I’m pretty proud of my ability to make pizza.
Since seminary, I have been perfecting my technique, refining my dough recipe, determining the best topping combinations, and figuring out how to get through the entire evening without the smoke detector going off. The result is that I am a fairly competent home pizza chef. It is only after years of trial and error, however, that I have been able to get to this point. Along the way, pizzas have lost all their toppings, failed to cook all the way through, and turned into bizarrely misshapen piles of dough. Of course, I accompanied all of these disasters with ranting and raving, using, in the opinion of a good friend, “words and sentiment completely inappropriate for a priest of God’s church.” But all of this failure eventually led to success. I don’t claim to make anything like what you can get at Modern in New Haven, CT (go, if you’ve never been) or Lombardi’s in New York, but I can reliably put together a tasty pie.
So it was with confidence that I accepted our Curate’s invitation to prepare pizza for the youth group last Sunday. Not only did I think it would be fun to hang out with the youth, I figured I would teach them a new skill in the process. I arrived with everything prepared: my carefully chosen toppings were ready, the dough had risen and been kneaded the appropriate number of times, and I had a generous amount of mozzarella and parmesan ready to go. Members of the youth group showed up and I demonstrated how to stretch the dough and arrange the toppings. Everything was progressing nicely until I went to slide the pizza in the oven. I had committed the ultimate rookie mistake and failed to sprinkle enough cornmeal on the pizza peel. I watched in horror as toppings fell to the floor of the oven and the pizza dough collapsed into a unwieldy mess. It was an old fashioned disaster. But for whatever reason, I resisted the urge to utter the few choice words running through my head and instead said, “We can fix this.” I retrieved the pizza dough from the oven, laid it out once again (with the appropriate amount of cornmeal), and invited the youth to replace the toppings that now lay woebegone on the oven floor. We slid the restored pizza into the oven and, ten minutes later, enjoyed an imperfect yet tasty meal.
It occurs to me that the willingness to say, “I can fix this” is what repentance requires. When I first started making pizza, the disaster of last Sunday night would have impelled me to abandon the entire operation and call Dominos. But after years of trial and error, after years of realizing that everything can’t be perfect, after years of failing, I realized that there was hope for restoration. We often get caught up in the notion that our failures have insurmountable power over us, that we cannot possibly fix what is wrong with us. We get overwhelmed by our problems and imagine that there is no place or no way for us to turn. Lent, however, is a time when we are reminded that each one of us has the potential for transformation, that each one of us can be restored, that each one of us can, with God’s help, be redeemed. But first, we must say to ourselves, “I can fix this.”