A few years ago I returned to speak at the church that was my first pastorate. The church was celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, and it had been more than a decade since I had stood in their pulpit. They welcomed me back with incredible grace and affection, and I was truly glad for the reunion.When I first went there as pastor, I was a green, naïve, ignorant child, still in my early twenties, full of piss and vinegar, ready to extinguish hell with a water gun. Equipped with a fresh diploma, a certificate of ordination with the ink still wet, and a new red Bible, I worked hard to justify my position and demonstrate to all that I knew everything there was to know about leading a congregation. Heck, I wanted people to see that I knew everything about everything.When it was whispered in the gossip parlors of the church Sunday school rooms and in the beauty salons of the greater community that in fact I did not know everything about everything, and that I was far too young for the responsibility now thrust upon me, I worked all the harder to prove my critics wrong and my youthful abilities underestimated.This hard work paid off, because in the process of proving myself, the membership rolls did indeed grow. The coffers of the church swelled like never before, acres of land were purchased, buildings were built, mission trips were taken, baptisteries were filled, other congregations were planted, the church became a rising sensation, and the critics quieted their murmuring assaults. Yes, by the end of my tenure there, I had gained a great deal of success. But I also lost a few things along the way. I lost my youthful idealism; my religion; my marriage; my way, and almost my mind. Most of all, I lost touch with the very reason I had entered the vocation in the first place: The love of Christ.See, I became more concerned with growing a bigger church than with the well-being of individual people who needed to know grace. I worked tirelessly to keep the “right” people happy and tithing, and neglected those on the “wrong” side of the tracks, those that Christ sought more than any other. I wanted a prosperous religious career by building the next religious edifice, by impressing the suits at the denomination’s headquarters, and by meticulously managing my public image. Only years later did I realize that Jesus was not very much involved in any of this.It was a hard lesson to learn, but I take some comfort in the fact that I am not alone in learning it. Another hard-striving, pompous, know-it-all once wrote, “Christ has shown me that what I thought I knew is worthless…Nothing else matters but this: To know Christ and to know that I belong to him” (Philippians 3).
DES MOINES, Iowa — There's a hole in the wall in Des Moines that's just that: a food joint called Hole in the Wall.A small room inside a bar a few blocks from downtown, Hole in the Wall is the kind of place you could easily miss if you walked by. It's less than a mile from my apartment, yet for months I didn't know it existed. But it's there, with food for both indoor patrons at the Gas Lamp bar and customers ordering outside a window. A few plastic chairs lined up against an exterior wall are about all you'll get if you ask for a reservation.But if you're expecting lukewarm hot dogs or overcooked burgers, you've come to the wrong place. As chef Zach Gutweiler explains it, Hole in the Wall offers high-end street food. And it's served on paper plates and in plastic baskets that you can munch on while sipping a beer and listening to live music at the bar.Gutweiler launched Hole in the Wall nearly two years ago following several restaurant stints in Denver. He wants to change how customers view the quality of bar food and meals on-the-go. And he's doing it in Des Moines, which has recently gotten some buzz for an emerging hipster scene complete with a resurgence of younger residents and several new restaurants with eclectic menus.Gutweiler's dishes bridge the gap between fine dining and what people think of as bar food. On the menu recently were bay scallops with speck that had fennel puree, smoked pecan nage (broth), daikon and apples. A few weeks ago, a plate included beef cheeks, hen of the woods mushroom powder, smashed potatoes, soy pickled mushrooms, grilled frisee, aronia berry gastrique (caramelized sugar) and blue basil. A few months ago, there was squid and shrimp ceviche with corn milk foam, mojo verde, chili oil and fresh herbs.But what's there one day may not be there the next, and that's the beauty of Hole in the Wall. The dishes change all the time. Gutweiler often tinkers with them based on fresh ingredients available at local farms near Des Moines, and he uses organic options whenever he can.