“In a world of disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted. Only artistic excellence is incorruptible. Pleasure cannot be bargained down. And sometimes the meal is the only currency that is real.”
This video tells the story of Francis Scott Keys penning the words to
our national anthem at the end of the War of 1812,
our second and final war of independence from Great Britain.
Although filled with people of different nationalities and belief systems, the United States has a distinctive outlook and presence on the world’s stage. As each wave of immigrants arrived in this land and became citizens, they enriched the American culture in distinctive ways through customs, foods, habits, and attitudes. For example, our “comfort” food after almost 250 years now includes chili, cornbread, pizza, corned beef, barbecue, chow mien, sushi, and more. And people of all national origins buy, cook, and eat out at restaurants specializing in food from each country as well as the newer “fusion” establishments that combine differing culinary tastes into one dish.
The binding agent for all of our diverse backgrounds is loyalty to a belief system embodied in the Declaration of Independence. As G. K. Chesterton, an Englishman, once observed, the United States was the only country ever founded on a creed. Thus, every time the national anthem is played and/or the flag is unfurled, citizens stand to honor the memory of those who lost their lives giving us the freedoms that we now enjoy. It’s a simple, public way to reaffirm our commitment to continue the exemplary ideal of “liberty and justice for all.”**
Needless to say, neither the people nor the politicians have always lived up to our goals. Every American that I know is heart sick about these failures and tries to correct them. But despite our flaws, we have done well enough that our current major problem is the hordes of people sneaking into the country to live here without understanding our history, our goals, or the loyalty required of citizens to keep US the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Loyalty to an ideal can bind families and groups of all origins and sizes together, empowering them to accomplish more greatness than any one person can possibly do alone. Loyalty to excellence is both beautiful and powerful. May all countries and all peoples embrace it.
The Star Spangled Banner
Oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thru the night that our flag was still there.
Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore, dimly seen thru the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream;
’Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh, long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Oh, thus be it ever, when free men shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Text: Francis Scott Key, 1779–1843
Music: John Stafford Smith, 1750–1836
**This explains the distress we experience when we see a group that refuses to honor or acknowledge our flag and anthem, but does nothing to solve problems instead of just complaining about them.
A conversation with another state university lecturer first alerted me to the heart cry of many, if not most, college students. Her casual mention of preparing the evening meal for her husband and children that day created a storm of envy from the class. Some insisted they couldn’t remember a parent cooking any meal for the family during the week, others said a parent usually picked up take-out food and brought it home for family members to consume whenever they arrived, and still others considered their favorite family times had been sharing fast-food “happy meals” before heading to the next stop.
Thus, these families had missed out on the centuries-old practice of “team building” through shared meals and shared conversations. If they had ever seen Babbette’s Feast, they didn’t take its message to heart – that good food and good conversation heal many wounds. And these 18 and 19 year-olds were angrily aware of their loss.
The good news is that everyone can participate in the remedy! And frankly, it’s time for each person to bravely step up to the plate of beautiful mealtimes. (Pun intended.)
If you recall, Babbette’s guests started the meal she had prepared with fear and trepidation. They were actually afraid of enjoying it or each other. Yet, overcome by the gentle persuasion of course after course of gourmet foods beautifully presented, by the end they were happily sharing stories, ideas, and compassion.
Today’s overloaded families or apartment-mates don’t need an in-house, world class chef to improve the ambiance of the evening meal they share. When anyone goes to the trouble to make any occasion more beautiful, the entire group improves, perhaps slowly, but all good habits eventually create excellence.
The composition or ages of the group who lives together does not matter in the least. The first step is always to just decide to change.
Here are a few examples of innovations to consider. I welcome other suggestions, even anonymous ones, in the comments section.
1. Fix simple meals with the highest quality ingredients available. This will usually save time, money, and energy. No need to copy Babbette’s elaborate menu, but do follow her precedent by carefully selecting the best examples of each food item needed for the meal.
2. Take turns or share the chores involved. Shopping, setting the table, cooking, and clean-up are part of every meal. Teenagers and adults can take turns with any of these aspects of a beautiful occasion, while smaller children can learn to set the table, fold the napkins, and clear the table one plate at a time. Soon they can even load the dishwasher and prepare simple recipes.
3. Whoever cooks should strive to present the dish attractively. Neatness is the most important factor, but with practice one does develop expertise in arranging the platter or bowl.
4. Wait until everyone arrives before beginning the meal. Children learn their own value to others by insisting that they are part of the group and the group needs their participation.
5. Table time is for eating, talking, and learning from each other. No electronics are allowed! No television. No radio. No phones in the room. If a phone rings, the call can be returned after the meal. This rule applies to both home and restaurant meals.
Choosing to walk in beauty involves every dimension of living: your posture, your attire, your decor, your attitude, and your manner of living. But none of these important areas depend upon a great expenditure of money or time; they merely require the mindfulness that evolves into good habits.Today I want to concentrate on food.
If you’ve read Isak Dinesen’s short story, Babbette’s Feast, or seen the movie based upon it, you already understand something about the importance of good food, well prepared, and artfully presented. If you haven’t, watch a download of the movieat home this weekend.
Pay attention to every detail, for this is a story of people changing their attitudes, not a fast moving thriller. Only by noticing the details or clues and putting them together, does one catch the full impact of the story.
In fact, every detail is so important that many viewers could see it two or three times before understanding the insights Dinesen offers.Most Americans probably first approach it as a quaint, Victorian story about a peculiar village of overly pious people. Yet, there is a bad habit that both the fictional Danes and today’s Americans share. — Each group misses the importance of beautiful food that is chosen and prepared with care, then presented attractively in a setting that encourages conversation.
The Danish villagers feared that giving too much attention to physical pleasure would draw them away from God’s love. They saw God as a stern taskmaster and viewed holiness as paying very strict attention to the tasks He assigned, not the virtues He espoused. Without emphasizing those virtues, through the years the believers began quarreling over petty matters until every meeting was marred by merciless accusations that were never forgiven.
While Americans readilysuccumb to the very sensual pleasures their fictional counterparts most detested, they sacrifice good family meals and pleasant conversations on the altar of efficiency and convenience.Too many meals every week come from the drive through track at a nearby fast food place and are consumed in the car. Or if at home, gathered around the table, parents and children alike play with their smart phones instead of communicating with each other. Often the television is on to further distract family members from actually glimpsing the problems that each other faces.Consequently, they begin quarreling over petty matters until every day is marred by merciless accusations that are never forgiven.
The villagers learned love and forgiveness at one glorious banquet the likes of which they had never imagined even existed. The bad habits of American families will take longer to change, but at much less cost.
Stay tuned for easy suggestions to add more love and beauty to your evening meal.