Yes, a shift in my writing from music to food might seem less than common sense to some, but it all fits clearly within the framework of what I'm learning. And to make matters more confusing, let me explain the connections between music and food by talking about politics for a bit.
I plead guilty to getting caught up in some of the petty fall out of the Health Care Bill within the past few weeks. Truthfully, I'm optimistic about this success of the Obama administration although I'm concerned about other developments (ie. the off-shore drilling and the legality of drone missile attacks). But these particular issues are not the main thrust of what has been concerning me, and this is the same issue that I've been talking about since the 2004 election. Despite all our political differences, the only hope we have for a functional democracy is a renewal of honest to goodness conversation. Unfortunately what we have in our public discourse is not discourse but shouting, misinformation, slander, reactionary-ist banter and party line quietism. This explanation of what has recently happened to conservative thinker and former Bush speech writer, David Frum, is the kind of destructive happenings that will continue to corrode our democracy.
I've mentioned before my fascination with the great prayer of St. Francis, especially the lines:
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;This selflessness is the fundamental ethic, the essential paradigm for constructive conversation. Without this selflessness--without the capacity to hear the other person--we are only participating in a power struggle. We must give the other person the dignity of being heard.
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
Jewish philosopher Martin Buber describes this as the "I" and "Thou" relationship. He says something deep when he says, “Through the Thou a person becomes I.” The implication is that we are not fully human if we do not allow the other person the dignity of being fully human. In contrast, says Buber, our post industrial society has developed an "I" and "It" worldview. This is where we presume to transcend our neighbors and even all of society. Here everything has lost dignity of being. When everything outside of ourselves becomes an "It" rather than a "Thou," these things are merely subject to our own whimsy, our own control, and further, our abuse.
This is why I am so very distressed especially when Christians are the ones shouting the most. They have in essence taken upon themselves a lust for power that ultimately only God can wield. It's a triumphalism that demonstrates the loudness of their own voice rather than a deep trust in the work of the Holy Spirit and the Lordship of Christ over all creation, over our government and even our economy. Of course I'm not saying that Christians should not publicly offer their convictions. What I'm saying is that we will most likely be better heard if we share our convictions in the form of a dialogue rather than from the meager heights of a soap box.
Now here is where I will start to bring food back into the discussion and then eventually music too. I'm a Wendell Berry sucker. I say "sucker" because I've read more of his writings rather than actually lived in response to his writings. I've lacked the patience and courage, but something is arising within me that is intent on putting my ideals more plainly into practice, thus the worm bin I mentioned in the last post (I'll offer some pictures soon, I promise). So, to stoke the fires, I've been reading Wendell Berry again and now that I really want to change as a person, his words are all the more penetrating. Here is his elegant way of bringing together the topics at hand, dialogue and food:
“The fact is that we have nearly destroyed American farming, and in the process have nearly destroyed our country…How has it happened?…Industrial agriculture, built according to the single standard of productivity, has dealt with nature, including human nature, in the manner of a monologist or an orator. It has not asked for anything or waited to hear any response. It has told nature what it wanted, and in various clever ways has taken what it wanted.”Simply put, agribusiness has participated largely in an "I" and "It" subjugation of our natural land resources. What is the solution for Berry?
...an agriculture using nature, including human nature, as its measure would approach the world in the manner of a conversationalitst. It would not impose its vision and its demands upon a world that it conceives of as a stockpile of raw material, inert and indifferent to any use that maybe made of it....On all farms, farmers would undertake to know responsibly where they are and to consult "the genius of the place." They would ask what nature would be doing there if no one were farming there. They would ask what nature would permit them to do there, and what they could do there with the least harm to the place and to their natural and human neighbors. And they would ask what nature would help them to do there. And after each asking, knowing that nature will respond, they would attend carefully to her response. The use of the place would necessarily change, and the response of the place to that use would necessarily change the user. The conversation itself would thus assume a kind of creaturely life, binding the place and its inhabitants together, changing and growing to no end, no final accomplishment, that can be conceived or foreseen."Berry here has depicted the "I" and "Thou" relationship in terms of our connection to the land. This is what I've learned about making music, that it requires incredible listening ability not just to match the beat of the other players, but also an attentiveness to the dynamics and also the audience or congregation. When I play music, I'm listening to everything, drawing it all in and then responding as if in a conversation. When I teach, I am performing a profound act of listening. Each semester I start with a syllabus, but the content of the course always changes as I listen to the students and re-read the material. If I don't let the course dynamically change, then ultimately I am more concerned with imposing my self-important ideas upon the students rather than serving them as learners. So much could be said about healthy leadership, parenting, and friendship along these terms, but that is hopefully all obvious at this point.
Two final things then: first, by attempting to write about food, I am confessing that for the most part, my participation in nature has been one-way. I've imposed my own demands for convenience upon my food consumption. I'm interested in learning to grow things and to make worm compost because it is a way to give my backyard and nature itself the dignity of being a live, vibrant place of sustenance, and I wish I had the words to explain how this is slowly making me more alive myself.
Second, to bring all these thoughts about conversation back together, consider the table. The best of meals are the ones that allow us the time to be together and have a sharedness of our beings. A really good meal can transform relationships. You take your time. You enjoy successive courses. You share in the delight of tastes, textures, aromas and you linger at the table when all the plates are empty. You linger because an event has taken place and you bask in the blessedness of all that the table offered: sustenance, pleasure and above all, love. Like the music or the sermon of a worship service, food when properly prepared can provide an occasion where we find ourselves being more ourselves when together than we are alone. It is in this way that food can feed our souls.