Meatloaf and Tradition

IMG_3263I like to cook. It’s fun. And after watching Good Eats by Alton Brown on the Food Network I’ve learned the science behind it. When I first started cooking though I didn’t know the science behind it. I didn’t even know the full extent of how to cook.

But I did have one thing–a Mickey Mouse cookbook.

I was in second grade. We were living in Southern California at the time. We had an annual pass to Disneyland. And one day at Disneyland, I saw it. The Mickey Mouse cookbook. I wanted it. I didn’t know what it was but I knew I needed it. My folks told me that it’d be a lot cheaper somewhere else. So sadly I went home without it. Some time  later, my folks brought home the cook book for me. And then my mom started teaching me how to do measurements, how to make cookies, how to adapt a recipe for a family of five when the recipe said it served four.

And then it happened. My folks let me pick out a recipe and cook it for myself. I chose Archimede’s Meatloaf. And I followed it to the letter. Or so I thought. Somehow I misread how much salt to use. When I took the meatloaf out of the oven it sparkled. To this day it is affectionately referred to as the salt loaf. When we threw it in the trash it hit with a thud. I think we got Burger King that night.

But that didn’t stop me. My folks told me to keep at it. They encouraged me to keep on cooking. I was taught the tradition of cooking. I was taught the need to stick to the recipe, especially if I didn’t know it too well. I was also taught by my mom frequently that if I’m going to experiment with a recipe, do it on my own time and not mess with other people’s food (this came shortly and very frequently after my dad’s wine in the hamburger helper incident). And so I continued to cook, sticking to the recipe, sticking to the measurements to the letter. I stuck with the tradition of cooking passed down to me by the great guru Mickey Mouse.

Both my sister and I took cooking classes (I in both junior high and high school). After my parents split and later divorced, my sister and I did most the cooking at home because my mom worked. And then when we lived with my grandparents for a while, my grandmother began to teach me how to cook, how to think outside the box in cooking. She taught me techniques to use in cooking. She taught me recipes she had by memory. I asked once to write them down and she couldn’t because she wasn’t cooking at the time. Cooking for her was wrapped up in being in the kitchen. Only there could she really remember the recipe.

In college I worked for a while as a short order cook and loved it (the cooking part, not the heat of the kitchen, not the clean up, not the customers all upset because I got their oder wrong). I continued to cook through out college. My roommates were ecstatic about it and from time to time I’d cook for them.

After a while, I learned to cook like my grandmother–from memory. I knew the recipes. I knew the measurements by sight. I experimented. I tried different tastes and herbs and spices. I learned so many ways to cook mac and cheese while in college.

IMG_3264No matter how far I went, I always came back to my old cook book though. I’d flip through the old worn pages with my hand written notes or notes written by my mom. There are some pages stained by some sort of fluid I spilled on the book years ago.

Some time back in South Dakota, I stopped by the food bank to see how our church could help them. The lady running the food bank said that they were doing fine with food, it’s just the fact that people didn’t know how to cook the food they offered. I scanned the shelves and started pulling items together. I found about three meals that could be made off the shelves–all from my Mickey Mouse cook book. I brought the book over later and she made copies and handed them out. Simple. Direct. Easy recipes. The constant use of this one cook book was used to help others.

I still cook meatloaf from this cook book. Yes, I’ve adapted it. I’ve added things, taken things out and I DO NOT put ANY salt in it whatsoever. There is a tradition of using this cook book. Even though it calls for shortening when now-a-days they’d call for margarine, I still use it. I go back to the basics and build off of there.

That’d tradition for you. The tradition of the book I’ve had for three decades has stuck with me and served me well. That’s the thing, tradition serves me, not I it.

Tradition is very important, especially in our spiritual walk and even more so in our churches. We need tradition, we crave tradition. We crave what it says and means and does.

The church historian Jarslov Pelikan once wrote that “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” Tradition is good. We build upon it. We need it. It, though, doesn’t need us. We learn from tradition. We build upon the tradition and faith of those who came before us. We don’t let it dictate to us what we should do but instead help guide us in the right direction to go, expanding on it, being creative with it, thinking outside the box with it, but not controlled by it.

Just because the recipe calls for shcooking-with-kids_612ortening doesn’t mean I should use it. Advances in understanding of health and cooking has changed in the last 30 years. Different ways of cooking are entering into the culinary world. We now have fusion foods. Things are new and changing. Yet each cook out there has been trained in a traditional style. They might cook with a new style, but they’ve built upon the style of those who came before them.

So it is with the church. We grow spiritually because of those who came before and paved the way for us to learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus. If we stay in that world, we can’t grow just like if those who came before us stayed in the world before them, they’d’ve not been able to give us what we have today.

I plan to hand down my book to my kiddos one day. I plan to start teaching them how to cook from my Mickey Mouse cook book. I’m going to teach them to first stick to the recipe as it is written down. But I’m also going to show them how I’ve added to it and created a new way of looking at the tradition.

The same is true for the church. We add to tradition, we make it better, make it great, and continue the faith forward for the generations to come.

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