What I Learned about Church from an Ecuadorian Chef

I didn’t even see a name on the restaurant front. Its virtue was that it was steps from our tiny hotel’s door, and we were exhausted after a 36-hour ordeal/flight from hell designed by an airline which shall remain nameless. 

The chef/owner slid open a window and informed us the place was reservation only, but he would take us if we wanted to sit outside. It was a tasting menu–whatever he wanted to cook that day, we would eat. We sat, intrigued (and tired). We took in the modest patio, with dogs barking low and nearby car horns hitting the high notes. Near the door hung strings of drying corn. We finally figured out these weren’t decor–they were on the menu. Our sturdy table sat in the equatorial moonlight, and we closed our eyes, with no idea what we were in for.

A Surprising Conversation

We conversed with the owner through the meal, as his window was five feet away. He detailed what he was cooking, where he got his ingredients, and he asked about our travel plans. Through the courses, we started discussing deeper things. 

Chef Sebastian explained that, pre-covid, he had owned several places in higher rent districts—wine bars, restaurants, etc. He was forced to shutter them. It looked like defeat. Then he ended up opening this one small place, Quitu, in a much different kind of neighborhood.

He spoke of using fresh local ingredients, becoming much more affordable to people because of much lower rents, and how he loved his new life. Then he told us something that stuck with me.

“I decided to become a restaurant for the neighborhood instead of a restaurant for the world.”

A Church Like Quitu

My mind jumped to church and leadership and why we do what we do. Yes, I want us to speak about national issues, world justice, the responsibility of the privileged of this globe. That is part of living with both feet in the Kingdom of God. 

Yet it’s so easy to lose our way when our focus points toward that large stage. Any large stage, really. The popular allure is more mesmerizing than the neighborhood grit. It’s easy for “winning” to become the idol and affirmation to morph into the goal. I think our Quiteño chef understood that. He’d had the success. Covid forced a choice he now embraced. He wanted to return to a life where the community felt welcome and his food wholesome and accessible. 

Church leaders, how do we embrace that value? How should we be redefining “normal” to make the places we lead accessible, inviting, and healthy? How ought our yearning for justice to roll down and integrity to be great again affect not only our twitter feed but our presence with the real life people on our block?

How do we become a church for the community rather than a church that happens to be in a community?

Downsizing. Decentering human leaders. Sourcing our nourishment from the wells of goodness and grace. Looking around and asking ourselves–what do the people here need, and why am I in this place and time?

I like chef Sebastian’s approach. His food was pretty great, too.

That’s a Wrap

Rounding Up

We did a LOT of puzzles in 2020

Are we ready for a round up post? On February 1? Of course we are. Because we know:

1) I’m not usually on time for these sorts of things. 

And

2) You got inundated with that jazz last month, and now you actually have time to look at these things. 

See? I planned that out. So here we go. My favorite things of 2020. 

Five favorite books

OK, 7. Because choosing is hard, and I could have easily picked twelve.

I met my goodreads goal of 35! I know that’s not a ton, but 2020. I was tired. We were all tired. I spent the first third of the year finishing and defending my thesis. Plus also, I did a lot of puzzles. Finishing the goal is a win. It doesn’t matter what the goal was. I finished.

Let’s not waste our time moving goal posts on ourselves because we don’t think what we did was good enough. Not Spoiler: it was good enough. We made it.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. Enough said. Truth – I’ve never read it. I’ve been a little major and an English teacher, and I have never read this book. Now I have, and now it has changed me. It makes me sad to see how much has not really changed. To see the world through the eyes of a child and to see her slow awakening to what people to what people are capable of, both good and bad, is enchantingly and devastatingly told.

From Burned Out to Beloved: Soul Care for Wounded Healers. Bethany D. Hiser. As a pastor and as a person who is constantly trying to save the world (is that redundant?), I found this work indispensable. Ms. Hiser helps people like me to pull back and to see ourselves. She helps us to equip others rather than to “save” them. In the process, we learn how to love and be blessed by our work rather than burned out. After the year we’ve just had, this is required reading for caregivers of any sort.

Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, Eugene Peterson. Peterson’s work is so challenging for pastors and so absolutely necessary. I needed this this year. Desperately. His whole section on rest and Sabbath is something I had been contemplating and wrestling with for a while, and this book blew it wide open.

Sabbath is a chance to let God do what God does best, without my interference. It’s my chance to join that after stopping long enough to see and to hear it.

The God Who Sees, Karen Gonzales. Gonzales puts the story of her family’s journey from Guatemala to the United States alongside the nomads of Scripture. The foreigners, those on the margins, those of whom God tells us to take special care. She explains to the reader God’s heart for those who find themselves on this journey and how we can make that struggle easier. I love the way she puts the stories together and the research she does into this very difficult issue. 

Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell. I will inherently love anything Gladwell writes. This book is quite timely, given our desperate need to hear what others are thinking and understand where they’re coming from. His exploration of how our different backgrounds and “languages” of communication affects the way we understand one another is fascinating. Gladewell is always a winner for me. He’s what I want to be when I grow up.

The Sun Does Shine, Anthony Ray Hinton. What can I even say? This man lost most of his life in prison. Why? Because, to summarize the words of those who arrested him, “they will convict any black man of the crime, and you are as good as any other.” It’s not just a story of one man’s injustice though. It’s a story of the relationships he made in prison and what all of us can learn from listening to those men alone in their cells. The relationship between the author and the klansman was so crazy and beautiful. This is one of the men you meet in the movie Just Mercy. You should meet him in this book, too.

Booked, Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior. As the Goodreads descriptions says, this book is for, “Anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.” Dr. Prior tells her memoir through literature, and this is so relatable to me. As a little girl who could never be torn away from a book, I could also tell my life through stories. Some of the stories she chooses could also be mine. I love the mingling of memoir and literature and life. This, too, is how I could explain out my life.

Five favorite recipes

Creamy Sun-dried Tomato Fettuccini Yes please. Pasta. Garlic. Sun-dried Tomatoes. The word “creamy.” It’s all there.

Cinnamon Roll Macarons. Hands down the best macarons I’ve ever made. Only I put chocolate ganache filling in, because who doesn’t’t love cinnamon and chocolate???

Vaca Frita de Pollo. One of the women in our church was making this while on zoom, and I NEEDED the recipe. It was all I dreamed of.

Chicken Normandy. Do it on a cold day when you have lots of time and want the most delicious chicken dinner you’ve ever had, possibly.

Za’atar Man’ouche. I saw this on a travel show and said—I need this in my life! And what do you know? Our kid had given us zaatar in a Christmas gift. Here you are. You’re welcome.

Thing I’m most proud to have made: Two of the kids gave me a Great British Bakeoff Book, and let me tell you, everything in it I’ve made is incredible. But this was quite the challenge.

Five favorite podcasts

2020 was not a good year for podcasts. I generally listen to them in the car, and, well, I didn’t spend much time in the car this year. Like, we saved a lot of money on gas, maintenance, and we should have just probably cancel the insurance. I hardly drove that thing. So I’ve been missing my podcasts. But these have been my favorites.

The Holy Post

Lead Stories

Revisionist History

The Bible Project

And a new one to add—Three Black Men

Five things I hope don’t go back to “normal.” 

That we learned to love the outdoors again. 

That we learned to slow down and live without the unnecessary things we thought were so important.

That we said “enough” to injustice and decided to change ourselves in order to change our culture. We also decided to stop engaging with the nonsense and just get to work.

That many of us came to appreciate in a new way those who keep the gears running and keep us safe. Healthcare workers, food workers, delivery drivers and sanitation workers. Those who bring my groceries to my door and those who hover over ICU patients, for 36 hours straight. Please, let us not forget. Oh and by the way, a lot of those people are immigrants.

That we learned to hold our people tightly and our plans loosely.

The thing that happened this year I desperately needed and didn’t know I did. Can you guess?

That’s it. That’s my round up. What about you? What were the things you loved about 2020? What are the things you’ll remember and take forward? I would love to hear.

A Day in the Life, Lady Preacher Style

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Day in the Life posts, videos, instas, etc look like so much fun. I’ve always wanted in on it. Who wouldn’t want to wittily record their day, with all its pratfalls and pitfalls? Every one of the joys and brilliant flashes of inspiration?

When I actually try to video a day in my life, however, two things happen.

  1. I realize I do not video well. At all. I’m just better in person, guys.
  2. I discover that a day in my life isn’t all that riveting.
  3. I forget about twelve minutes after I begin and don’t ever get back to it.

So, no day in my life has been recorded for posterity. Yet.

Yet, if I practice what I preach, I also realize that “not riveting” describes mot of us, and that, too, is a valid way to spend our hours. “Not riveting” doesn’t mean pointless. Most of us, if we tell the truth, find that pursuing our dreams and passions is a fair mix of riveting and tedium, things that must be done for the rivet to happen.

JRR Tolkien

Riveting Is Overrated

The mix tends more toward reliable trudging most days. That’s what makes up the moments that earn us the ten minutes of riveting. I’m learning to be OK with that. I’m learning, with Bilbo Baggins, to celebrate a simple life, and to be grateful and ready for the adventure.

It’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and.

But do you have any curiosity about a day in the life of a pastor? Most likely, my day is different than other pastors’ days. I can assure you, it’s different from male pastors.

Just a Liiiiittle Different

I remember sitting in my spiritual formation class in seminary, where the professor had just handed out a worksheet on time management. Next to each blank, we future/current pastors were supposed to record how much time we spent on each item.

Study. Check.

Sermon prep. Check.

Administrative duties. Check.

. . . .

I looked all the way down the sheet and raised my hand.

“Where are the blanks for child care? Housekeeping? Running errands? Cooking dinner? I don’t see any of those.”

My prof looked confused for a moment. Uncomfortable. Then slightly rebuked. “I guess it’s an old worksheet. Maybe it’s time I get a new one.” (I liked that man.)

I think times have changed somewhat, and I want to give male pastors their due when they share the household load equally. Still, I wonder how much has changed.

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I searched my usual site for photos of female pastors. There were none. So here I am, in protest mode, because that’s wrong, too.

So, instead of a video, here are a few random moments in the life of a (female) pastor.

A Day in the Life, Sort of

6am— Wake up. Shower. Write in gratitude journal, pray, ice my pain-filled feet, and color pictures on my phone. Whatever it takes to stay awake.

7am—Take middle child to train station to catch her train to work. Find Pokemon Go stops on the way home because, hey, life is short.

8am—Breakfast, facebook, email, grocery order. All the administrative things.

9am—Chores for the day: laundry, dishes, bathroom. Pick up endless errant stuff lying around like some really nerdy people had a rager. Feed cats before they eat my face. The usual.

9:23—Remember the three administrative tasks I forgot to do, pledge to do them as soon as I sit down again, and promptly forget them seconds later. (This is what Flylady calls mental clutter. I have a LOT of it.)

9:30—Start work for real. Sermon prep. Blog posts. Article writing.

9:35—Get distracted by birds at the feeder. The blue jays are bullying. The Orioles are gorging. The grey catbird is also eating jelly—who knew? And I’m afraid my beloved Grosbeaks have flown farther north after their usual May stay.

9:45—Get back to work. Get lost in a rabbit hole while researching marathon racing. Don’t return to task for twenty minutes.

Speaking of rabbit holes . . . 

I bet you think pastors know/learn about the Bible and not much else. Ah, how much you don’t know. How much I didn’t know until I started doing research for sermons. In just the past sermon series I have learned:

  • What a Mercalli Intensity Scale is and that earthquake shocks can travel at 8300 miles per hour. This is way faster than my new car, even when I push the “Sports mode” button.
  • That the Battle of Bunker Hill did not take place on Bunker Hill. I feel greatly deceived and will check this out on my next visit to the Freedom Trail.
  • That there are people who have nothing better to do with their time than to rank angels in order and determine all their possible permutations, even though to say that is extra-biblical knowledge is to greatly understate things.
  • That there were still people living in the South believing they were slaves in 1963. Actually, I already knew that, but now I have a name and a story to put to it.
  • That 12 million Americans believe there are reptilian beings taking over human bodies, intent on dominating the world. I, too, find it hard to believe that 12 million Americans are that stupid imaginative, but there it is.

This is merely in the past month. It says nothing of my research into building skyscrapers, ancient shepherding practices, Greek oratory, or the lost head of King Henry the 4th. For a person whose highest Strengthsfinders indicator is Input, this is the Best. Job. Ever.

Also, in church during this series, we have built gingerbread houses, simulated earthquakes, blown bubbles, and other shenanigans, so it’s safe to say some other people are having as much fun as I am.

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Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Afternoon

12:00—Lunch, which I might be blessed to have with friends, colleagues, or church members, but which usually happens at home. If it’s at home, it’s highly likely to be cheese on top of some starch item consumed in my chair while I keep working.

Yes, I need healthier options. Feel free to bring lunch.

Btw, said work chair, next to the bird feeder, is a chair bought specifically for my back issues, which was a great green leather until Pippin the furniture shredder got hold of it. It needs a little TLC. And reupholstery.

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12:30—Sit and stare at social media wondering if I’ll ever concentrate on my work again and also if I have any idea what’s for dinner.

1:00—Maybe I’ll putter in the garden; maybe I’ll do housework. Maybe I’ll look over the 123 things I have to get done before my daughter’s wedding and do, or contemplate doing, one or two of them. It’s a toss up, Maybe I’ll keep staring at Facebook. Post-lunch concentration is hard, people.

2:00—Back to work. Very possibly this will take place in a local library, because said concentration level at home is just done. I am acquainted with every library, and every Starbucks, within fifteen miles. If anyone needs to know the comfiest chairs in DuPage, Kendall, or Kane County, I can tell you. (Actually, my favorites are in Cook County, because the Elgin Library reading area is AWESOME.)

Possibly this means:

Monday:

  • Complete outline of sermon.
  • Write blog post or two or three for me or one of the outlets I work with.
  • Read articles I left from the morning’s email because ain’t nobody got time for that in the morning.
  • Work on church programs that need to be finished this month.

Tuesday:

  • Finish sermons details.
  • Create graphics for the main points.
  • Create graphics and choose pictures for blogs and social media. These are fun. They aren’t work.

Wednesday:

  • Research next week’s sermon.
  • Work on an article.

Thursday:

  • Plot out next week’s sermon.
  • Work on a speaking engagement.

Friday: Go to the zoo. Scrapbook. Read. Work on some of those 123 things to do for the wedding. Garden. Fly to Paris. Whatever I want. It’s my day off.

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

5:30—Finish any social media posting/marketing that needs to be done.

6:20—Return to train station to pick up child. Remember I never got anything out for dinner. Or folded the last load of laundry. Finish above. Binge watch Great British Baking Show or Dr. Who. Sleep. Repeat.

What’s your day look like?