Food for Thought-The Malformed Shrub of Novi Sad (The Third Letter)

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26 April 1957

Between Breakfast and Lunch
Belgrade, The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Dearest Esteemed Mentor and Friend,

Epistolam tuam plenam (ut soles) caritate grato animo accepi.* As I accepted scalding coffee from a blind Turk at breakfast; I reflect upon your recollections of the malformed shrub. At first I could not think of anything but the shrub. Its deformities and horrors, unlike coffee, are measured in centimeters not milliliters. While the pain of the thorns is limited in duration, like the burning coffee, they linger long below the skin.

Do you remember the vindictive apple tree which once resided to the left of the train station in Subotica*? Much like the malformed shrub of Novi Sad*, the Station Tree of Subotica would seek draw weary travelers to gaze upon its ever ripening fruit. Without warning, the fruit would fall, sometimes striking children or goats upon the head. In the shadow of this evil tree, the trains to Budapest traveled north and cars to Belgrade ambled south. To my memory, there are no birds in Subotica in July.

Of this I am certain: In the beautifully sculpted garden, adjacent to the room where food was served, grew a strong shrub. Perhaps the bird was moving to the garden or lived in a nearby tree. I must know. I fear this bird was not what it seemed. For did we not walk past three trees, after turning left, by the cow, on our way to find something to eat? The man with ears, heard our questions, and asked, “Are you lost?” Wasn’t this by tree number three?”

Until tomorrow, we think upon these things.

Yours Truly,

V

Epistolam tuam plenam (ut soles) caritate grato animo accepi.* Latin-I was so glad to receive your letter, so full, as is your wont, of charity.
Subotica – the second largest city of Vojvodina, the largest province in northern Serbia
Novi Sad – the largest city in Vojvodina, the largest province of northern Serbia.

Food for Thought-The Search for A Bosnian Dentist (The Second Letter)

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26 April 1957
3:12 pm
Belgrade, Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Dear Friend and Vaunted Colleague,

I received your letter in the morning post. The verdant glories of spring also fall fresh around my daily walks through the old city. Yesterday, as we passed the man with two legs and coffee, I realized the trees along Kralja Petra* were growing again toward the sky; each leaf reaching toward some unseen cloud. Upon further examination, I realized no clouds were present. In the meantime, you had turned left along Gospodar Jovanova*, determined to see the famous Bosnian dentist*. How was the cleaning?

Now, dear neighbor, to your query. Do I remember this day? How can I not? To me it seems as today. The buildings, of which you speak, were tall and grand; were they not? I remember each room possessed a window. Do you remember the morning, the sun shone, and we went into the building via a door? I also recall the horse. It was brown and turning right; for did you not face me? How can you not, with such fondness, recall the green grass? I remember, in places where grass did not grow, the black soil stared into our souls.

I remember that we rode in a car and turned right twice before stopping beside a malformed shrub. The shrub, while lacking the permanence of a true socialist road marker*, announced the entrance to the place we had arrived. Perhaps this bird, of which you speak, made its home in the malformed shrub?

Until tomorrow, I bid you farewell. Think upon these things.

Yours truly,
M


*Kralja Petra is a street in the old city of Belgrade
*Gospodar Jovanova is a street adjacent to Kralja Petra in the old city of Belgrade
*Bosnian dentistry was known for its precision, particularly in the late 1950’s

*road markers in the former Yugoslavia were known for their sturdiness

Food for Thought-The Diary of a Macedonian Olive (The First Letter)

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25 April 1957

Belgrade, Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Dearest Friend,

The leaves on my morning walk by the Kalemegdan* are that glorious shade of green; a green known only among the olives of southwest Macedonia* and in the jealousy of Bulgarian women*. Needless to say, springtime has descended upon the capital with the radiant splendor of a conquering meteorological army.

I write to you today with a question. Actually several questions. One has led to another and other. I’m quite hoping you might bring my queries to a swift conclusion.

Now, let me ask: do you remember the time, when we were in the place, in the village where there were buildings made of stone? I believe the sun was shining and clouds were far above our heads. As the wind blew, the people of this village walked by and greeted us. If memory serves, rocks were on the road and strewn about the “sidewalk” where we journeyed. Upon this road, we saw a brown horse. I believe the horse was going left.

When mid-day approached, you mentioned going to a place, in a building, where people served food in exchange for money. Do you know the place, the one with the tables, chairs, and cutlery? Adjacent to our window, where plates were brought containing food, we heard the singing of a bird. It is this bird which sings through the clear corners of this remarkable day. Was the bird a Picus Viridis*?

I humbly await your reply.

Yours truly,

V

*the Kalemegdan is an ancient military fortress (now park) where the Sava River joins the Danube
*Macedonian olives are known to be particularly green
*Bulgarian women are known to be jealous, at times
*Picus Viridis is the common European Woodpecker

Food for Thought-In the Company of Forgotten Scones

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In The Company of Forgotten Scones

The diminishing darkness,
Of the kitchen bulb,
Absorbs the fading blandness,
Of the dying paint,
While far beyond,
The crumpled remains,
Of yesterday’s scone,
Lies exasperated,
Unpreservable preserves,
Waiting to be consumed,
By those who imagine not,
Spread in growing retreat,
Layered with disquiet,
My scones, my scones,
What have I forgot?

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-Why Wagner Killed Nihilism in Food

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Some might argue that no true art existed before Wagner. Like wandering shepherds in search of Jackson Pollack’s pasture of splattered dreams among the hillsides of Napoleon’s crumbling Europe; composers tried to re-tell the tales of love and death of pre-revolutionary Europe. The resulting unfinished nothingness, lingered in the broken syllables of hobbled oboes in the salons of Vienna and Berlin. While for measure after measure violas asked interminable questions of longing, love, and loss; never waiting for answers to be given. The sacrifice paid by so many and now shared by so few; what was it for? The evil wrought by the French hordes, for what manipulative purpose did it serve? Would Franz Schubert force sacrifice to dance with evil in the pursuit of unrequited love? No. Who then?

In the endless melody of time, I have found few restaurants whose cuisine moves me to tears. By this I mean the food’s taste, texture, and dining experience is such that I am emotionally moved from where I am to a place better than I could have planned to be. As there are certain melodies in which I believe, melodies which confirm existential realities beyond space and time, there are certain dishes at certain restaurants which do the same.

Notes, like those which open Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhauser, do not wander across my brain. Far from the distant and drunken ramblings of Schubert’s sonatas, Wagner’s notes form a simple progression of melodic ideas. Once heard, it is impossible to un-hear them and remove them from the seat they have found in your psyche. The notes are indisputable in their origin. They will tell you a story and take you to a definitive place and time. Your only choice is to go along for the ride.

I pick up the phone. Seven numbers, as familiar as those seven opening notes, separate me from hearing these words, “Thai Moon.” Once that connection is made, it is impossible to put down the phone. I am unable to remove myself from the world I have entered. Speak and I will be answered, hope and it will be fulfilled. The orchestra is waiting for the baton to drop. Joy, tears, and peace are only three words away, “pad Thai chicken”. It seems to do no justice to the dish I’m about to eat to describe the flavors as harmonious. Does one describe lime and garlic as the 3rd and 5th chords of redemption and salvation? Does the irreducible experience of human compassion find itself in noodle after noodle? Am I now, as the great French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan would argue, in a place of genuine otherness moved to see what I have never seen and hear what I’ve never heard? Yes. Is my world more authentic and a better place because I’ve eaten this meal? Yes.

Food for Thought-A Prayer To Be Delivered At the Dedication of A New Baseball Field

Excelsiors You are the God of base hits, pop flies, stolen bases, home run moments, and missed opportunities. For in Baseball we see glimpses of our better selves and your grace; urging us to keep moving forward to the next base, when we would rather stand safely in the past. You call us, like outfielders, to be constantly aware of our surroundings and the actions of those around us. You tell us, like a good coach, we work better when we work together. May these lessons be heard and remembered in this place. May the summer sun which warms the faces of each player, remind us of the love you hold for each of us in your well worn heavenly Baseball glove. May the spring rains which will nourish this grass, remind us a community has sought to grow young people strong in body, mind, and spirit. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Food for Thought-What’s In A Name A Homily on Acts 4:5-12

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Why do you do this? In whose name do you do this? By what power do you do this? Those are the questions asked of Peter and John when they’re hauled before the High Priest and assorted big wigs after healing a man in the temple. Take a step back. Ask yourself the same questions. Here you are, in church, in life, on Earth, and the Chief Priests of our day have posed the questions: “Why do you do this? In whose name do you do this? By what power do you do this?” How would you answer?

Peter wants to answer on the basis of his actions. He asks, “Are we being examined today because something good was done for a sick person, a good deed healed him?” Peter is putting a question back to the High Priest. Do you want to know the answer to these questions because I did something tangible (in this case make a sick person better)? Have you seen a specific action which has raised questions about our motivations and intentions? Peter’s question is important. He’s saying, “I’ve done something tangible and real. My motivation for doing this action (healing) is equally tangible and real.” Peter wants the high priest to realize his reasons for this simple healing are rooted in a simple explanation.

Look how Peter puts his explanation, the man is now healthy, “because of the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene-whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.” Remember the guy you just killed, about two months ago, him; the one who was raised from the dead. It doesn’t get much simpler. There is a relationship between what we’ve done (and will continue to do) by restoring health and life to people and the death and life of a man you ordered executed. A life which you deemed to be worthless, subversive, and of no value carries a greater purpose and value since his death and resurrection. Notice what is absent from Peter’s answer and this text as a whole: a body. This isn’t a post-resurrection appearance. There are none after Acts 2. Jesus is physically absent from this scene, yet like Romeo’s spirit when Juliet realizes he’s dead, Romeo is everywhere. Jesus is present in name only. No wounds, no tombs, just words.

It’s amazing what emotions the name, presence, and memory of Jesus can evoke. Those words need not be uttered by priest, pastor, prince, or prophet. At the name of Jesus, Paul says, every knee shall bow and tongue confess, because he is a Lord who ate with prostitutes, embraced sinners of all shapes and sizes, and asks us to reorder and well-worn preconceptions about how we are convinced the world ought to run. You see, ultimately, it’s not about the name. It’s about the real, tangible guy behind the name. Are we worshiping a name? You can whoop and holler, “in the name of Jesus” until you’re blue in the face but the name of Jesus means nothing unless it is accompanied by Christ like actions of love, empathy, and grace. Maybe we ought to spend more time trying to live up to the actions and relationships of the man who held the name.

If we were to answer this same question, “why, whose, power” how simple could we be?