Isn't it funny that a French word meaning "saucepan" is a staple of one of our most American holidays: Thanksgiving?
The word "casserole" is kind of like the word, "Chevrolet," which is also French. It, too, has become a staple of Americana, especially when it's driven to a levee that happens to be dry.
Casserole's create such a dilemma for me. I don't really like them. They're bland and, in the South, we put the ass in cASSerole.
I know this calls into question my Southern-ness and my American-ness. But, at best, I tolerate casseroles and give thanks that, even though I could be eating lo mein, vegetable soup or chili, I at least have a casserole to gag down, I mean eat, and family with which to share it (read: let them have almost all of it).
I'm aware my dread of casseroles is very un-Thanksgiving-y. But consider this. When you think about what a casserole is, it's essentially a natural and healthy food item (typically a vegetable, meat or mixture of both) smothered in junk like bread crumbs, cheese and cream of mushroom soup. Why? To cover up the taste.
Is that what families do?
Do we take the things that are pure and natural and good (like vegetables and children) and try to cover them up to make them more pleasing to the unsophisticated palates of mass society?
It's ironic that those we hold up as society's greatest (Jesus, Ghandi, da Vinci, Mozart, etc.) were (and remain) like raw vegetables. They are an acquired taste (if at all). One that most of us know we should choose as nourishment, but one we conveniently avoid.
This past Sunday night, my family and I watched the classic Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. I love that scene where Peppermint Patty gets mad as she's served popcorn, pretzel sticks, jelly beans and toast on a ping pong table. "Where's the turkey," she screams? "Where's the mashed potatoes?"
That's what our families can be like. Certain things are expected. There are roles to play. And scripted lines. Traditions. Rituals. Casseroles are a symbol of this family dance within the tensions of what is and what should be.
Could you imagine a Thanksgiving without casseroles? Or turkey? Or cranberry sauce? Boy, I could. Give me the ping pong table and pass the toast and jelly please! But it ain't gonna happen.
Like family, casseroles are a combination of foods cooked together. We all know that when things are cooked together, they begin to taste the same.
Through one lens, we can see the beauty of this: together we become more alike than different.
Through another lens, we can see the threat: we can smother the purest among us and drown out their natural state.
Thanksgiving is a time of year that an ecclectic variety of personalities converge in a space much too small to adequately accommodate it, in order to share in food and fellowship. As much as we tend to be like our family, we each still bring a hint of that original rawness to the family recipe.
So what does all this mean?
For me, Thanksgiving is a time of year I meditate on how I contribute to my family:
Am I raising my children to be who they are...vegetables in the world?
Or am I smothering them with the "shoulds" of my family's traditional casserole?
As you reach for the casserole spoon this Thanksgiving, take a moment to look around the room and consider that the word "role" is also in casseROLE. Let this serve as a reminder that you and I exist in the tensions of what our families expect us to be and what God made us to be.
We must choose the role we play carefully. Even if most won't like the way it tastes.
(photo used under Creative Commons license by Kevin Dooley on Flickr)
Question #1: Do you like casseroles? If so, which is your favorite?
Question #2: How do you live with the tensions of what your family expects and what you're called to do in the world?