During the quarantine, I have been watching a number of cooking shows, bingeing on programs like “Crazy Delicious” and “The Great British Baking Show” (both streaming on Netflix); but my latest obsession is “Selena + Chef” on HBO Max. As the title suggests, each episode features Selena Gomez (the 20-something pop music artist) welcoming a different world-renowned chef (such as Ludo Lefebvre or Nancy Silverton) into her kitchen (via digital stream) to teach her to cook. The show is a delightful balance of amusement and instruction. Much of the comic relief comes from Selena’s inability to work her stove and oven – it takes her a few episodes for her to fully utilize the convection feature – or manage exotic ingredients, particularly a whole fish. The instruction, however, is truly captivating.
As I watched these professional chefs, I was impressed by their apparent effortlessness in teaching their craft. There are few measuring cups on the experts’ side of the screen, as they combine ingredients by sight and feel. They were so familiar with culinary science that they were able to move into the arena of artful improvisation, experimenting with the novice cook when things went awry (which they routinely did). These chefs are masters of what Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, calls “The 10,000 Hours Rule”, the ‘magic number’ needed to become an expert in any given field. These chefs have spent so much time in perfecting the disciplines of gastronomic science that now they are able to experience the freedom to create something unique and tutor an amateur toward something delicious.
Moving from science to art, from cookbooks to creativity, is a joy to behold. When it comes to food, nutritious does not always mean delicious and edible does not always equate to indelible. In the kitchen, we can comprehend that we ought to include elements of creaminess and crunchiness; we can agree that flavor comes from a satisfying blend of sweet, salty and sour. In saying all this, I return to a childhood memory, an episode of “Mork and Mindy” which taught on white lies which had these concluding lines of dialogue: “Who could believe it was the first one you’ve ever cooked? I’ve never seen anybody do that with figs before. The secret must be in the cheese.” It takes a scientist/artist to know what works, what does not, and what would be wonderous.
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Timothy 4:16 (NIV84)
As I think about “Selena + Chef” and one’s culinary pursuits, I think also about the local church and one’s spiritual pursuits. I wonder how many of us are willing to commit to “The 10,000 Hours Rule” regarding our expertise in the things of God in order that we might move beyond the rigors of scientific instruction and engage in the realm of artistic expression. How I long, personally, to experience the freedom found in knowing the Lord deeply and to enjoy the full flavors of life in Christ.
One of the many things I like about living in the city is the ubiquitous presence of public art. There are giant baby heads behind the MFA and a giant pear on Columbia Road next to the KFC©. There are the ducks in the Public Garden and Mayor Kevin White at Faneuil Hall. There is even a mural painted on the gas tank next to the expressway. The other day, as we were driving past the Ashmont T station, my youngest asked where the sleeping moon statue was before it was at the station and why it was there. I said, to the first question, that it was commissioned for the station and, to the second question, that there doesn’t have to be a reason.
That is the wonderful thing about art, isn’t it? It doesn’t have to have a reason for being, it doesn’t have to tell a story and it doesn’t have to have a function to be appreciated. I may not understand what makes for great art (case in point, the Oscar©-winning movie Birdman) and conversely great art doesn’t need to be always understood. Statues can be erected simply to add something beautiful to the landscape; poems can be written simply to add something beautiful for the ear. Art does not need a reason.
Sometimes I wonder if the Church has lost many of her artists. Are there things – songs, dances, poems, sculptures and feasts – that people of faith have ceased to produce because of the false logic that they do nothing to advance the gospel? Is a sunset diminished because it is spiritually unnecessary? Is the roar of the ocean diminished because it does not speak words that lead to salvation? Is the choreography of a double-play diminished because it is secular amusement? Is there a place for art in the Kingdom of God?
God is an artist. He created the universe from the formless and void. He is described as a potter and an author. He enables us to experience colors and textures. His word designed varieties of flora and fauna the greatest human minds could never fully comprehend. Without a doubt, some things we see and hear are given to us by God simply because they are beautiful. In the extravagance of God, the weeds have greater sartorial splendor than the richest of kings:
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” Luke 12:27 (NIV)
Not everything needs to have a function. Every gathering need not include a Bible study. Every handshake need not include the transferring of a gospel tract. Sometimes some things are simply meant to be beautiful and to point us to the God who first expressed true beauty to us. I don’t want to live in a place where art is purely functional; I desire that some art be superfluous and whimsical. I desire that there be a place in the Church for that kind of art, too. After all, some of God’s greatest masterpieces can be found within its walls.