I just finished reading a very fine book called The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life by Frederick Buechner. Buechner is a minister/writer who has a theology background and also a finely tuned sense of looking for the holy within the ordinary things of life, as the title of his book implies. I thought of him as I read the obituary notice for a woman named Mildred Council, better known as “Mama Dip,” founder of Mama Dip’s Kitchen on Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill. Mama Dip’s is a place to get authentic Southern cooking – chitlins, black-eyed peas, chicken livers, hush puppies, fried okra – all of which, for a Northerner like me when I had lunch there once, were quite foreign to me upon my arrival in the South in the early 2000’s.
Here are some excerpts from her obituary from the Raleigh News and Observer: “[Mama Dip] helped start the Community Dinner in Chapel Hill, a large annual gathering that brings together people from all incomes, ethnic backgrounds, and abilities to share a meal. The first Community Dinner was organized to celebrate Black History month….later Mildred Council pushed for the dinner to celebrate the county’s cultural diversity. She said “why celebrate just Black History Month? Our community is much more culturally diverse.” The obituary adds that she made it a point to hire ex-prisoners and people struggling with substance abuse. “Her main thing was helping people who were down,” her daughter said. Mama Dip founded her restaurant in the mid-1970’s with $64 in her pocket and grew it to become a kind of Southern landmark, recognized around the country, and patronized by UNC hoop
stars Michael Jordan and James Worthy. Jordan preferred the barbecue; Worthy the fried chicken. What comes through in the obituary is her vision of food as not only a business, not only a job, not only a transaction; it’s food as a sign of community, of love, of table fellowship, of looking beyond your own
table to see who else might come to the table, of seeing who is still waiting for an invitation to the table. That’s gospel. That’s what Jesus did. Her witness shines through to us today, shines beyond the culture and political wars, and invites us to have a seat at her kitchen, try some sweet tea, some cornbread, some bread pudding, and if you like, some chitlins (which you can look up to see what they really are) and black-eyed peas.
I have a sense the Lord would be quite at home there. Mildred Council – Mama Dip – Southern gospel witness, may she rest among the saints at the table of the Lord, a table piled high with home-cooked Southern food!
And finally, a movie recommendation: the newly released Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, a documentary directed by Wim Wenders.