The vocation of the restaurateur

I caught the chef Gordon Ramsey on my new favorite show, BBC’s comedy car show “Top Gear,” and since he could drive really fast, I decided to watch his show Hell’s Kitchen.

This is a sort of American Idol of cookery, only the sole judge is Ramsey, the Simon Cowell of chefs. The different cooks compete in doing the various tasks required in a professional kitchen and the winner gets to run one of Ramsey’s restaurants.

Watching the show reminds us of the hard work and high pressure that professional restaurant workers have to deal with. Ramsey is like a drill sergeant, demanding excellent work, quality preparations, and outstanding service for the customers. He yells at the contestants and cusses them out (carefully bleeped) when they fall short, but he also teaches and mentors.

The show can demonstrate to young people the demands of the no-coddling real world of demanding bosses and high performance standards. We often see the customers enjoying their peaceful dinner, unaware of the turmoil that it took to prepare it. The show makes us appreciate the vocation of the professionals who prepare us our daily bread.

(I just caught the reruns. The new season premiers tonight after “American Idol.”)

Apprehending Beauty

In a comment to “Aesthetics & American Idol,” Reader Mason Ian perfectly describes the “arduous” process of perceiving the greatest beauty:

Learning to subjectively like what is objectively good at first bounced off of my 3am quick-read blog-scan. But then I realized that this exact thing happened to me and I shall anecdote-ize it thus:

When first I approached Milton’s Paradise Lost I knew that I “should” treasure it as a sublime and beautiful epic of written art. But i could only (at first) force myself to appreciate it from the outside, like looking at an utterly alien thing that all others considered beautiful. You look at it sideways, squint a bit, trying to see what they see… but it is unutterably alien. Perhaps you see an angle here or there that has a symmetrical form that is pleasing, a curve here, a line there… but the whole is so beyond your current vantage point that the beauty is lost by your own unelevated perspective.

Then, after forcing yourself to merely “mentally ascribe” the designation of beauty to the form, you slowly achieve the ability to connect the slivers of recognizable traits of beauty that you CAN see from your current state.

This is achieved in literature by reading more. The more you read, the more you read. Sounds like very droll truism, but by it I mean the process by which reading one book end us turing you on to several other books, other authors, different ideas and concepts and styles. I read Samuel Taylor Coleridge and find a dozen more obscure authors through his quotes and references, which in turn leads me to more reading. Then, after ten years I come back to Milton and find that Paradise Lost IS beautiful to me in a very different way than the alien beauty I had firs admired as an outsider.

So at first I liked it for reasons outside of myself (others regarded it as the pinnacle of English poetry, etc, etc) then I learned to love it myself, through my own tastes and my own reflection.

We go from being outsiders to being insiders.

However, as it was pointed out, hollywood goes another way. The simple and quick way. the way of the lowest common denominator. Grasping beauty and goodness is a slow art that requires years of honing and exercise. Who has time? Pare down the representation of love to three lines of cheesy dialogue and a wet kissing scene and the audience is satisfied right?

Hardly. Here’s to those who take the time to find and create what is beautiful. It is a long and arduous journey but one which holds the most epic of rewards.

See, Milton and Shakespeare don’t make concessions to our impoverished vocabularies. You may have to read them with a dictionary at first. And they don’t pause every twelve minutes for a word from their sponsors. They go their own way and we have to catch up. But it is worth it when we do. The very subjective pleasure, if you want to reduce everything to this, is so much greater and deeper and more intense with these writers than with the lesser entertainment we content ourselves with (for one thing because we don’t always want to involve ourselves so much or work so hard–which is fine sometimes, as long as we don’t reduce our aesthetic standards to our own lazy pleasures and exclude what is really objectively good).

Anne Rice on Jesus, Faith, & Vocation

Anne Rice, who became famous for writing highly literate vampire novels, gives more details about her conversion to Christianity in a forum on the Washington Post online: On Faith: Guest Voices: My Trust in My Lord. Sample:

Look: I believe in Him. It’s that simple and that complex. I believe in Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the God Man who came to earth, born as a tiny baby and then lived over thirty years in our midst. I believe in what we celebrate this week: the scandal of the cross and the miracle of the Resurrection. My belief is total. And I know that I cannot convince anyone of it by reason, anymore than an atheist can convince me, by reason, that there is no God.

A long life of historical study and biblical research led me to my belief, and when faith returned to me, the return was total. It transformed my existence completely; it changed the direction of the journey I was traveling through the world. Within a few years of my return to Christ, I dedicated my work to Him, vowing to write for Him and Him alone. My study of Scripture deepened; my study of New Testament scholarship became a daily commitment. My prayers and my meditation were centered on Christ.

And my writing for Him became a vocation that eclipsed my profession as a writer that had existed before.

Why did faith come back to me? I don’t claim to know the answer. But what I want to talk about right now is trust. Faith for me was intimately involved with love for God and trust in Him, and that trust in Him was as transformative as the love. . . .

Before my consecration to Christ, I became familiar with a whole range of arguments against the Savior to whom I committed my life. In the end I didn’t find the skeptics particularly convincing, while at the same time the power of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John swept me off my feet. And above all, when I began to talk to Jesus Christ again it was with trust.

On the afternoon in 1998 when faith returned, I experienced a sense of the limitless power and majesty of God that left me convinced that He knew all the answers to the theological and sociological questions that had tormented me for years. I saw, in one enduring moment, that the God who could make the Double Helix and the snow flake, the God who could make the Black holes in space, and the lilies of the field, could do absolutely anything and must know everything — even why good people suffer, why genocide and war plague our planet, and why Christians have lost, in America and in other lands, so much credibility as people who know how to love. I felt a trust in this all-knowing God; I felt a sudden release of all my doubts. Indeed, my questions became petty in the face of the greatness I beheld. I felt a deep and irreversible assurance that God knew and understood every single moment of every life that had ever been lived, or would be lived on Earth. I saw the universe as an immense and intricate tapestry, and I perceived that the Maker of the tapestry saw interwoven in that tapestry all our experiences in a way that we could not hope, on this Earth, to understand.

This was not a joyful moment for me. It wasn’t an easy moment. It was an admission that I loved and believed in God, and that my old atheism was a façade. I knew it was going to be difficult to return to the Maker, to give over my life to Him, and become a member of a huge quarreling religion that had broken into many denominations and factions and cults worldwide. But I knew that the Lord was going to help me with this return to Him. I trusted that He would help me. And that trust is what under girds my faith to this day.

Robert and his Rules of Order

Once again, the US Postal Service has denied a petition to feature on a stamp the visage of Gen. Henry Martyn Robert. We have stamps honoring Wonder Woman and other individuals who do not exist, but we cannot honor the man who wrote Robert’s Rules of Order, a treatise used around the world, from church committee meetings to national parliaments, that, in many ways, makes participatory government and collective decision-making possible. I know none of us like meetings, but still, we should salute what this man accomplished. The linked article gives some background on Gen. Robert and how he came up with his rules:

As Robert the grandson tells the story, the elder Robert was living in New Bedford, Mass., in 1863 and was asked to preside over a meeting to consider the defense of the city during the Civil War.

He didn’t know beans about it [presiding over a meeting], and he found it very embarrassing,” Robert III said. “He made up his mind that if he got out of it alive, he would learn something about the subject.”

Learning something about parliamentary procedure involved reading a few books and making some notes, which he carried in his wallet for about four years.

When he moved to San Francisco, he encountered a city where prostitution was rife and Chinese laborers brought in to build the railroad were exploited, even chased by dogs for sport. Robert, a Baptist lay leader, was offended.

He joined the YMCA and several newly formed religious groups dedicated to relieving the plight of exploited souls, but he found that the city’s motley population had discordant notions about how to conduct meetings. San Francisco needed rules.

When Robert came out with the first version of his rules of order in 1876, he had trouble finding a publisher. Who’d want to read such a book? So he printed up 4,000 copies himself. Since then, Robert III says, it has sold 5 million copies.

I suspect that the very committee that turned down his stamp did so after receiving a motion that was properly seconded, with all in favor saying “aye,” and all opposed by the same sign.

Another Christian artist

We’ve been bragging about Lucas Cranach as an artist, but what about a contemporary artist from our very own Cranach community, Sarah Hempel Irani, a.k.a. Sarah from Maryland? She too is a very gifted artist who expresses her faith in her vocation. Check out her website, which includes information on how you or your church could have or even commission some of her portraits or sacred art:

Consider this example of her work, a sculpture of Mary at the Annunciation. Note how expressive Sarah has made this block of marble!

Sarah from Maryland's sculpture of Mary

Princess Sybille

Thanks–again–to Paul McCain at Cyberbrethren for keeping up with the Lucas Cranach boom. This achingly lovely portrait of Princess Sybille of Cleves is on sale for $4-$6 million.

Princess Sybille, by Cranach

And Paul quotes from the catalog description. Here is just a sampling of what it says about this young woman, a true saint of the Reformation:

This portrait of Princess Sybille of Cleves (1512-1554) was painted when she was fourteen years old and newly betrothed to Johann Friedrich I (1503-1554), the future Elector of Saxony. The oldest daughter of Johann III, Duke of Cleves, and Maria of Jülich-Berg, Sybille grew up at court in Düsseldorf with her sister Anne, one of the future wives of Henry VIII. Her marriage into the House of Saxony placed Sybille in the middle of the greatest ideological struggle of the sixteenth century, a reformation not only of the church but also of the state. A committed friend and supporter of Martin Luther, Johann Friedrich was actively engaged in the Reformation and took dramatic political and military risks to protect the reformatory movement. Sybille conducted a correspondence of her own with Martin Luther and actively supported her husband’s many campaigns, defending Wittenberg in his absence during Emperor Charles V’s siege of the city in 1546.

The Emperor’s siege of Wittenberg after Luther’s death was a huge conflict. Luther’s son Hans is said to have fought on the walls. That this woman led the defense is incredible. The Emperor eventually won, thinking he crushed the Reformation. Little did he know.

Anyway, that Cranach’s art speaks so strongly to people today should be an opening for us to explain the faith and the worldview that underlies his greatness.

Consider the range of his work and notice how free Cranach is. Notice how he appreciates individual human beings. Notice how he appreciates the beauty of nature and of ordinary life. Notice his edge in ridiculing vice and condemning corruption in both individuals and in the church. Notice how he experiences no contradiction between creativity and order, Biblical reality and his own reality. Notice his sense of vocation, of loving and serving his neighbor through his God-given gifts as an artist, a businessman, the mayor of Wittenberg, a lay leader in his congregation. How can we get this Christian sensibility back in our own times?