Month: July 2016

Imperfect Tomatoes: On Leaving No Cabbage Behind.

The problem with imperfect tomatoes is that they lead you to lone cabbages.


“My daughter thought of it, really,” the farmer was telling us.  We found ourselves at the tail end of the St. Paul Farmer’s Market.  “And people seem to take to it, you know.  She’s twelve and she knows that imperfect things are still good, I mean, look at me…”

I gave him a look that said he didn’t have to sell me, anymore.  We pulled out $4 instead of shelling out an extra buck for a carton of perfect tomatoes.  We bought the last carton of imperfect tomatoes on the table.  We had a full bag of fresh vegetables and began our retreat, avoiding the gaze of the remaining perfect tomatoes teetering on the edges of tables, taunting us for our poor taste in bruised and wonkus vegetable-fruits.  I felt defensive.  So, I turned to my Someone and tried to be proud in a loud sort of way.

“It’s just that, I love our Imperfect Tomatoes!”

“I know,” he said.

“It’s just that, anyone can pick the Perfect Tomatoes!”

“That’s right,” he said.

“And we will be sure to use our Imperfect Tomatoes right away, because they are special!”

“Uh huh,” he said.  I felt like I saw him eyeing the organic golden grape tomatoes by the hummus lady.  I was getting desperate.  I needed a clincher, and fast.

“I am an Imperfect Tomato!” I said.  People were looking, or they weren’t.   So my Someone stopped and turned to me–

“Yes, you are.  I am also an Imperfect Tomato,” he said.

“We are all Imperfect Tomatoes,” I corrected.

“We are all Imperfect Tomatoes,” he agreed.

“I love them,” I said.

And in this way, we nearly left the Farmer’s Market.  Until we saw the last cabbage in the basket.

“It’s a lone cabbage,” I said.

“Okay,” said my Someone.

“It’s the very last cabbage, alone in the basket.  No one else picked this cabbage–”

“Do you want this cabbage?” he asked.

“Well we can’t leave a Lone Cabbage,” I said, “especially when we’ve already chosen Imperfect Tomatoes.”

Doves and Serpents: On Being Bad and Good

I was working out how it is that he could always default to do the honest thing, and I would always default to stirring the pot.  Original Sin was clearly the answer.  And so in this way, we batted the idea around the camper.

“Maybe not everyone is born with it,” I told my Someone.  “Maybe, Original Sin does exist, but only a few people are born with it.”

My Someone is opposed to Original Sin.  At least he was.  Until the question of who had it and who didn’t became irresistible.  I had him in the pot, and I was about the put in the stirring spoon.  A regular serpent coaxing him to the tree.

“Okay, then,” he proceeded cautiously, “then what am I?”

“You are born Good,” I said definitively.  He seemed to be okay with this.

“Then what are you?” he asked.

“Oh man, I am Bad.  I am really, really Bad,” I said.

He laughed.  He resisted.  He argued.  But then, he gave in.  The game was on.

“What about Ryan?” he said.





“Good.  Obviously,” I said.

And in this way, we split the world in half.  But then, it was time to get down to logistics.

“So does that mean everyone Bad is going to Hell?” he asked.

“I’m not sure that Hell has anything to do with it,” I said.  And it didn’t.  And it doesn’t.  Because the idea was becoming more clearly foggy.

“Wait a second,” said my Someone seriously, “What about Mike?”

“That throws a wrench in it,” I said.


What if it goes like this: that we are all full of Good and Bad, with some born Good and some born Bad, and upon meeting the opposite of yourself, you ingest a bit of their natural selves to your natural self.  What if it is that being born Bad means you spend your time fighting to be Good.  What if being born Good means you spend your time fighting to stay Good.

Superman, Good.

Batman, Bad.

They are both fighting for the same Good.  And any nerd will tell you there’s a perk to being either.


“Maybe I just have too much Western religion left in me to tolerate the word ‘Bad,'” Bryan told me as I walked around a Minnesota campground trying to get better service.  It had been almost of week of Good and Bad running through my brain, and I was needing an expert.

“But what about the thing that happens when we walk down steps,” I pressed him, “How my Someone just walks down the steps, but I want to push the person in front of me down the steps?”

Bryan conceded this as an excellent point.  This is the part where I let Bryan off the hook.  This is the part where he told me about the two Creation stories in Genesis and vague details about a long ago paper that he maybe didn’t believe, anymore.  This is also the part where Bryan and I could sort of agree that maybe Bad isn’t the opposite of Good, but maybe Bad is just the Other of Good.  But then Bryan set me free with a little more information and an internet browser on the ready.  Because, truthfully, my Someone did seem to be Good and I did seem to be Bad.  But my Someone was not Better than me.  Just Other.


It goes like this: that once God breathed into man and woman.  Then, another time or maybe at the same time, he made man from dirt and woman from a rib and didn’t breathe into them at all.

My Someone tells me I smell like dirt.  In the good sort of way.  I always thought that was because I was the daughter of a ditch digger.  But now, it makes me wonder if I was the half that wasn’t breathed into by God.  The Bad half.  The half that has a need for the Jewish mythology of Lilith as First Lady instead of Eve.  The half that never hears God as a still small voice like everyone else seems to, but keep my hands moving in hopes that I am still working for Good.  Like Mother Theresa.  Like Jesus Christ.  All these prayers and no answer but the wind moving through the trees in the Garden.


“What good does it do?” my Someone was yelling, “to know that you are Bad and I am Good?  What if you are Good?”

“But I’m not Good,” I said quietly.  We had been fighting for days.  “I’m Bad.  I am always, always Bad.”

“Then what good is it to be Good?” he said.

A few days later, Bryan asked me if maybe being born Good came with its share of guilt for having been born Good.  I wish I had thought of this before I refused to answer my Someone at all.


What if it’s like this: What if the Bad and the Good are just a way of dealing with the world.  The Bad are already aware of all the Bad, because they are Bad, so they can see the Bad coming.  And they are always being persuaded and surprised and delighted by the Good.  And so the World is always becoming a better place.  The Good, though, only knew about the Good, and are always being caught off guard by the Bad.

What if it’s that the Bad need the Good to not lose hope, and the Good need the Bad to not lose footing.

Wise as serpents, gentle as doves.  That business.


“But I don’t think I’m Good,” my Someone insists, as he reads over my shoulder.  He becomes more exasperated the more we talk about it.  “In fact,” he persists, “I was once told I am the Son of Cain.”  Now, he tips his hat to me and gets me another glass of water without even needing to ask if I want one.  I do.

“Okay,” I say.  The Good are always denying their Good-ness.  It’s what makes them so Good.

Me, though– I am always looking for someone to tell me I am Good.  I am never full enough of Good.  Maybe it’s the curse of being Bad: always wanting more Good.  The hunger is endless.  My Someone wouldn’t know what that’s like.  All he knows is Good.

What We Said A Few Days Later: On This Again.

“I think I found out what God wants,” he told me a couple days later.

“What is it?” I said, stopping my reading.

“I think he wants everyone to be saved.”

“Really?  Is he going to do it?”

My Someone stopped and read a little further.


“I’m not sure,” he said.

“Jesus again?” I asked.

“Yeah, Jesus again.”

We waited.

“Will you tell me if you find out?” I asked him.

“Yeah.  You’ll be the first to know.”

Parsley: On Communion

Like any good Christian campers, we were celebrating the Passover.  Of course, it wasn’t actually the Passover.  And I wasn’t even really a camper.  I was just the tag-along kid of a faculty member who helped my favorite teams cheat at Capture the Flag, and noted for my future how to ask a boy to campfire.  I spent my days with my best friend Jessica– also the tag-along kid of a faculty member– playing carpetball and sneaking to the back of the Canteen to get free handouts of Nerds and Snickers bars.  We were scolded every other day for locking ourselves in the walk in freezer, listened outside of windows at the request of older girls to find out if the boys were talking about them, and meandered from cabins to mess hall to woods to creek, our tan skin getting tanner and our blonde hair bleaching blonder.  But on occasion, our moms would deem something Important, and we would be required to put aside our free play and Attend an Important Lesson with all of the Older Kids.

This night, it was Passover.  The mess hall was transformed into candlelight, round tables, and smelly Junior High kids trying to keep their thoughts pure in spite of the dim lights and close proximity to the opposite sex.  As with most of the times my mother had me attend Important Lessons, I did my best to emulate holiness and prayed for a joke to break the tension.  And I grappled with the Sadness that goes with trying to learn the Important Lesson of Loving God.

We ate our courses while the Camp Dean explained the Lesson, but didn’t explain the Sadness, and I felt cheated by the lack of authenticity of grape juice for wine and then felt guilty for thinking about wine when Jesus would want me to be thinking about grape juice.  And then I felt guilty for thinking about Jesus when I was learning that there are people who don’t think about Jesus, and that in that moment, I was that person, which meant that I was essentially pretending to go to Hell.  Then I wondered if just by pretending that I was Jewish, if that would count against me on Not Pretend Judgement Day.  And then, for a second, I felt free of Jesus’ ever watching eye– like I could think anything I wanted since I was already going to Hell.  Then, I knew I was definitely going to Hell.  And no one could answer my questions because it was candles and round tables and holiness.  And this was how I rattled around my 10-year-old brain until the parsley.


My Someone likes to trace our food history back, particularly when we eat something new or are trying to make new what we’ve been eating old.  And we had been eating tabbouleh for weeks.  My Someone wanted to know my first experience with parsley, and I was astonished to be taken back twenty years to a dark mess hall across the table from a chair left open for Elijah, picking up the green sprig and mustering my face into a grimace as I bit down on the garnish.

“The Bitter Herb of Enslavement,” I told my Someone.  “That’s my first memory with parsley.”


Like in any classic suburban childhood, we did fancy dinner at Olive Garden.  And after makeshift Passover, I was consistently confronted with the leftover garnish on the side of my Shrimp Alfredo.  My secret eating of the Bitter Herb was caught twice by my brother, who insisted that the parsley was actually poison and not to be eaten.  After my parents assured me I wouldn’t die, I continued chewing and swallowed it down.  It was a habit I kept whenever parsley was present.  Although I couldn’t quite remember the details, I knew it was my responsibility– because somebody somewhere had a bad thing happen, I had to keep eating the mock Bitter Herb of Enslavement.  Either until there was no more enslavement or no more bitter herbs.


When we had successfully botched Passover, the lights came up.  Something about not needing to be in darkness anymore.  Something about Jesus helping us not have to eat things that don’t taste great.  Something about let’s take communion now and be thankful we are not going to Hell in a Challah bread basket.  And then we moved to the chapel and sang songs that kept us safe from other people’s traditions and other people’s Bitter Herbs of Enslavement.

I felt the relief everyone else did.  We are saved!  We are free from Bitter Herbs!  And then I felt the Sadness of the Important Lesson of God’s Love: that the wrong glass of grape juice with the wrong slice of bread is a grave misstep.  Not all glasses of wine are the same.  Neither are all games of pretending what the wine should be.


I haven’t taken communion in years.  I’ve tried to reconcile myself to all sorts of excuses.  I’m allergic to the Body of Christ.  I am too nervous to go up front.  I am too afraid I will be struck by lightening.  I am too self conscious that my parents or my friends or the strangers around me will sense I am a fraud.  I am too aware that I don’t know how to pretend right.  Out of habit, though, I still swipe the garnish from the side of my plate, trying to chew it thoughtfully– for somebody, somewhere.

Maybe what I am finding out is that it is much easier to chew on someone else’s suffering than to force feed myself shame.  Maybe I am finding that the only tradition more bitter than the Bitter Herb is the bitterness of being excluded from a simple meal of wine and bread– and that somehow, somewhere, someone is being told they’re suffering was for nothing.  That in the end, the wrong meal is sending them away from the Love of God.

Today for lunch, again, we will eat tabbouleh.  It’s no wine and bread, but it nourishes us well and doesn’t leave us feeling heavy.  It gives us strength to keep working away from our daily enslavements, and keeps our brains focused enough to notice those who are enslaved around us.  I’m sure even Jesus would think it was tasty.