Elevate the Dish

ingredients

I don’t understand why, but I am a fan of MasterChef. I don’t cook. I’m not a foodie. I basically only eat 3 things: tortillas, pizza, and cheeseburgers. Please, don’t judge. My palate is mentally challenged. I’ve tried to expand my culinary horizons, but I’ve had to accept my limitations.

I both cringe at, and want more of, Gordon Ramsay’s aggressive passion spewing out onto everyone around him. I can’t figure out whether he is a genius or if he is suffering from chronic rage. The thing I grew to love about the show is how these home cooks can take ingredients, sometimes ingredients I have literally never heard of, and create something I could never, ever, imagine, with them. In my most creative culinary moment, I may get crazy and throw some fresh basil in my pasta. These freaks of nature can create beauty from almost nothing. Seriously. Even though I can’t on any planet do what they do, it inspires me.

One phrase the judges use that has caught my attention is, “Elevate the dish.” They give the chefs something simple like steak and eggs, or apple pie, or a combination of random ingredients, and proclaim boldly to the contestants, “Elevate the dish!” And what amazes me every time is how they do exactly that. I mean – I even want to eat what they cooked, despite possessing miserably boring taste buds.

I was reading Generous Justice the other day and Keller referred to Aristotle (who doesn’t throw in a causal reference to Aristotle now and then?). Keller writes:

How do we determine what is good or evil human behavior? Aristotle and his followers answer: Unless you can determine what human beings are here for, you can’t answer that.

In essence, we can’t make any moral judgments until we know the purpose of the thing. This fundamental truth washed over me in a new way. So many of life’s confusions come back to this. Why do bad things happen? Why is there this unsettling mingling of beauty and ugliness all around us, and within us? Why is living out our calling so freaking hard sometimes? What does it matter if we make all the right choices, if in the end, we don’t see the impact of them in the way we imagine we will? All questions point to one answer. We know the why when we know the why behind the why. If we can wrap our hearts and minds around the Purpose, then these questions won’t consume us, even if it is unconsciously.

So, what is the Purpose of our lives? I believe God wants to elevate the dish. In His creative and loving power, He longs to create something beautiful and elevated with our lives. I don’t mean it in the way we define elevated, but in the way He defines elevated. He wants to take these simple ingredients of our spirit and humanity and cook something that is so elegant and pleasing that it doesn’t even make sense, given it’s origins. The trap door in this is that we subtly take charge of the process. We, the ingredients, attempt to become the Chef, and what we come up with is often a confusion of tastes and a disturbing lack of cohesion. We say, “Yes! Elevate the dish!” But as soon as the words leave our mouths we are running frantically around the kitchen trying to do the impossible, transform ourselves through things that have the potential to be glorious, but in and of themselves, are not.

The problem is that although we are creative, our true potential is locked in God’s creative Power, not our own. And although we are inherently sacred, it is only because our Creator deemed it to be so. Our true power lies in giving our power up. Until we surrender the ingredients of our lives to the Master Chef, we will suffer under the oppressive Reality of Limitation. We will be haunted by the idea of what could be rather than yielding ourselves to the only One who can make it happen. The strange desire we have to be like God is unrelenting. Yet our desire gets bogged down by our human efforts at creating something elevated with our own hands.

When I hear Gordon Ramsay give the call to elevate the dish, I can see that his ideas of what combinations and measurements to use, what techniques to use, and what delicacies can blossom from these simple ingredients, are endless. He sees the reality of this food in its original form, but he also sees what it can become under the creative genius of his hands. In my spirit’s eye, I can envision God looking upon the same reality of what are lives are, and what they could be, under the creative genius of His hands. But we must put down our plans and yield to His. This is SO hard! We just have a hard time trusting that God putting us under the fire and mixing us all around is going to come out tasting good. We really think that if He could just take our advice, we’d successfully reach that elevation we both long for.

When I am crying because Holden is crying (and Holden is crying because he just chucked his favorite stuffed animal far into a duck pond and didn’t realize it couldn’t swim back to us), and we have to leave because his screaming is so loud the ducks are migrating east, I am sitting there in my car wondering, “How is this doing anything? How is this elevating the dish? God, there must be a better way to accomplish your purpose in my life!” Then God leads me to the ultimate question, “What is the purpose of your life, Cheri? Is it to be happy? Is it to be famous? Is it for life to be easy?” And I know the answer. The purpose of my life is to be more like Him.

When I give the ingredients to Him, and He is jumbling them around in such a seemingly nonsensical way, I MUST remember that He sees the end result! In His Holy Mind, He can see the elevated dish, in all its glory.

For many of us, I think we actually do believe this. I just think we forget the revelation God has given us that the only path to elevation is under His creative influence. After all, if He wants to make us more like Him, could there be any other way?

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