Celebrity chef, Marcus Samuelsson (Photo Credit: Mariela Lombard/Newscom)
I have read many books in my life and have had many, different reactions. Some have prompted great sorry. Some have made me laugh. This book stands alone among those that elicited a reaction from me for an interesting reason: it made me hungry, for both food and life.
Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson chronicles his journey from life as Ethiopian orphan to becoming the youngest chef to ever receive a New York Times three star rating. His journey, however, didn’t stop there. He went on to win TLC’s Top Chef Master competition and the opportunity to prepare President Obama’s first state dinner…at the same time.
When I read about all the accolades he’d won, I was nervous that this book might be cerebral and stale. I was pleasantly surprised. The narrative is personable and refreshing. It is layered with the richness that Chef Samuelsson accomplished with his food and there is something for every palate. Unlike other memoirs, which capture a snapshot of a season of life, Yes, Chef portrays a full picture of Samuelsson’s life and struggles.
The book is divided into three sections: Samuelsson’s life as a boy, as a chef, and as a man. Each of these sections evoked a different kind of hunger for me. The first section made me hungry to overcome adversity. Samuelsson tells about how his young life began with his mother walking he and his sister seventy-five miles to a hospital, all while they were sick with tuberculosis. Despite that and his mother’s death, Samuelsson recovered but faced more adversity when a Swedish couple adopted him.
Here we see Samuelsson’s first introduction to cooking through his grandmother since his mother didn’t hold cooking in as high regard as his grandmother. Here we also find something else that makes this book great: Samuelsson writes great imagery. He writes that his mother made “…pasta as not even a prisoner would tolerate it…”.
The second section stirred up the hunger to persevere as it gave an intimate look not only into Samuelsson’s progression as a chef, but the service industry as a whole. I found myself in awe of his drive to become the best, amazed at how he endured unkind treatment for the sake of perfecting his craft. Most of all, this section documents Samuelsson’s remarkable desire to learn; a desire which, as he notes, is not always present in African-American youth.
One piece of this story that made reoccurring appearances in the book was the racism Samuelsson experienced. Since he wasn’t a traditional African-American male, his thoughts gave an “outsider looking in” feel to parts of his narrative. He also highlights the subtle racism in the food service industry with his aversion to the term to the French and Swiss term negre, a word used for lower level kitchen assistant.
Race also plays another role in this book, a significant one. Samuelsson’s journey to becoming a chef took him through several different cultures and ethnicities. Having visited or eaten many of cuisines mentioned in the book, I appreciated how he incorporated them into his life and cooking.
And the cooking! Most readers snack while they read, but this book took snacking to a new level. My mouth watered for the dishes he described, especially the section on fried chicken. Given Samuelsson’s poetic writing style, I could almost taste the flavors of his cuisine. He learned his craft well and it shows in the pages of this book.
Samuelsson’s endurance is to be applauded and celebrated. Too often success in our culture is presented in a microwave perspective. Although achieving goals appears to happen overnight, Samuelsson’s journey illustrates that success comes from years of persistence and perseverance.
The last section reads like the serving of a great dish. It shows how all of the flavors of Samuelsson’s life come together. Reading the end of the journey is as satisfying as a wonderful meal, but even better because it shows how the events of his life shape his character. One of my favorite things about this book is that it’s not just for readers who admire Chef Samuelsson or for people who love food. It’s for anyone in love with life and Samuelsson doesn’t disappoint – just be sure to keep a snack nearby.
On President Obama’s second inauguration, noted pastoral iconoclast Mark Driscoll tweeted the following, to a reception of thousands of retweets: “Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church (Photo courtesy of MarsHill.com)
It may seem like a bit of an exaggeration to refer to Driscoll as an iconoclast, but I can’t think of a better descriptor for his brand of cultural engagement, particularly when aimed at those he sees as liberal.
See, the literal definition of iconoclast is, according to Professor Google, “a destroyer of images used in worship.” Which seems like an odd pastime for a pastor, really. When I ponder this definition, my mind conjures up a performance artist in the middle of church, swinging a sledgehammer at a bowl of communion grapes. Like the evangelical equivalent of Gallagher at a farmer’s market, he gleefully causes a tremendous spectacle, and seems to enjoy the mess he’s making in the process.
So when you think of someone who seems to derive enjoyment from tweaking the tenets of leftist Christian socially-acceptable orthodoxy, is there anyone else who comes to mind more than Mark Driscoll? Probably not.
After all, this is the same guy who used his bully pulpit to mock effeminate male worship leaders and decry the evil occult influence in Avatar and the Twilight films. And despite the respect I have for Driscoll for the latter, I can’t get over my palpable sense of disgust over the former. Being a worship leader by heart and by trade, I take special offense at the idea that being sensitive is the same thing as being effeminate. Hasn’t this guy read the Psalms?
Given his well-documented misdeeds on social media, perhaps “iconoclast” is no longer the best term to describe Mark Driscoll and his brash, in-your-face style. Maybe we should just call him what we would call anyone else on the internet who intentionally does this – a troll.
See, trolls are internet citizens who intentionally say outlandish things to provoke arguments because it delights them to see so many people upset by the things they say. I’m not in Driscoll’s head and I truly don’t know what motivates him to say the things he does, but with this latest tweet, Driscoll seems to be joining the ranks of political trolls like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter. And that distresses me greatly.
I’m distressed because it’s clear Driscoll didn’t consider the unintended consequences of the tweet before he sent it out. It’s possible that this was his misguided attempt at trying to hold the President accountable for the theological implications of some of his policy decisions. If so, Driscoll would probably be shocked to realize just how ignorant and racist his words appeared, and that by so openly casting doubt on the authenticity of our president’s Christianity, he unwittingly allied himself with birth certificate conspiracy theorists, 9/11 truthers, and the sign-waving congregants of Westboro Baptist. Part of the cost of restricting your argument to 140 characters is the way it can be open to interpretation. Even in the best light, that one didn’t do him any favors.
Even more so, actually, I’m distressed because of the partial truths therein. There are legitimate reasons to question President Obama’s theological beliefs. After all, none of his advanced degrees are in divinity. He’s the Commander-In-Chief, not the Theologian-In-Chief. He could be wrong about some things. His stances on abortion and/or gay marriage can be considered by some as antithetical to some of the Bible’s more relevant passages on those subjects.
But even if that’s true, it was still a bad idea to be so cavalier about it. By tweeting in such a blatantly antagonistic manner, Mark Driscoll unintentionally justified the prevalent atheist and agnostic liberal contempt with all things related to God and the church, because most liberals were taught by experience that being a Christian is synonymous with being a harsh, unloving, hypocritical blowhard. That lie, obviously false to anyone who’s had a life-altering salvation experience with Jesus in the context of authentic Christian community, receives another veneer of legitimacy with every time something like that is said.
And the thing is, Mark Driscoll should know that. He probably does know that, actually, and probably just let his emotions get the best of him. It happens to the best of us.
But what distresses me the most about all of this is that his tweet was retweeted over three thousand times, probably by people who feel the same way. How many of those people have non-Christians among their Twitter followers? How much damage was done to the credibility of the local church because of one celebrity pastor’s flippant judgment?
Such tweets tend to be less about engaging others who feel differently than they are about rallying people to your side who already agree. In politics, as in sport, few things are more effective at firing up your support base than thumbing your nose at the competition.
But the end result is a mess of unintended consequences. The people who need to see us at our best, end up seeing us at our worst. Our unsaved neighbors – or even worse, our brothers and sisters in Christ — become our enemies. This is how churches become beholden more political objectives than gospel objectives. This is how culture wars are waged.
So people, use more care when tweeting your political dissent. It’s important to take a stand on the issues that matter to you and your church, but bear in mind that recklessly upsetting people off is a poor way to transmit the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the ecumenical equivalent of throwing out the baby with the bath water, then bashing that baby against a rock.
I’m sorry, was that too strong a metaphor? I was just looking for a psalm reference that Mark Driscoll wouldn’t think was effeminate.