A Word from the Chef: Friday Dinner

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In his chef’s address from Friday evening of Hutchmoot: Homebound 2021, John Cal weaves a childhood story about burritos into a reflection on the discomfort of not knowing and the gift of being carried by God.

Transcript

I was afraid, and they kept laughing at me because I was afraid.

My parents rarely cook, and so when I was a kid we ate out a lot. We still eat out a lot, whenever I’m back in Hawaii for a visit. It can be every meal, or at least nearly every meal.

“You don’t need to buy groceries,” my dad will say. “Just stop by McDonald’s. It’s easier.”

Starbucks for breakfast. Takeout for dinner. Last night’s takeout leftovers for lunch. We can go for a week like this without batting an eyelash.

When I was a kid and I’d go over to my friends’ houses for sleepovers, their parents would make spaghetti, or sandwiches, or a casserole. When they’d come to my house we’d get Pizza Hut, or KFC, or Taco Bell.

I was also the sort of kid—I am the kind of adult—I am the sort of person who worries about what’s going to happen next. If we get pizza, how are we going to agree on what kind of toppings?

“You like olives? Oh good, I like olives too! How about mushrooms? Oh, that’s okay, we can get something else.” I know better than to broach the subject of onions or pineapple. When getting bucket chicken, the arguments centered around original or extra crispy, and who would get the drumstick. My mom always wanted spicy.

“It makes my mouth hurt,” nine year-old me would say.

“We’ll get both,” mom said, trying to ease my worry, but then they’d be mixed in the same bucket and I’d spend the meal filled with the anxiety of biting into a proverbial landmine.

Taco Bell was the worst. Crunchy taco, soft taco, Mexican pizza, nachos—these are the things I ordered, but my friends all liked burritos. I remember when I was ten and they introduced the 7-layer burrito. “I’ll have two taco supremes,” I’d say, whilst everyone else ordered Taco Bell’s newest Mexi-American invention. It’s the worst being ten years old and not being like everyone else.

It’s awful being an adult, when it seems like all the other adults have made better choices.

“You don’t like these? There’s so good,” Paul said, sour cream dripping from his chin.

“I haven’t tried it yet. Maybe next time” I said, trying to divert the conversation.

“It’s so good. Take a bite of mine,” Paul offered, pointing the burrito in my direction.

Then, the truth. Eventually it becomes unavoidable for most of us, and if you do manage to avoid it, you’ve spent your whole life running.

“What do you mean you’re afraid of burritos?” Peter asked. 

“I can’t see what’s inside,” I said.

They laughed—Peter, Paul, my dad. 

I was afraid, and they kept laughing at me because I was afraid. I was afraid because I couldn’t see what was going to happen, what it would taste like if I took a bite.

So much of life is venturing into the unknown and trusting that it’s going to be okay, and creation and creating are not immune to this. Even Jello molds or upside down cakes take a modicum of faith, belief that our work is going to be something worthwhile, something beautiful. And so often, this certainty is just something I don’t have, that I don’t often have now, that I didn’t have when I was ten.

Maybe you were the sort of kid who was brave enough to eat burritos. I certainly wasn’t.

I know that in my unknowing, the only omniscient One among us decided to create, even if it meant his creation wasn’t going to turn out exactly the way he planned.

John Cal

Though tortillas have been used by the Mayans since about 1500 BC, burritos don’t appear in history until the 19th century. One legend says that vaqueros, cowboys from Northern Mexico, would wrap meat and other ingredients in tortillas. Tacos didn’t travel well, but burritos could be carried. The word burrito is derived from the word burro, Spanish for “donkey,” because they were used to carry what was needed for the journey ahead.

Like when Zechariah prophesied the coming of the redeeming Messiah. “See,” he writes, “your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey.” The One who carries all things was also carried.

I sometimes wonder if an all-knowing God knew what was going to happen when he created the world, when he created Eden, when he created that donkey, when he created us.

If God didn’t know, then how does he go on after seeing what happened to what supposed to be his masterpiece? And if he did know, then how could he continue creating something that was going to turn out so wrong?

Some people say that sin entering the world was the first meal to go awry, and I suppose if I put myself in the middle of the story—if I, if humans, if humanity are the protagonists of the story of creation—then so much of the narrative is about the mistakes we made, the mistakes we continue to make. But if I put God in center of the story, then somehow it becomes not about mistakes but redemption—that yes, creation sometimes fails, but more importantly, it continues to be redeemed.

I’m not sure of the universal implications of free will or predestination, but I do know I can eat a burrito now (when I couldn’t before) without being afraid of what’s inside, or at least a little bit less afraid. I know that in my unknowing, the only omniscient One among us decided to create, even if it meant his creation wasn’t going to turn out exactly the way he planned.

Anne Lamott writes in her book, Plan B, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness, and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”

In creating, we are joining in the work of the Creator, the source of all light. By his grace we are creating light of our own. Over the years, so much of that light for me has been created through feeding people.

Tonight, if like me, you’re creating burritos of your own, I hope that they help you practice living in mystery. I hope they help sustain you for the journey of the days ahead. I hope that this weekend, you are able to explore the unknown, to ask questions of yourself and of the Great Maker, and I also hope you spend some time sitting in the discomfort of the not-knowing. And be kind to one another. Be kind to yourselves, because sometimes not knowing can be scary.

Still, it is not for us to know much of what is going to happen—but we can rest in one who does know, and in the assurance that we have been carried all along.

Read John Cal’s Chef’s Addresses from Hutchmoot 2017’s Friday dinner and Saturday dinner, Hutchmoot 2018’s Friday dinner and Saturday dinner, and Hutchmoot 2019’s Friday dinner and Saturday dinner.


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