Sunday, August 31, 2008

he gave us wings

He took the wings we weren’t going to use for dinner.

We serve a roast chicken dish, so we cut up the birds so each customer gets one piece that is half of a breast with the first section of the wing bone attached and a second piece that is the leg and thigh. Abel, the cook next to me on the line every Sunday night, took the rest of the wings and some of the other leftovers, but I didn’t see what he did with them. And I lost track of them because we were busy tonight. I don’t know what was going on, but people were out to eat to night here in Durham and about one hundred and fifty of them came to our place, About eight-thirty, when we had a small break, I looked up to see Abel filling a line of plates with food.

For us. There was a small stack of diced potatoes, some carrots and onions, a wonderful looking burnt orange colored sauce, and a stack of small chicken bones – the leftovers – on each plate. He had made enough for everyone in the kitchen. I picked up my plate at the same time as the Shift Leader and we both made the same sounds of satisfaction as we began to chew our food. The dish was amazing. The Shift Leader handed Abel the left over chicken – the good pieces – and said, “Make some more.”

As he began to cook, Abel motioned to me and I moved closer. He was holding fresh herbs in his hands. “This is it,” he said. “You take some mint, some cilantro, some thyme, and a little chipotle peppers. And some of the Dave’s spice mix (a sort of red salt mixture: cayenne, chili powder, paprika, etc.), then you just cook it slow. That’s all.”

This is a guy who comes everyday to work at our restaurant after having worked a full shift at another restaurant. This is a guy who knows a lot about what he does and doesn’t get the credit because, as they say, he’s not from these parts. And this is a guy, in the middle of a very busy night, who took time and thought and effort to cook dinner for those of us who stand along side him in the kitchen every week.

This is a good guy.

Rich Mullins has a song that says

Talk about your miracles
Talk about your faith
My dad he could make things grow
Out of Indiana clay
Mom could make a gourmet meal
Out of just cornbread and beans
And they worked to give faith hands and feet
And somehow gave it wings
That’s it. In the middle of a hectic night, Abel gave us wings. No one flew, but we watched as he took what was broken and discarded and with care and creativity filled our stomachs and lifted our spirits.

Not bad for a Sunday night.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

texas wants me anyway

Life is clipping along for me at a speed that makes reflection feel a bit like a luxury. Though I’m grateful for most of the things going on right now, I’m always wary of going too long without taking stock and doing my best to listen. They don’t call it break-neck speed for nothing, I suppose. We headed to Texas a couple of weeks ago to help lead a retreat with Gordon and Jeanene Atkinson (Gordon’s already posted here), which enabled us to tack on a few days and see family and friends. One of my favorite things about our sojourn was the first day, which Ginger and I did in true Brasher-Cunningham fashion.

On our first date, I took Ginger to see Lyle Lovett in Fort Worth. As it turned out, Lyle was playing the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth the weekend we arrived. In my mind, I bought tickets for Friday night, which meant we could land Thursday in San Antonio, drive through Austin to eat lunch with David Gentiles, and the end up in Waco at my parents’ house. Friday afternoon, then, the ninety minute drive up I-35 to Cowtown would not seem so bad. Ginger drove to Birmingham on Wednesday to leave Ella with my in-laws and our other Schnauzers. Early Friday morning – I mean early – we both got up to catch flights that would let us meet up in Dallas and fly together to San Antonio. At about five, I pulled the tickets out of the envelope to see that they were for Thursday night – THAT NIGHT – not Friday. So we kept our schedule, seeing Davy and stopping at my folks, but then we kept going on to Fort Worth. When I handed the usher our tickets, he showed us to our seats and said, “You’re just in time.” As my butt hit the cushion, Lyle walked out on stage:

I went to church last Sunday
So I could sing and pray
But something quite unusual
Happened on that day . . .
We had not been in Fort Worth in more than a decade, so we weren’t quite prepared for the transformation of the downtown area. What I remembered as a concrete jungle is now a vibrant mixture of residences, businesses, and entertainment (though I’m not sure where they shipped all the homeless people). We walked around until we got our bearings, had a bite to eat, and then – even though we had only been in Texas for twelve hours, spent time in four cities, and still had an hour and a half to drive before we could sleep – we drove around to see the house where Ginger was living when we got engaged and the first apartment we shared after we married. Once again, they were hard to find in a city that appears to have gotten on fine without us.

I was a youth minister in Fort Worth when I first began talking about the idea of appropriate insignificance. The concept was new to me, though I’m sure it wasn’t original. What it means to me is each one of us is uniquely created in the image of God and of incredible value because we’re breathing and (not but) no one is any more valuable than anyone else. One night I was talking about it with the kids and I took a glass of water and stuck my finger into it.

“As long as I leave my finger there, the water moves to make a place. But when I take my finger out,” I said as I removed it from the glass, “the only evidence it was even in the water is my finger’s wet. The water filled in behind me.”

For most of our time in Texas, we were in places we had been before. Though we had not been to Laity Lodge before, we stepped back into the Baptist life that is our heritage, and I stepped among many people who had known my family, if not me, for a long time. What I took from the trip, most of all, was the treasure of having time to sit around tables with friends I keep up with but have not had a chance to see in person for years. We shared meals, told stories, laughed, cried, and tightened the bonds that remind us of what matters most.

As Lyle sang when he closed the show:
That's right you're not from Texas
That's right you're not from Texas
That's right you're not from Texas
But Texas wants you anyway

There are new recipes here (with a story) and here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

asking for your vote

A friend sent me the following email message from a woman who wants to open an ice cream shop in Rwanda. It's an awesome idea and she needs us to vote for her in order for her to see her dream become a reality. Please read the following letter, follow the links, and vote for Rocky Road to be an ice cream flavor in Rwanda and not a metaphor for life.


Loved Ones, Friends, Friends of Friends, Friends of Loved Ones, Total Strangers...

If ice cream or some other such treat has ever put a smile on your face, given you a break from a hard day, made you feel more in love, soothed your tears, or made a kid you know shriek with glee, please read on:

My friend Alexis and I opened Blue Marble Ice Cream in Brooklyn NY less than a year ago. It went well, and now we have two locations. We are kid-friendly, eco-friendly -- it's a special place (more details on our website or on our new Facebook page, check it out).

Now, for an expansion we never saw coming, WE NEED YOUR HELP. Blue Marble Ice Cream is launching its third location. Not in Soho, not in LA, not in Chicago.

In Rwanda.

Encouraged by a friend in Rwanda yearning to bring joy and laughter to her community, we are launching a nonprofit to start a shop in this developing country where milk is a natural but relatively untapped resource.

NOW, to help this happen, we ARE NOT asking for money, we are asking for your VOTE.

American Express has launched an initiative called Members Project, which invites cardmembers to post their dreams of change online for the chance of winning funding to help them come true. AmEx is devoting $2.5 million to the winners, so the stakes are high!

Our project is called "Sweet Dreams: The Power of Ice Cream." This project is still in early development, but it is building momentum and we promise to share more details with you very soon.

Here's what we need from you:

1) Click on this link to CAST YOUR VOTE FOR OUR DREAM. It is simple and takes all of 20 seconds. A minimal investment for such a worthwhile endeavor! :)

2) Send this email to all YOUR loved ones, friends, friend of loved ones, friends of friends... This is all online, so LET'S GO INTERNATIONAL! TELL EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE!!!

3) Please, do this now. They are only accepting votes until September 1 -- this is all word-of-mouth, we have no other means of promotion, so PLEASE help us spread the word that may lead us to much needed funding for our very worthy project.

We only heard about this opportunity at the very last second and posted our project with no time to spare - other projects have had up to a month already to assemble votes. Please help us catch up! And read below for the full project description.

As friends, as ice cream lovers, as Brooklynites, as compassionate members of a global community, let's bring some sweetness and joy to Rwanda!


Jennie Dundas, Blue Marble Ice Cream

420 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11217

(718) 858-1100


Monday, August 25, 2008

I'm still here

I think this is the longest I've gone without posting since I began writing two and a half years ago. Though I've had several gaps in the past related to my depression, this is not one of them. Ginger and I went to Texas and had a great time with family and friends. I've had time to read and think and dream and even play guitar. My heart and my head are full.

So is my schedule.

Duke began classes today, which means my restaurant on campus opened this evening. I've got a week of twelve hour days ahead of me. I'm having a blast.

More will follow. I just wanted you to know life is good.


Monday, August 18, 2008

between the rivers

We started out long ago and
high above the river and ended
up here, again, last night watching
the rain fall in the darkness, looking
down across the river valley. Here,
in a land defined by drought, it has
rained since we arrived – not
sprinkles, but sheets: the kind of
deluge that sticks your shirt to skin
running from the car to the house.

I expected to wake up this morning
and see a stream running between
the banks below, life flowing again
in the dry bed. I was not disappointed.
The questions, I think, have fed
our lives between the two rivers;
we were never much for answers,
when it comes to what matters most.

Why am I moved by stories of Eden,
you wondered once: Adam and Eve,
in their garden between their rivers.
What does their sadness mean?
Life flows to sadness like our rivers
to the sea. It’s all headed downhill,
and – not but, AND – life fills with
joy and grace the way the showers
feed the streams and soak the land.

By the time we said good night to
the river and each other, the house
was strewn with empty wine glasses
and coffee cups. I carried a full heart
back to my room. Now that I’ve had
my morning coffee, I think it might
be time to run out under the rain
and soak in the grace and gratitude.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

the river of these last days

that has carried us between
family and friends, sharing
stories and meals, planning
and remembering, feeling
the rise of old feelings that pull
like an undertow, and relishing
new experiences that carry us
like rapids so that we don’t have
time to take in all we are feeling
has left me exhausted and exuberant.
I’m back in old places, but the
water is new; things are not the same,
except, it seems, for the things I
wish would be different. The rocks
that would break our boats never move.
Tonight, as we stood on the porch and
the rain percussed on the tin roof, and
we stared out across the dry river bed
in the valley below, I could not help
but believe that all that was being
washed down the hillside would not be
lost, but would feed the strong current
that will carry us on into the days to come.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

hey, 19

Nineteen years ago tonight I gave Ginger her ring.

We had already decided together to get married, but I wanted to be able to make a big deal about the diamond. My friends Billy and Patty helped me put together the evening of a lifetime. Nineteen years later, that lifetime continues, full of love and good things.

I'm a fortunate and grateful man.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

our little girl is growing up

Here's Ella!


Monday, August 04, 2008

un-making-up our minds

Sometimes, figuring out what to write is like a treasure hunt: I have to go out and see what I can find. Other times, like the last few days, I’m less of a hunter and more of a collector, picking up the things that fall around me and then working to see what they might become. This particular collection began Friday afternoon when Ginger and I went to see The Dark Knight. Though there is much to unpack about the film, the overarching thought I carried away was we choose how to respond to difficulty and tragedy that comes our way and whether we seek redemption or revenge. Part of the magic of a movie is the invitation to engage in the willing suspension of disbelief and let myself enter a different world for a couple of hours.

Sunday, Ginger preached a kick-ass sermon on the loaves and the fishes. Her lead in was to quote Robert Farrar Capon about Jesus’ parables:

Openness, therefore, is a required attitude when approaching the scriptures. And nowhere in the Bible is an un-made-up mind more called for than when reading the parables of Jesus.
The same is true of the miracle stories, she said, as she invited us to listen to Matthew’s account of how the thousands were fed with a sack lunch: “So with willing suspension of disbelief, we enter the story of enough.” she said. Truly the disciples had to let go of their made-up minds when Jesus told them how to feed everyone. I spent a good bit of time last night trying to find the words to say one of the reasons the miracles are important, even for someone like me who struggles with how some of them could have actually happened, is they show what God can do with committed and trusting hearts and un-made-up minds. And they also call us to live as if God can really change our world. Status quo is not a theological concept.

(After about an hour of writing, Microsoft Word crashed and I lost what I had written. It was late enough that I went to bed instead of trying to recreate the post.)

Today, as I was blog surfing, these quotes fell into my lap. First, from Journeys with Jesus:
One must urge (to his own soul first) a firm rebutting midrash; bring Christ to bear. Read the gospel closely, obediently. Welcome no enticements, no other claim on conscience. Mourn the preachers and priests whose silence and collusion signal plain revolt against the gospel. Enter the maelstrom, the wilderness; flee the claim that would possess your soul. Earn the blessing; pay up. Blessed — and lonely and powerless and intent on the Master — and, if must be, despised, scorned, locked up — blessed are the makers of peace.
Daniel Berrigan, The Kings and Their Gods: The Pathology of Power
Then from Towanda’s Window:
What is the value of a Christianity in which Jesus is worshiped as Lord, but Christian discipleship--"the way of Jesus"--is regarded as largely irrelevant to life in the modern world?
René Padilla, Argentine Baptist theologian
We took time in our service on Sunday to pray specifically for the UU Congregation in Knoxville that fell victim to the shootings a week ago. The guy dumped over seventy rounds of ammunition into the congregation because of their liberal agenda and their welcoming of gays and lesbians. Carla, our associate pastor, was in Knoxville last Sunday for a UCC National Youth Gathering. She talked about being in a wonderful praise service while, unknown to the gathering, the church was being attacked. And then I sang David Wilcox’s wonderful song, “Show the Way” (one of my favorites). The second verse and chorus say
Look, if someone wrote a play just to glorify
What's stronger than hate, would they not arrange the stage
To look as if the hero came too late, he's almost in defeat
It's looking like the Evil side will win, so on the Edge of every seat,
From the moment that the whole thing begins

It is Love that mixed the mortar
And it's Love who stacked these stones
And it's Love who made the stage here
Although it looks like we're alone
In this scene set in shadows like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us but it's Love that wrote this play...
For in this darkness love can show the way
The citizens of Gotham had pretty much made up their minds that life was going to be a living lasagna filled with layers of pain and more pain. Some were willing to shine the Batlight into the moonless sky, but no one was looking for miracles.

Berrigan and Padilla have not only suspended but have hung the belief that the darkness gets the last word and pretty much expect miracles, if by miracles we mean
God's Spirit is on me;
he's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, "This is God's year to act!"
(Luke 4:18-19, The Message)
The last quote that fell my way today fell like a stone – that someone threw at me. A Different Street quotes former US Senator Rick Santorum’s ad hominem argument against Obama, saying Barack’s faith is “phony.” (Obama is a member of the UCC, by the way.) When the interviewer presses and asks if one can be a liberal and Christian, Santorum answers:
You're a liberal something, but you’re not a Christian. When you take a salvation story and turn it into a liberation story you've abandoned Christendom and I don't think you have a right to claim it.
A made up mind is like a made up bed: no one is getting in.

"Free your mind and the rest will follow," En Vogue used to sing. We would do well to sing along. The love of Christ does liberate us from our cynicism, our hopelessness, our self-absorption, our bitterness, our prejudice, our blindness, our pride in order that we might be liberators and builders of the Community of God in our world. The thousands got fed because the disciples un-made-up their minds and moved beyond the logic that said there was not enough and fed everyone.

We live in a world full of poor and imprisoned folks waiting for those who believe in miracles to start cutting locks and serving dinner. May we un-make-up our minds and open our hearts that we might be liberated, even as we are called to liberate.