I was juggling the preparations for a Bar-B-Que. Onions and mushrooms were caramelizing on the stove top. On the grill, Burgers were starting to cook. I was bouncing between setting out the sides, rooting out long forgotten condiments from the back corners of the fridge, and cutting tomatoes.
Just then, my ever-hungry 6 year-old walked into the kitchen. He saw the half-watermelon sitting on the cutting board. He saw the 10” chef’s knife sitting beside it. He slid his step stool over to the counter, and took up the knife in both hands, intent on carving himself a snack.
Knife Skills Matter…
So began my son’s first lesson in knife skills. I asked him to wait, while I rescued the burgers and sauteing mushrooms.
Then we talked about knives. The parts you can touch and the parts you can’t. Where to put your hands. How to look all the way through the blade to the cutting board, so you know exactly what you’re cutting. Noticing where all your fingers are before you start. We talked about a gentle forward push, rather than whacking and chopping.
He won’t remember most of it; we’ll go over it again. But he will remember that he’s crossed a threshold. Now, if he has my permission, and I’m in the room, he can practice using the knives. And if I’m not in the room, he may not touch them at all.
The Bar-B-Que was for a group of folks who meet in my home to talk about what it looks like to follow Jesus. We talk about our lives and the real things we’re going through. We listen to each other. We pray for each other. We talk about scripture and what it might mean for our lives and circumstances.
A number of these folks, that I look forward to seeing every week, grew up in fundamentalist church homes. They learned about God like color-by-number painting. Red goes here. Blue goes here. Always pray. Never lie. Color in the lines. Don’t ask why. It’s not uncommon in our conversations to have to deconstruct those early lessons a bit.
But Knife Skills aren’t the point.
It occured to me that much of what we learned growing up was a lot like knife skills.
Knife skills have their place. They keep you from hurting yourself or others. But knife skills aren’t the point. They’re just a building block. You learn knife skills so that, first, you can feed yourself. Then later you can go on to feed other people.
It would be strange to visit a resuarant where the most important thing was the knife skills of the chef. It would be a travesty if you attended cooking school and all you learned were more and more refined knife skills. Yet this has happened for a lot of religious people.
The whole experience of their religion has been reduced to knife skills. Do this. Don’t do that. Pray like this. Believe that. Live this certain way so you can avoid this terrible outcome.
All knife skills.
But sometimes — in some communities, or with certain people — that’s all there is. They never graduate. Because their focus is constantly on the knife skills, they never move on to feeding themselves, or better yet, feeding other people.
They think that what God cares about most is how good they are with the knife, how fast, how careful, how perfect their technique. They live in communities where exemplary knife skills are the certain path toward affirmation and inclusion, even leadership.
Because knife skills are all they’ve ever known, knife skills are what they teach their children. Some children pick it right up. They love the certainty, the ease of practicing and demonsatrating a concrete skill. But other children get confused, and wonder why, with all the time spent on knife skills, everyone seems so hungry all the time.