[Editor’s note: What follows is a transcription of John Cal’s delightful introduction to Saturday night’s dinner from Hutchmoot 2019, originally given nine weeks ago.]
Well, I’d like to visit the moon On a rocket ship high in the air Yes, I’d like to visit the moon But I don’t think I’d like to live there
Though I’d like to look down on the earth from above I would miss all the places and people I love So although I might like it for one afternoon I don’t want to live on the moon
I’d like to travel under the sea I would meet all the fish everywhere Yes, I’d travel under the sea But I don’t think I’d like to live there
I might stay for a day there if I had my wish But there’s not much to do when your friends are all fish And an oyster and clam aren’t real family So I don’t want to live in the sea
I’d like to visit the jungle, hear the lions roar Go back in time and meet a dinosaur There are so many strange places that I’d like to be But none of them permanently
So if I should visit the moon I will dance on a moonbeam and then I will make a wish on a star And I’ll wish I was home once again
Though I’d like to look down on the earth from above I would miss all the places and people I love So although I may go, I’ll be coming home soon Cause I don’t want to live on the moon
There is no glory in dicing an onion well. There are no accolades for cracking an egg with precision. I won’t lie to you and say that it’s fun to sweep a floor or scrub the corners of a sheet pan. It can be satisfying, enjoyable even, to take a piece of steel wool and with determination transform its edges, crusty and mottled with burnt sugar, to reveal the smooth shiny surfaces beneath. I myself have a proclivity for folding kitchen towels, lining up the corners, and watching the stack of freshly laundered terry cloth grow, but while I find the activity gratifying, I would not call it fun.
Making food is not hard. You can learn to fry an egg or slice a carrot or make a Dobos Torte. I can teach you how to make a Dobos Torte. The promise of your fork pressing through layers of sponge cake and silken chocolate buttercream, a note of bitter caramel on your palate, the crunch of hazelnuts.
After all, we love food. We delight in food. We see that there is value in food, in its eating, that it exists in the world, but it is the making of food, the work, that so often has many of us flummoxed. We want to eat the chocolate chip cookies. We don’t want to make them.
This was the most difficult part about working in that camp kitchen all of those years. Bright eyed seventeen year-olds arrived on my back stoop every June—all that undamaged, optimistic, youthful energy. They wanted so badly to make a difference, to have fun, to work at summer camp, and instead what they got was to work in a kitchen.
Concerning summer camp, I’d guess that the first images that come to mind are of water skiers or a lightly strummed acoustic guitar. Maybe for you camp is about archery or kayaks or ghost stories or playing capture the flag, but learning to dice an onion—that is no one’s vision of summer camp.
A kitchen worker’s camp experience is not filled with singing or swimming. We do not practice our gymnastics or play volleyball. We’re busy mopping and wiping off tables in the dining hall. There are eighty pounds of dough to transform into bread for supper, five cases of grapes to wash, sixty gallons of juice to make, and a birthday cake to frost for a camper in Cabin 7.
“And if you work really hard, maybe next year you can be a counselor.”
I know no one means it this way, but the subtext of such a statement is that there are better places, more important places to be than a kitchen—that this work is less than, that someone else, someone who is not me, should be doing it.
It’s a tough thing to fight when you’re seventeen, to be mopping a floor while watching the other kids on their way to go mountain biking, to be wrestling sixty quarts of ranch dressing out of the mixer while the wake boarding cabin walks down to the docks. Big Lake’s dish room has a window at the rinsing station that overlooks the lake, a test in fortitude, to wash a thousand or more cafeteria trays while looking out at the water. Then we wrap the whole thing in a bow labeled “ministry,” another difficult shiny layer to wade through.
And it’s not just at summer camp that we feel this way.
“Sure, Julie helps straighten the hymnals after church, but Barbara is in charge of counting the tithe.”
We think it’s great that Alan sings harmony on the praise team, but Peter plays lead guitar.
And yes, your son helps at the soup kitchen downtown, but my daughter is headed to the mission trip in Nicaragua.
If we know, as Teddy Roosevelt said, that “comparison is the thief of joy,” then why do we still do it?
There is a practice, a ritual really, that happened after morning kitchen worship when we were all too exhausted to pray. Sometimes it’s hard to pray at 6:00 in the morning when there are 1,200 pancakes to make. So when there was nothing we wanted to ask or tell or thank our Mysterious Ruler for, we would then share with each other (and congruently that part of Jesus that lives in us all) the last good thing that happened.
When learning this practice, this liturgy that came to be known as “Hanging Out with Jesus,” one often wants to remain orthodoxly spiritual.
“I hung out with Jesus when I watched the sunset,” someone will offer, or “I read my Bible during break,” another will say. Now, I do not want to discount the fact that they encountered Jesus in nature or when enthralled with the passages of 2 Corinthians, because Jesus is of course found in those places, but why is it so hard to find Jesus in other places too? Why is Jesus more in water skiing than washing dishes? Why is Jesus more in a sermon than straightening hymnals?
You see, I believe that all good in the universe comes from God, all of it, and, as I would tell my staff, “Whenever anything good happens to you, that’s when you’re hanging out with Jesus.” The New Testament writer James explains, “Every good and perfect gift comes to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.” Still, our definitions of good often remain so limited.
So tell each other over and over, at supper tonight and as often as you can, the old, old story of the many ways that God is good. John Cal
To a summer camp worker, good is often found in swimming and horseback riding, canoeing, or worshipful singing, and so it’s hard to teach camp kitchen workers this truth, especially at 6:00 in the morning when the day ahead of them is filled with none of those things and instead will contain sweeping and cutting cantaloupe and scrubbing saucepans. When learning what “Hanging Out with Jesus” is all about, they actually have difficulty seeing, naming the moments when God is trying to inject their lives with joy because it’s so damned hard to believe that God is hanging out with us when what’s currently happening isn’t on our approved list of what should be happening, when it’s not on our list of what we would call good.
But then there’s a moment one morning after some time has passed, and without even noticing that a change has taken place, someone will say, “I took a nap during my break. That’s when I was hanging out with Jesus.” Someone else will pipe in, “I played basketball yesterday afternoon,” or “I talked to my mom on the phone,” or “I found a groove while washing dishes,” or “Amy helped me find the bandaids, and that’s when I was hanging out with Jesus.” And we begin to get it, that there is so much good, so much God, working and being and living in all the nooks and crannies of our lives.
It was fifty years ago now that Apollo 11 put men on the moon. Neil Armstrong said it was the culmination of over a decade of work by more than 400,000 people. Only twelve astronauts have ever set foot on the moon, but on July 21st, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first.
Each astronaut was allowed to take a small PPK or Personal Preference Kit with them into space, a bag that contained small personal mementos. For instance, Armstrong’s contained, among other items, his fraternity college pin from Purdue and a fragment of wood from the propeller of one of the Wright Brothers’ planes.
At that time, Aldrin was an elder at Webster Presbyterian church, and among his personal items was a small card with two Bible versus written on it.
The first was:
And Jesus said, “I am the vine. You are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him will bear much fruit, for you can do nothing without me.” —John 15:5
The second was:
When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man, that thou visitest him? —Psalm 8:3-4
They understood the weight of what they were doing, the grandeur and the magnificence, how privileged and historical and special their part in the universe was.
Then, later, as the cosmos stirred around them, Aldrin exclaimed to Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 command module pilot, “Look, there it is, coming up!”
“What?” Collins replied.
“The earth. See it?” Aldrin asked.
“Yes,” replied Collins. “It’s beautiful.”
Because while they had reached the moon, done what no other human beings had ever accomplished, in the midst of their achievement they still were able to recognize the beauty of home.
When it was time for the Apollo 11 astronauts to have their first meal together, the first meal on the moon, their weightless supper included pineapple grapefruit drink, coffee, peaches, and bacon. Breakfast.
Breakfast was also the last meal Lucy and Edmond had in Narnia. After their voyage on the Dawn Treader, Aslan prepared a feast on the beach before their return to their own world. “Are you there too, Sir?” Edmund asked of Aslan. “I am,” said Aslan. “You shall meet me, dear one.”
And breakfast was the last meal we served campers after their week of fun and adventure and friendship before they returned home.
Sometimes we can feel cheated because we feel like we’re missing out, because we don’t get what we thought we wanted, because it doesn’t turn out the way we expected. And that feeling, that cup of bitterness often fools us into accepting the hopelessness we think we deserve, into choosing to disregard the ocean full of joy we are continually surrounded with. Because part of the mystery is that “Jesus is always hanging out with you,” as I would tell my summer camp staff, and the Great Deceiver has fooled us into believing that Jesus is only there when, only there if. So we only allow ourselves to experience goodness and God when we read our Bibles and when we’re in church and at summer camp, and we forget his constant presence. We forget the good that’s happening regardless of our actions, regardless of our surroundings, regardless of how we feel.
We look for his presence in singing songs, and in good stories, and in the Bible. We try to find him when we go to church, and at Hutchmoot, and on the moon, and of course he is there. But of course he is also there when we make toast for breakfast, and take Calculus finals, and when we drive to work, and vacuum the floor, and when we weed the garden. But of course he is everywhere: where our hearts ache with rejection and loneliness, trying so hard to help us realize the good that he’s already blessing us with, the good that he is moment by moment pouring into every corner of our being, that he’s not coming into our lives or blessing us more when we get hurt or laid off or get cancer because he’s already given us everything, because we already have and have always had access to all of the goodness and joy the universe has to offer.
So tell each other over and over, at supper tonight and as often as you can, the old, old story of the many ways that God is good.
As we share in this breakfast, our last meal together, after these days filled with wonder and before we return to all the wonders of home, may you be reminded that Jesus loves you, that there is a universe filled with goodness to remind you of this love, and that Jesus is always hanging out with you. Amen and amen.