Monday, September 5, 2011

Cheesy Broccoli Casserole and the Chinese Visitors

Thanksgiving. Say the word, and if you're a foodie like I am, the images that immediately come to mind are foods we usually (only) eat for that particular feast. As I grew up with a Southern mamma, my Thanksgiving table always consisted of Georgian-inspired dishes: cornbread "dressing" (never stuffed in the bird), fried okra (if we could get it at that time of year), green bean casserole, corn pudding ... and my favorite ... cheesy broccoli casserole. A couple of years ago, the church I was attending invited university students from China to celebrate Thanksgiving at a B&B here in central Kentucky. Our jobs as the parishioners were to sign up for one all-American favorite dish, so that the students could get a real "flavor," so to speak, for the American holiday. I prepared the cheesy broccoli casserole ... topped with Ritz crackers, of course ... and thought it would be scarfed down on sight. As I laid it on the table, I puffed up as fellow church attendees oohed and ahhed. The Cheesy Broccoli Casserole. Somebody had brought it! And it was large! It was one of the hugest casseroles I'd ever assembled. And it was steaming! And it was cheesy gooey! I knew those Chinese students were going to love it, love it, love it. Then I watched as they filed down the buffet table. They whispered to each other as they studied each dish. Suddenly, I realized ... they had no idea what they were putting on their plates. Sweet potato casserole ... a tiny spoonful. Green bean casserole ... the same. Stuffing? They barely touched it. And then they came to the cheesy broccoli casserole. They hesitated. Did they want to really try it? Out of politeness, each one did, but just on the edge of each plate, always in miniscule amounts. I realized that this was foreign food to them, just as if I'd been plopped down behind the Great Wall like Harrison Ford in an Indiana Jones movie and asked to eat a plate of Chou Dofu. I looked at the food not through my American eyes, but through theirs, as if I was seeing it for the first time. And I thought, "Wow. That cheesy broccoli casserole really looks disgusting, if I'm from China and I've never seen it before. It's GROSS!" Then something happened. One by one, each of them tried it. And I watched their eyes widen, their eyebrows go into their foreheads. I watched them poke each other and say something in Chinese and point to the broccoli casserole on their plate. I'd watch the other person look at it with some disdain and disbelief that it could be anything but awful. And then they would try it. And then they'd smile after one bite. Suddenly, they were getting up from their seats and HEADING BACK to the broccoli casserole on the buffet table. Within about 15 minutes, the casserole was empty, and the Chinese guests were chatting happily at the table, all with piles of cheesy broccoli casserole on their plates, all shoveling it happily into their mouths as if they'd eaten it all their lives. I got to thinking about this incident this weekend, because an atheist friend of mine is now embracing God. All things are new to him. And all things are a little scary and unknown, just like that cheesy broccoli casserole. He's hearing things for the first time, deciphering, questioning ... poking at it on his plate and wondering whether to partake. It's all foreign to him, you see. He's looking at it with curiosity, but also with a little trepidation. And yet, now he's giving that cheesy broccoli casserole a try, for the very first time. His eyes are opening. His eyebrows are going into his forehead. He's asking for more, more, more! More. He's reading the Bible for the first time. He wants to know what to hit first, and after that, what should he read? And what's next? And why doesn't he read one book before another? His questions are miraculous, probing, sincere ... hungry. He's hungry. This is what I want you to remember, as you share your faith with others: To an unbeliever, it might as well be cheesy broccoli casserole in the eyes of someone from China. It's daunting and scary. You're not doing them any favors by piling it in front of them and ordering them to eat it. Just give them the option to taste for themselves and find that it is good. Don't be offended if they're too scared to try it at first. Provide the food, but don't force feed it. Allow them to poke at it and taste. And be there for them when they ask you, "What's in this? How was it made? Why is it so delicious? ... Can I have more?" Until then, just look at that cheesy broccoli casserole with a secret smile on your face, knowing that when they finally taste the goodness that God has to offer ... they'll want it. They'll eat it. And they will be satisfied.