Friday, November 26, 2010

A fine balance…

My birthday gift this year was about as good as my wife could hope for. As you might know, I’ve decided to become a good cook, so I asked her to give me cooking classes. Her response- Of course! Since the only burden that gift put on her was to eat the ever-increasing quality of food I made. A sacrifice she agreed to make for my happiness.

Recently, however, the bargain didn’t work as well as either of us are hoping. I took a sushi-making class at Whole Foods near Lake Calhoun. We like sushi; I thought, therefore, it’d be fun to make at home eventually. And besides, how hard could it be?! Rice, seaweed, tuna, wasabi. All I needed were tips for cooking the rice and rolling the rolls, and I’d be an instant sushi chef. Right? Right…


The class was hands-on, and quite good. The instructor described the rice-making process and showed how to roll a sushi roll. She gave helpful recipes, and presented a vast array of ingredients she’d prepared for experimenting purposes. Then, it was time for us to make sushi ourselves! Fyi, I’d promised Tabitha I’d bring mine home as her dinner…

I won’t bore you with the details; suffice to say, I didn’t follow the recipes. Rather, I followed my instincts, created on the fly, hoping to discover an unexpectedly wonderful new combination. I didn’t. Instead, I produced a jumble of tastes that didn’t complement each other; an over-abundance of soft textures that felt like bad mash potatoes; a dinner only edible because I felt compelled. Fortunately, Whole Foods has a professional sushi counter, which I stopped by before leaving. Tabitha, after all, was expecting sushi she could eat.

I’m sure that meal failed for many reasons, but since it was my first time, I didn’t feel terrible. Call it an exercise in giving myself grace. Still, I do want to learn this skill, so I’ve been pondering. And it seems that my major mistake was miscalculating the balance. All chefs know, of course, that balance is essential for any good tasting meal (not just sushi). All sweet but no bitter may work for ice cream, but in most dishes, the goal is a fine balance between various tastes and textures. Alas, my sushi rolls were decidedly unbalanced. Too much rice, not enough crunchy counterweights, excess wasabi (which, at least, cleared my sinuses…). I now know one reason sushi chefs apprentice for 5+ years- achieving an appropriately fine balance takes time to learn.

But that lesson isn’t exclusive for sushi chefs, right? What’s true for sushi is true for life (at least in terms of balance). And that’s especially so when talking spiritually-engaged living. One of God’s greatest roles in our lives, in fact, is to help us discover strength and perspective to balance life’s many concerns. Spending lots of time and money on just yourself? Jesus said, “Whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do to me.” Time to level scales. Spending too much time pleasing others- kids, boss, friends- and not eating well, exercising, praying enough? Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Both sides are important. The goal isn’t complete self-denial or self-realization. It’s a fine balance.

I think that’s one among many reasons I don’t define faith by our “beliefs,” like those who say, “I’m Christian because I believe Jesus is God.” Beliefs are ideas you affirm are true. Faith is more active. It’s the trust you develop in God’s vision and voice over time, after trying to listen, sinning, helping others, receiving help, i.e. upsetting and retaining a fine balance between hope and sadness, peace and anxiety. And because life shifts constantly around us, active participation is required to stay balanced. It’s not enough to say, “I believe Jesus is Lord.” It’s much more helpful to ask, “God, where in my life am I not acknowledging your loving Lordship?” And then taking the risk of faith to rebalance. It may not work immediately; you may need to keep praying, trusting, doing. But again, what’s true for sushi is true for life: there’s always tomorrow’s dinner...

Grace and Peace,

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