I am not a fan of green bean casserole. In fact, I am more of an anti fan. When I was little girl, I had a bad experience with green bean casserole. It’s too bad, I know, because green bean casserole seems to be all the rage these days — an up and coming staple at holiday meals.
People get all excited about the creamy casserole with its fried onions and mushrooms and whatever else, and it’s all I can do to keep from visiting the porcelain facilities, just thinking about it. I know. Perhaps I need an intervention?
It seemed for a while that I was in the clear. It seemed as if green bean casserole had taken a back seat to things like roasted brussels sprouts and baked sweet potatoes. It seemed we had graduated to a post-green bean casserole era! And then, one Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law discovered green bean casserole. I was mortified!
My mother-in-law was (as I’ve probably already mentioned too many times to count) an incredible cook! She was a down-home, no-fuss, fried chicken and collard greens cook. Her cornbread was legendary. Her sweet tea unmatched. So where, I wondered, did she develop this new fondness for green bean casserole? I was stumped, and more than a little freaked out.
Whenever someone talks about green bean casserole, I am immediately transported to a dining room table in a house with porcelain trinkets arranged on hand-crocheted doilies and placed in genteel fashion on a wooden étagère. My parents had been invited to dinner at the home of a couple who went to our church. My sister and I were invited to join them. The couple were older, and sweeter than the iced tea my mother-in-law used to serve. They were incredibly kind to our family, and the wife had gone out of her way to prepare a spectacular dinner for us. I was probably seven or eight years old.
My mother taught my sister and me to always put a little bit of everything on our plates when we were invited to dinner. I don’t know if she told us we had to clean our plates, or if that was just something I inferred. Either way, on this particular evening at the home of that lovely couple, the amazingly kind wife had whipped up a batch of green bean casserole. New to me, but onto my plate it went. And sometime after the grace and a few bites of whatever else was on the menu that evening, I had my first and only bite ever of green bean casserole.
My taste buds and that green bean casserole were instantly at odds. And my stomach immediately put up its defenses. The adults continued with polite conversation as I struggled with a war inside my mouth. I tried to swallow, but my throat said, “No way! That’s not going down!” I drank a glass of water and tried to swallow again. No luck. I tried to catch my mom’s eye, but she was deep in conversation, and when I looked over at my little sister, she seemed to be perfectly fine and oblivious to my inner torment.
So there I sat. A mouth full of green bean casserole, and nowhere to put it. Surely, I couldn’t spit it back onto my plate. Too rude. Too embarrassing. And if it went into my napkin, surely this kind woman would know I hated her special casserole. So, I tried again and what ensued isn’t even worth describing here. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t pretty.
I haven’t touched green bean casserole since.
If I find myself at a dinner with green bean casserole on the menu, I politely pass over that dish, leaving more for the rest of the guests to enjoy.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had quite a few conversations about race, church, and the Body of Christ. Some have been here on my blog, and others have been over coffee, on the phone, in emails, or in FB messages. For the most part, the conversation has been meaningful, productive, and helpful. But, in one or two instances, I’ve been reminded that, for some people, having a conversation about race is like being served green bean casserole: bad memories, deep-seated aversion, scary and embarrassing situations. Not everybody wants to go there, you know? Sometimes it’s the entire conversation that tastes like green bean casserole, and other times it’s one or two elements that just won’t go down, not even with a tall glass of water or sweet tea. For other people, it’s a brand new dish they’ve never tried — some are apprehensive, and others dive right in.
I just wanted to let you know, no matter how you feel about green bean casserole, you are welcome at the table. Fill up on cornbread and collards. Drink your fill of sweet tea. Compliment the cook. Laugh late into the night. Pay attention when the green bean casserole lovers talk about how much they love that dish. Pass around your special brownies and let us savor their goodness with a hot cup of coffee. I hope you’ll stay at the table. I hope you’ll stay ’til the wax spills over from the candles and right onto the table. I hope you’ll lean back all comfy-like in your seat and let the conversation transport us all to someplace Jesus had in mind for us.
No walls to divide. No bad memories we can’t stomach. And plenty of grace to go around.