Jean Taffs: A Parable
Last Sunday, Lex's sermon included lines from the late Jean Taffs, who had written a parable about bread. We thought you would like to read the whole piece! Rest in Peace, Jean. You were a great storyteller.
Staff of life.
Every people has some form of bread. Or not.
Some place in time or space there was a man who planted grain and then ground it with heavy stones into flour. Every week he made bread - bread that a few people liked so much that they told everyone about it. Pretty soon lots of people were asking this person to bake for them, or asking for his recipe.
So he opened a little cooking school where the only subject was bread-why bread was good for you, the different kinds of grains you used, the way yeast worked, what happened when you didn't use enough of something, or used the wrong kind of something ...
Then more and more people were baking this bread and showing people how they could make it too, and in not very much time it somehow became the favorite food of that whole land.
When the people in charge of running things adopted it, they decided that the original recipe had to be kept safe from people who would try to change it, the way some folks always want to change a thing into something different, which they then call New and Better. To keep the bread unsullied by experimentation, they arranged for all the children to be taught The Recipe while they were learning how to read and write.
To make this easier to learn, to make it more interesting to learn, and to make people feel that it was important to learn, workers gathered every bit of knowledge, every remembered story, every written word they could find about the earliest days of this bread. They gave the bread the name of its first baker- Olaf, the miller. All of this became part of everyone's schooling.
It wasn't many gene rations before that name evolved into Olaf Miller, and that, into Loaf Miller. And the stories that surrounded the origins of the bread evolved too, into lovely and inspiring tales of Loafs strength at the grindstone, his wisdom in cultivating grains, and his generosity in sharing his Recipe. Anecdotes that his early pupils had recalled for their grandchildren were collected and recorded, and Miller's very words were treasured: Loyal members of that people would greet one another with words like, "Let rise until doubled!"
Over time The Recipe, its instructions, the stories about Miller's life, and even the histo1y of the recipe's development from idea to cultural icon, all were rendered in every imaginable kind of expression. Musicians devoted entire lives to composing lengthy and complicated works extolling Miller bread; choruses of trained singers spent years mastering various settings of The Recipe; painters and sculptors became immortal because of their renditions of moments in Miller’ s life.
While all this was happening, people were behaving the way people often do, some disagreeing with others about the best way to make bread, others disputing which kind of grindstone made the best flour, or even which hand must be used to place the risen dough into the oven for baking. These arguments grew into major issues with supporters on each side. In many cases a group would separate itself from the rest, take on a new name, and promote its own variation of Miller's Recipe.
The different groups engaged in a kind of rivalry, each one trying to show the world its superiority in honoring Miller Bread; one group became famous for its ornate breadboxes, decorated with fine carvings and inlaid ivory; another group, not to be outdone, covered its breadboxes with rare jewels. A few groups turned up their noses at such finery and declared themselves the only pure followers of the Miller tradition; thei r breadboxes were made of plain unpainted wood. No one thought to ask why there was never bread in any of the boxes.
But something else was happening along with this splintering: People began eating many different kinds of bread. Some of them didn't eat bread at all because there was such an interesting variety of foods to try that they forgot how Miller's Loaf tasted.
A number of these people, though, were sufficiently obedient to their childhood lessons that they continued to meet with the Loaf-Miller followers. On a regular basis they would all gather in an old building decorated with beautifully embroidered flour sacks. They would once again sing the old songs about the boy Loaf before he became a miller, or about the early pupils and their loyalty to Miller. They would listen to the stories of the old days of grinding and baking. They stood at attention, hands over their stomachs, and recited The Recipe in unison.
Then, for the most part, they all went their separate ways, busily learning how to make Sushi, Lutefisk, poi, Coney Dogs, and other exciting foods.
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