To earn money for the family I have worked for the past year and a half at a local Cajun restaurant in Hiram, Georgia. Last month, in December, they had to permanently close their doors. As my last gift to the owners, I wrote a eulogy to remember them.
Today we lay to rest a friend and confidant. We spent our weekends visiting this friend, and our free nights sharing in the communion of a good meal. Today, after four years, we say goodbye to Cajun's Cookin'.
I have a unique roll at this celebration of life. I was a server for their restaurant for one and a half years. I am also a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) where I currently hold my standing. Everything and everyone deserves a funeral, a chance to say goodbye. While I have worked in churches for over a decade, participating and leading funerals and weddings, I have never buried a restaurant. Bare with me as we work through this together.
Cajun's Cookin' leaves behind the owners, Cajun and Amy, their kitchen staff, serving staff, and customers- both old and new. They were dedicated to the 'real deal,' as Cajun liked to put it. They served food I could get behind. I refused to lie. The food I sold was the best. It was always the food I wanted to eat, and I wanted to eat it all. I raved about the premium shrimp, ate up the red beans and rice with andouille sausage, and couldn't sell more bisque when the crawfish lobster mix came back. I even liked the catfish, and I am not a fan of catfish. As Cajun put it, “All our seafood comes fresh from Louisiana once a week. We use the tenderloin of the gator, because the tail meat is gamey and chewy.”
We will never forget the gator head greeting us as we walked through the door, or the Cajun words that remained our companions above us as we ate our meals. We will remember fondly the jokes Cajun shared with us. There is no easy way to say goodbye.
As for me, I have so much to be grateful for. I can remember my first conversation with Cajun when I applied for the job, “You're not going to be all preachy with everyone?” I could barely understand what he was saying, as I had never had long interaction with anyone from the New Orleans area. Now, at the end, we have had long conversations about what has happened and what the future holds, understanding everything he says. Oh, how things change. Back at the beginning, I promised I would be there to do my job, and I would be around for awhile while I got the ministry together. (I was and I am working on getting a group together to start a Disciples church in Paulding County. That could happen in months or years. It's God's time.) Oh yeah, and I promised to not be preachy.
While I cannot speak for the many lives Cajun's Cookin' has touched over the past four years they were open, I can personally say how the restaurant has positively touched my life.
When I first began serving at the restaurant, Cajun always had an issue with me. He called me meek. It was true. Seminary teaches a future minister a multitude of lessons. A hidden unspoken lesson at my seminary was evangelism is dangerous. We learn about things like the Boxer Rebellion and street side preachers and come away thinking speaking the truth too boldly will lead to nothing but heartache. Now, I come away from this serving experience knowing the opposite is the case. I learned loving the product but not openly selling it, doesn't sell the product. This is true for explaining why Gator Bites are a really good appetizer, and it's true of Christianity. I am not ashamed of my calling, but I was taught to live in shame. God is good. All the time, God is good. There is nothing wrong with that. It's good. It took me learning if a meal is good, I should want others to try that meal too. It took learning to be a server to learn how evangelism is right.
I also learned something more recently. Not all death comes from things that ought to die. I have seen many a church recently, and many a church is scared, and dying. I can feel it as I walk through the door. I can see the desperation as they try to talk me into getting involved. This is a scary time for organized religion. Up until now, I have seen the churches lost in dementia, where they cannot remember their roots and live into it. I have seen the bitter old shells of former glory, hanging on to life by the thin thread of a paid off building. I have no problem seeing these congregations letting go. I want to help them see the grace and love in death. After all, Jesus did not abolish death. Death still happened and it happened in a cruel and heartless way. Jesus overcame death- but to overcome death, one must die first. It is difficult to see these congregations who preach overcoming death every Sunday but are afraid to take the leap themselves, trusting God is on the other side.
As I talked to Cajun I saw a restaurant that isn't suffering from forgetting their roots. They are not bitter old shells of their former glory. This is good food. This a family sharing their family meal with others. This restaurant deserves to live, but this restaurant had to die. It could not survive in Hiram, Georgia. For God's call to Amy and Cajun to continue, the original call had to die first. This is a terrible and beautiful reminder of our own calls. When God calls us to faith, it is not a faith attached to our old lives. We must die to our old lives to be reborn as new creatures. As Amy and Cajun taught me, this is not easy. It could be one of the most difficult steps in the journey to new life, but it is a step that has to be taken. It is also a step that sometimes happens to the young and youthful spirits that appear to be on track. Death can take the young, old, healthy, and broken. Freewill can mess up something God set right and turn it wrong.
So today we remember Cajun's Cookin' fondly for the many great memories it will leave us with. We pray for the Dubroc family, hoping their next journey is fruitful and God inspired. And, as a former server I ask: In lieu of flowers go visit your favorite small business or restaurant and tell them thank you for their hard work. You never know when it will be too late.