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.