Thank You, Julia!
This summer – August 15, to be exact – marked the 100th birthday of Julia Child. Why should you care about that? Because “America’s cooking teacher” might just be one of our best role models for the kind of church leader we need in a rapidly changing world.
I’ve suggested before that in an age of rapid cultural change, when folks don’t know the Christian story that well and we live in culture that doesn’t value church attendance at it once did, leaders can’t afford to be primarily performers of the faith but rather need to be trainers and coaches. That is, I think our call today is not just to help people appreciate their faith but also to teach them to use it to make sense of their lives effectively.
Which is where Julia comes in. Until watching Julie & Julia, I had no idea of her accomplishment. Think about it: she entered a very much male-dominated world that was, if not hostile to Americans, at least not inviting them to the table, and through grit and an ineffably buoyant spirit managed to learn how to cook like a French chef. And once she had mastered it – and here’s the clincher – she set about teaching everyone else to do it. Over the course of her career, she took something mysterious and unreachable and made it available to any American cook or homemaker who was interested.
I think that’s our job – to take the “mysteries” of the faith and make them available to anyone who is interested. From this point of view, the mark of a competent leader won’t simply be that she or he is very good at sharing faith, interpreting the Bible, and giving care, but that, over time, the members of her congregation will be better at these central tasks of the church.
While some may find this daunting – after all, doing a thing well and teaching others to do it are not the same thing – others will find it liberating. There are a lot of great batting coaches, after all, who were never great sluggers and lots of great orchestra conductors who never made it as a soloist.
One last thing about Julia, which is brought out so clearly in this late-80’s appearance with Dave Letterman and my five favorite Julia Child quotations below. Notice in both her good humor, her ability to laugh at herself and to learn from her mistakes, and her ability to improvise. These may just be the qualities of the leaders we most need right now.
My five favorite Julia Child quotations:
1) “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
2) “Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed. Eh bien, tant pis. Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile, and learn from her mistakes.”
3) “I always give my bird a generous butter massage before I put it in the oven. Why? Because I think the chicken likes it — and, more important, I like to give it.”
4) ”No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”
5) “Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?”
1) If you are receiving this post by email, you may need to click here to watch the video.
2) My thanks to the Rt. Rev. Jeffrey Lee, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago (ECUSA) for first suggesting Julia Child as a role model.