Chef Gordon Ramsay, if you don’t already know him, is a foul mouthed, temperamental, highly strung television chef. He is also one of the greatest examples I’ve seen to date of the way the Gospel operates. If you are of a mind to, you can see the show Kitchen Nightmares here (be warned, you will hear lots of bleeping, and a lot of the words that are pretty rough, but no longer bleeped on television. If that offends you, or might tempt you in any way, definitely don’t click the link). The episode that made this Gospel parallel clear to me was called “Revisited: Gordon Returns.” It recaps six restaurants he visited, and shows them a year later. Watching them all in a row like that really drove home the way Chef Ramsay does his thing.
Basically, the premise of the show is that some restaurant is failing for whatever reason. Enter Gordon Ramsay. He comes in, eats whatever they serve him as their specialty, and then proceeds to verbally abuse them at every turn. He slams the food, he goes into the kitchen and shows them every piece of dirt, filth, lazy short cuts, and non-chefliness (is that a word? No, worries, we’ll make it a word.) that they might have. He pushes until he hits the wall. And the thing is, that wall is always there. Always. He has said on several occasions, “Are you angry? Good, now maybe you can learn something.”
Chef Ramsay understands something that we would do well to understand as well. When we realize that we are failing, that things are not going the way we want them to, our first course of action is to make excuses. Like the people on his show with their failing restaurants, we blame others, we blame circumstances, we blame anyone and anything but ourselves. So many of us keep trying, more and more emphatically, to do the same things we’ve been doing all along. One restaurant Chef Ramsay visited had a stock pile of absurd signs and posters of specials and give-aways. Basically doing the same thing, over and over again, even though it was obviously not working. “Maybe half off soup and sandwich will work since free appetizer with two dinners didn’t.” It reminds me of an analogy I heard Tony Jones give. He compared a person to a lawn mower that is running out of gas. Right before you run out of gas in your lawn mower, the engine revs up to a high pitch, and runs hotter and faster than normal just before it sputters out. This is a good picture of that “anger wall” that blows up just before we sputter out and become ready to be refueled.
(On a side note…Tony Jones is the director of Emergent Village. There are a lot of good things and a lot of not-so-good things coming from the Emergent “conversation.” Click *here* for the interview Tony Jones did on Steve Brown Etc. which is where the above analogy came from.)
Lao Tzu says, “If you continue in the same direction, you might just end up where you are going.” My dad says it even better, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” As long as we keep making excuses for ourselves, we are going to continue down the same path. Chef Ramsay understands that this excuse making is an obstacle to growth. He also understands that when he hits that anger, resentment, and fear, that he is at the breaking point. He realizes that he just held up a mirror, chased them around the room with it, beat them over the head with it, and just past the anger point, he has them huddled in the fetal position in the corner, crying uncontrollably, but looking for the first time in that mirror without any masks or pretense. This is where growth and change happen. New gardens grow in the dead matter of the old garden.
In Luke 18, the Bible has this to say:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
There is something underlying this story. The tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast. This is just my theory, but I think that tax collector probably spent a long time thinking along the same lines as the Pharisee. The business of tax collecting in that day was usually a pretty dishonest one. In order to make your living doing something you know is wrong, you have to have a pretty special ability to delude yourself into thinking somehow you are right to do wrong. But something happened in this man’s life that made it unavoidable for him. He had to face the ugliness of his own sin. Something or someone came along that made him understand just how dark and small his heart really was. That something/someone was ultimately the Holy Spirit working through people and circumstances in his life to show him the reality of his darkness.
Gordon Ramsay is, in many respects, a great example of the way the Spirit works in our lives. He holds up a mirror. We glance, and turn away, and superimpose the image we like to see of ourselves in place of the one that is real. Then the Spirit says, “Your best effort is horrible. Your food is inedible, your kitchen is filthy, your dry storage is infested with roaches, you are a horrible excuse for a chef.” And we get angry. “How dare you come in here and tell me something like that!” The Spirit says, “Oh really? So, what you’re doing is working then? You’re a blinding success? Then why are you looking for help?” And eventually we are left with the choice. We can take a good honest look at the filth in our kitchen. We can take a good honest look at the pre-packaged, frozen, bought-in junk we are trying to pass off as gourmet righteousness. Or, we can continue in our delusion, and end up a failure, sunken under our delusions of right-ness.
On Kitchen Nightmares, the people who change, and stick with it, are invariably successful. The ones who do not, invariably fail. One striking similarity I see in all the people who opt not to change (and really, in the initial resistance that everyone shows) is their fear that Chef Ramsay is trying to change their “self-ness” that they have put into their restaurant. Each and every time the fear goes something like this, “I have built this on my dream. There is so much of me in this. I worked so hard on this. I don’t want someone coming in here and changing what I have planned for this place.” This is so much like our resistance to change into what the Spirit has for us. We are so afraid that we will be turned into something different that we truly are. Like we’ll be turned into one of the pod-people from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. But in our lives, as in Kitchen Nightmares, if we listen to the suggestions and changes that are being offered, they will always be something that is in keeping with who we are right now. Chef Ramsay doesn’t ask a vegetarian restaurant to become a steak house. He doesn’t try to turn and Indian restaurant into an Irish Pub. He shows a place what they are truly good at and will enjoy, not what they think they want to be good at and enjoy. The Spirit is the same. We are shown what we are good at, we are shown the skills that God has given us.
When we hit that wall, break through, and see ourselves as we truly are, we learn two things. Those two things are, as my friend Scott Stewart says, “The bad news of the Gospel, and the Good news of the Gospel.” The bad news is that we are far worse than we can see. The good news is that we are more loved than we could ever imagine. The great news is that in the good news of the Gospel, we are loved and given talents, and affinities that, if we listen to the Spirit and use them according to the plan, will give us more of a true “self” than anything we could do in the horrible “freedom” that we demand when we want to be “ourselves” without God.
I pray, for myself as much as anyone, that we can take a look at the brutal, cold facts of our filthy-rag righteousness. And that from that honest knowledge, that we can begin to grow and change. I pray that we can let go of these ideas of our “self” that we hold so closely, and embrace the Truth of who we really are.
C.S. Lewis says in just a few sentences more than I’ve said in this nearly 1500 word article:
“We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear—the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.” – C.S. Lewis