I asked a few friends to gather Memorial Day and celebrate an all-day Italian feast. Our location was “off the grid” at the rustic but elegant lodge, arbor and organic gardens on the stunning 2,000 acres of [email protected] Cove near Winchester, Tennessee. Nordeck and Mary Claire Thompson created and own Round Cove and are the quintessential hosts.
I volunteered to cook a seven course meal from scratch for 25 people – a task never attempted by this novice culinary artist. The most people for which I had previously cooked was 10. Believe me, there is quite a difference. A relatively unfamiliar kitchen in the wilderness. When you forget something, it requires an hour round trip. You get the picture.
As everyone arrived, we somehow felt the day would be special. But I don’t think any of us dreamed it would turn out to be one of those rare magical days that occur only a few times in one’s life.
It wasn’t the food (and drink), although if I do say so myself, it was really great.
It wasn’t the location, although it was perfect.
It wasn’t the weather, which was very fickle.
It was the people.
I told myself again this morning. “It was the people, stupid, it was the people.”
Even in the busyness of cooking, sweating, worrying, preparing, and serving, I watched everyone talking and laughing and enjoying…each other. Everyone jumped in and helped. Our hosts’ daughter, Kathryn, freshly graduated from college a few days before, took the responsibility of three of the courses and totally outdid herself. She, her siblings and college buddies reveled in helping prepare the feast and decorating with fresh flowers.
Other friends cut tomatoes for hours, rolled out fresh pasta and raviolis, baked fresh breads, washed dishes, trudged through the mud and rain undaunted and by faith prepared the outdoor tables in the garden for the main courses. (Their faith was rewarded, as we enjoyed the last four courses outdoors, rain-free, until just as we finished and stood up, the rain began again).
It was like the best of Italy in America. The lodge, deck, porches and gardens were filled with family and friends laughing, eating and drinking. A sacramental experience.
As I cooked, I learned that Caroline was trying out for volleyball the next day, her sister Claire was traveling in Spain, college student Brittney had recently been to South Africa and had tried the wines there, about a great restaurant and chef in Athens from Kathryn, that Perry, Ga is called the armpit of the south by some – but not by its residents, how the wife of my friend Johnny who died last week was doing from my friend David, that friends Carl and Nordeck share many common interests, a new song and a joke from Les, about college life from Nick, that Mallory was 19 and the sister of Christopher, who was in Asia and is an aspiring writer, and with whom I had coffee once at Merridees, that Patsy Clairmont is a chick magnet, discussed a new book about wine called The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine, and that is only the beginning.
It wasn’t about the food and drink, it was about the people and their stories.
Upon evaluating thirty years in the pastoral ministry during a recent sabbatical, I realized that it wasn’t the music celebrities I was fortunate enough to work with, it wasn’t the Grammy award-winning band mates, it wasn’t achieving one of the most coveted jobs in my profession, and it wasn’t about the thousands of people who flocked to hear us sing and play each weekend.
It was about people named Michael, Rebecca and Billy Ray who are real people with insecurities just like me and you. It was about the hang in the green room with the band between services eating Cracker Barrel biscuits and hearing about each others lives. It was about staff birthdays, get-togethers and retreats, not the endless staff meetings. It was about lunches and coffees getting to know the people in the church and community, not about the adrenaline high of the stage and thousands of people.
America and our fair city of Franklin are not great because of government and laws and police enforcement – on the contrary, they are great because of their people. Oh sure, there will always be lazy people who would rather sit on their porch all day and collect government money than work, people who choose stealing over honesty, and people who have been mentally, physically and emotionally damaged by abuse and neglect. And for those people, we need government, laws and the police, I suppose. But only to a minimum.
Because it’s not about bigger government, bigger churches and bigger social programs. It’s not about bigger buildings and bigger laws. It’s not even about me cooking lots of wonderful Italian food.
It’s the people.
It’s about the people.
Jesus obviously knew this and chose to spend the majority of his short life with people. He reprimanded Martha for not understanding this principle. On the other hand, he praised her sister Mary for practicing this simple ideal. And he saved his most scathing reprimands for the excessive rule makers and entitled leaders who valued programs and systems over people.
It’s the people, stupid. (I’m sure Jesus didn’t say stupid, that word is just for my benefit.)
It’s the people. Or, as they would say in Italy…
E’ il popolo, stupido!
What say you? People or programs?
How is your community, church, family doing in this area?
How about you?