant is, as he puts it, “in a meat and potatoes town.” Instead of each steak on the menu having a different starch and vegetable, he added a couple of new steaks and put garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus with all of them. People now pick their steak – 7 oz. center cut filet, 8 oz. flatiron, 10 oz. sirloin, 12 oz. rib eye – and how they want it cooked. He still dry ages the larger steaks and brings his creative touches to the dishes, but he’s working to meet his public where they are.

And he served steaks as fast as he could cook them last night, even though our crowd was down a little since a lot of folks stayed home last night to watch the Sox beat Cleveland. (Sorry, Davy.) And he did it without selling himself short.

I’ve learned a lot working alongside Chef. He has an artful simplicity to his combinations of flavors, textures, and colors. Our dishes taste and look beautiful as they go out. The quality of his thought and practice come through in everything from the salads to the pizzas to the steaks and seafood. He has also chosen to cook in something other than a fine dining restaurant. He knows all that stuff. For his dinner last night he brought in (and shared with me) a batata, which is (I learned) a Caribbean sweet potato. While it’s probably normal stuff if you’re in Jamaica, it was exotic to me. So we ate batata and dished up the roasted garlic mashed with the steaks. (I had some of the potatoes, too.)

What Chef understands is, no matter what the dish, people are always part of the recipe. Years ago, when I was a Youth Minister, I asked one of our church members who was also an educator, to lead a teacher training for our youth Sunday school teachers. He began the session by writing one sentence on the board:

I teach young people the Bible.

Then he said, “You tell me the direct object in this sentence and I’ll tell you what kind of teacher you are going to be.” After some discussion he said, “If you think you are teaching the Bible, it won’t matter to you who is in the room; if you think you are teaching young people, you can read from the phone book and change their lives.”

Thus endeth the lesson.

Cook. Teach. Pastor. Work. Live. None of it happens in a vacuum. Not only are we surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, but a gathering of fellow participants, companions for the journey and the meal. Sometimes that means you get to try new things and sometimes that means you serve up the steak and potatoes. Both are best done with the intentionality of a personal vision and the flavor of community.


Friday, October 12, 2007

city of immigrants

As you make your to do list for today, write down, "Buy Washington Square Serenade." Steve Earle's first studio recording of new songs in three years is worth every dime.

For those of you who don't know him, Steve's first record, Guitar Town, came out in 1986 to rave reviews and afforded him fame that almost killed him, literally. His addictions took him apart and put him in prison for a time. What he has pulled from the ashes of that existence is a thoughtful presence, a tenacious spirit, and some wonderful music. His latest recording chronicles his move from Nashville to New York City and his marriage to fellow singer Allison Moorer. (Yes, she is quite a bit younger.)

The single from the record is "City of Immigrants," which reflects the spirit of the whole project. (The video is a performance on Letterman.)

Livin’ in a city of immigrants
I don’t need to go travelin’
Open my door and the world walks in
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

Livin’ in a city that never sleeps
My heart keepin’ time to a thousand beats
Singin’ in languages I don’t speak
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of black
City of white
City of light
City of innocents

City of sweat
City of tears
City of prayers
City of immigrants

Livin’ in a city where the dreams of men
Reach up to touch the sky and then
Tumble back down to earth again
Livin’ in a city that never quits

Livin’ in a city where the streets are paved
With good intentions and a people’s faith
In the sacred promise a statue made
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of stone
City of steel
City of wheels
Constantly spinnin’

City of bone
City of skin
City of pain
City of immigrants

All of us are immigrants
Every daughter, every son
Everyone is everyone
All of us are immigrants - everyone

Livin’ in a city of immigrants
River flows out and the sea rolls in
Washin’ away nearly all of my sins
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of black
City of white
City of light
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of sweat
City of tears
City of prayers
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of stone
City of steel
City of wheels
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of bone
City of skin
City of pain
City of immigrants
All of us are immigrants


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

raising my ebenezer

Though I was flying home alone from Durham last Thursday night, I was not by myself. Seated next to me in the exit row was a large man who actually needed the extra leg room and who quickly fell asleep; across the aisle sat a couple who each had a puzzle book to work as they flew. And, about twenty minutes into the hour and a half flight, I became aware of the little boy sitting behind me who, evidently, was quite proud of both his singing voice and his command of the alphabet:

a, b, c – ellaminnowpea
q, r, s – ellaminnowpea
His mother spoke to him several times in a maternal corrective whisper, but to no avail. He simply changed his tune:
LA LA LA (I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy)
LA LA LA (I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy)
He was a little kid on a plane being a little kid. He was happy, he was learning, and he had a pretty good voice. I’m sure it never crossed his mind that anyone around him might not share those sentiments. I’m grateful none of us adults who sat near him felt the need to tell him anything different than what he knew was true in his childlike heart. Somewhere in our muscle memory we resonated with his version of the alphabet song. (Is there a better run of letters than L M N O P?) I know I wished for the kind of abandon that would let me sing out, “I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy.”

Though not yet verbal, the baby that sat across the aisle from me in church yesterday with her mother was singing the same song. She bubbled and cooed through most of the service, throwing in a gleeful squeal every now and then for good measure. When we reached the closing hymn, I couldn’t help but feel the words as a prayer:
Come, Thou, Fount of Every Blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace . . .
At least those are the words I know. Our UCC hymnal is one whose compilers felt driven to revise for several reasons, some (to me) more valid than others. So their opening lines read,
Come, O Fount of Every Blessing,
Tune my heart to sing your grace . . .
I know it’s a small change, but it’s just the beginning. The one that really gets me is the second stanza, which revised reads,
Here I pause in my sojourning,
giving thanks for having come,

Come to trust at every turning,

God will guide me safely home.
Those aren’t the words. The changes here are significant because they remove a wonderful image, even if it does need some explaining:
Here I raise mine Ebenezer,
hither by thy help I’m come.

And I hope by thy good pleasure,

safely to arrive at home.
The power of symbol is it packages the weight of memory and hope in way it can be carried across the miles and the years. Sure, in my junior high days, “here I raise mine Ebenezer” made us snicker as we played that good old Baptist adolescent worship service game, “Under the Sheets,” where you simply added the words “under the sheets” to the end of hymn titles with some humorous results:
O, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing . . .
Love Lifted Me . . .

I Surrender All . . .
And as I sang and chuckled, the words worked their way into my mind and heart and stayed until I could ask what an Ebenezer was with a straight face. The reference is from 1 Samuel 7:12:
Samuel took a single rock and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it "Ebenezer" (Rock of Help), saying, "This marks the place where God helped us." (The Message)
One of the ways we tune our hearts is by matching the tone of faith that resonates down from the generations that have come before. The little soprano voice that sang “ellaminnowpea” so enthusiastically will learn more and more about where those letters can take him as he finds them shaped and gathered in the words of those who have preceded him. Those letters will teach him about Pegasus, Moses, The Little Prince, Eyeore, and Milton (John, that is), among other things.

Billy Joel
began his song, “Summer Highland Falls” with the words:
They say that these are not the best of times,
but they're the only times I've ever known;
and I believe there is a time for meditation
in cathedrals of our own.
The crash of emotion in those few lines has pulled me since the first time I heard them. That we are aware that these are the only times we’ve ever known should pull us to notice the Ebenzers standing tall across the landscape, making sure to remember the stories, rather than knocking them all over for our own construction projects. It is hither by the help of the other runners in the human race that we have come thus far, as well. Joel concluded:
How thoughtlessly we dissipate our energies,
perhaps we don't fulfill each other's fantasies,
and as we stand upon the ledges of our lives
with our respective similarities:
it's either sadness or euphoria.
The melody of faith is more complex and more nuanced that his polarity. From the sadness to the euphoria and all of life in between, the hymn calls us to pray, with gratitude:
O, to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be;
Let thy goodness like a fetter
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Yesterday, Ginger and I made our annual trek up to Newburyport for their Fall Festival, a wonderful community celebration. We got there in time to see the bluegrass band play their first song – my favorite song – “Angel from Montgomery.” The last verse of that song says:
There’s flies in the kitchen – I can hear ‘em a buzzin’
and I ain’t done nothing since I woke up today.
How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
and come home every evening and have nothing to say?
A little girl, not old enough yet to know Ella Minnow Pea, danced across the stones in front of the stage as they sang, twirling with total abandon, incarnating the depth of the song’s question. Whether morning or evening, coming or going, working or playing, let us answer together in song:
Prone to wonder, Lord I feel it:
prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.


The video and recording is Sufjan Stevens.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

41 down

The clue for 41 Down in the “difficult” crossword in Spirit, the in flight magazine of Southwest Airlines was “golden rule word”: unto, as in do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Jesus’ words are as obvious as they are wise. We, as a people, however, often have to be reminded of the obvious.

When the schedule at work operates as it usually does, Sous and I follow each other working the fish station. The normal flow of a shift is to arrive around two, figure out what needs to be prepped, prep it, work the dinner service, do all you can to be ready for the next day, and clean up the area. The cold top on the line has twenty-two bins, each one containing an item, a sauce, or a garnish for one or more of our dishes. On the fish station, I’m talking about bolognaise sauce, curry sauce, julienned peppers, julienned snow peas, julienned portabella mushrooms, heavy cream, sliced shallots, diced butter, Raye’s Seadog mustard, chopped garlic, chives, diced roasted tomatoes, whole roasted tomatoes, basil chiffonade, chopped tarragon, lime wedges, grated Romano cheese, and sliced chorizo.

That’s just the top. We have four cold drawers. One for pasta, lobster meat, ravioli, and back ups; one with spinach, gnocchi, Swiss chard, green beans, and mashed potato cakes; one with mussels, crostini, and more back ups; and one with the raw fish, shrimp, and scallops. Much of the prep needs to be done fresh everyday, so making sure the other stuff is stocked when we finish a shift makes the next day a little less hectic.

All of that to say, one of the other line cooks preceded me on the fish station Thursday night instead of Sous. He normally works the grill, but moved over because of some necessary schedule changes. When he works the grill (a station he shares with Chef), he makes sure everything is backed up and ready for when Chef comes in. He doesn’t share the same work ethic when he works other stations. I got to work yesterday to find my station clean, mostly empty, and disorganized. It took me an hour just to get it back in shape so I could do my regular prep work. My colleague would not have known the answer to 41 Down.

We buy the wines we use for cooking at the restaurant by the box because of the sheer volume of liquid we use. The box of white wine at my station is the equivalent of twelve bottles. It’s good wine – it’s just in a box with a spigot on the bottom. The Marsala wine at Chef’s station has a notation on the side that reads, “Tilt box forward to get last drop.” Chef showed it to me one day, smiling, and said, “Gee, I’m glad they told me.” One of our running jokes, when I get to the end of my box, is to say, “Man, I wish I knew how to get that last little bit out of my wine, but there aren’t any instructions.” (Ah – chef humor. Sigh.)

If Jesus had been a cook, which I’m sure will be discovered in the next round of discovered scrolls, he might have elaborated on doing unto by reminding his listeners someone always follows us, whatever our station in life. When we’re doing and cleaning and prepping, we need to remember the one who comes next will be directly affected by how we do our jobs. At the end of our shifts we need to be able to remember what it felt like to be the one coming in to the empty bins at the beginning of the shift, rather than allowing ourselves to only feel the exhaustion that comes with wanting to finish quickly and get home.

OK, so maybe Jesus wouldn’t have said it quite that way, so I will. We are 41 Down kind of people: we spend our lives doing unto, whether or not we do so intentionally. At the risk of stating the painfully obvious, we need to live like we’re being followed.


P. S. -- There's a new recipe.

Friday, October 05, 2007

music to your eyes

I was going to write this morning, but I got to reading the annual Southern music issue of the Oxford American, which comes with an amazing CD. The periodical is a labor of love and excellence, and certainly worth a look. Check out this piece on yodeling by Roy Blount, Jr.; "The People's Singer," a chronicle of the life of Lee Hays, a founding member of The Weavers, along with Pete Seeger; and "Mystic Nights," a memoir of Bob Dylan's recording of Blonde on Blonde in Nashville. The articles taught me, challenged me, moved me.

Good people doing great work: that's always worth noticing.

Here are The Weavers singing, "Goodnight, Irene" from 1949.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

building bridges

One of the ideas that continues to intrigue and haunt me is that most of the world lives their lives without knowing or knowing of me and they don’t miss me either. I even posted a poem about it called “Spokane.” This morning, I’m sitting in Foster’s Market and CafĂ© in Durham, which has been not-knowing-or-missing-Milton territory until recently. I flew down yesterday to begin looking for work and to look at houses, trying to find a way to begin to make a place for myself in a place that doesn’t know they need to make room for me. It’s a little like trying to get in sync with a jump rope that is already going in circles, something I never quite got the hang of.

And it’s not like that. The last twenty-four hours, my journey has been fueled by the incredible kindness of those who are determined to make it seem as if there has always been a place for me here. I talked to a one chef who not only talked about the possibility of my working in his restaurant, but also gave me the name of another guy he thought would be worth contacting. The interim minister at the church where Ginger will pastor picked me up at the airport and gave me her car to use while I’m here. The realtor we have been working with here changed her schedule to show me some houses and also spent a great deal of time creating conversations with people to help us figure out what to do since our house in Marshfield has not sold. And, of course, the members of the Triangle Red Sox Nation were more than welcoming as we gathered to watch the Sox beat the Angels last night.

I had two extended interviews/conversations about cooking gigs yesterday at two of Durham’s best offerings as far as restaurants go. At the first, the kitchen was bustling and informal. The Sous Chef who interviewed me, was wearing a t-shirt and shorts. He moved to Durham a few years back and understood what it feels like to try and break into to a new place.

“We don’t have anything right now, but you know this business. I have a full kitchen today and might have an empty one tomorrow. But when you get here, if you haven’t found anything, let me know. I’ll find a way to throw you a couple of shifts until you get your feet on the ground.” He then gave me the name of a couple of guys he had met when he first came to town that helped him get started.

The second interview was quite a contrast. On Tuesday I sent my resume in an email note to the chef of a fine dining restaurant here telling him I was coming to town. He wrote back and asked me to stop by and talk to him. This is a guy who trained with Emeril before he was a celebrity chef and worked alongside Charlie Trotter, who easily makes the top five list nationally. When I got to his place, everyone was in chef whites and focused. He changes the entire menu monthly and they were getting ready for a tasting for the wait staff so they could be informed as they served people that evening. The conversation with him was much more focused and intense. I think I intrigued him because I was much older than the usual applicant and not fresh out of culinary school. He was not off-putting and he maintained a professional distance. As I watched him interact with his staff, I could see the distance was more about him than me. As we talked he said, “I don’t have anything right now, but you know this business: the kitchen is full now but might be empty tomorrow.” He also said, “I imagine this is not your only interview. If you would like my take on some of the other places in town as you talk to them, I would be glad to give you some feedback.” He told me to keep in touch and then invited me to come and observe the tasting so I could see some of the food. He took nearly a half an hour to describe the twelve or fourteen offerings on the new menu; he talked as the wait staff descended on the food like hungry hyenas, chewing and laughing at the same time. His collection and combinations of ingredients were both imaginative and brilliant. (Baked oysters with smoked vanilla cream!)

As I was drinking my coffee this morning, I browsed through Bridge to the Soul, Coleman Barks’ new collection of translations of Rumi’s poetry in honor of Rumi’s eight hundredth birthday. In the introductory essay, Barks talks about his love of bridges and focuses on a bridge somewhere in Iran (I think) of which it is said the concrete was made with a mixture of sand and egg whites. He went on to talk about the imagination it takes to build a bridge, and to build a bridge that lasts.

Each step of the way on this journey from Marshfield to Durham reveals another ingredient in the bridge required to get from there to here. Each step lifts just enough of the fog for us to see the next step, and to see the bridge is there, though we cannot take in the entire span. Much like the mixture of stone and egg white, we are called to step out on the combination of resolve and faith that reveals all that connects our lives to one another.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

drinking beer with bob dylan

The prompt from Writers' Island this week was "The Journey." I have no idea how I got from there to here, but here's the poem -- and I couldn't pass up the video.

drinking beer with bob dylan

It’s late and we are sitting in a tavern
I know well but can’t name.
“Oh, where have you been my brown-eyed son?”
he asks and smiles – I think it’s a smile.
I laugh a little and look at my shoes,
the ones I wear to work each day,
black and wrinkled, with specks
of something on one of the toes.

“I’ve lived in the darkness they call my depression.
I’ve cooked for a living and cooked out of loving.
I come home to a woman who makes me feel wanted.
I’ve written and planted and broken and hoped for.
I’ve traveled the world without leaving my city.
I’ve let myself dream what just might never happen.
I’ve staked my whole life on a faith that’s elusive.
I’ve stood under the stars to give thanks that I’m breathing.”

He turns up his mug and wipes
his mouth with his sleeve.
“You would think, after forty-five years,
I would have a new question,” he says,
“but there’s seems nothing else to ask.”
I look at his hands, now arthritic and unable
to play the guitar; only the piano.
Still, he plays and sings.

He is sixty-six; I, soon, will be fifty-one;
both of us just past the five and dime
birthdays that are so heartily celebrated.
Between us, we have over a century
of stories and so we sit long into the night
telling them, until the bartender
tells us he has a journey of his own
and sends us out into what is left of it.

It would have been perfect
if a hard rain had begun to fall,
but it didn’t. We stood there in the chill
of a petulant night resisting the dawn,
and realized we would not see each other again.
He’s not much of a hugger, so I didn’t even try.
“Thanks for the beers,” he said, as the lights went out.
I stood and watched as he slipped into the darkness.