The Story of Two Pots of Stew — a parable
There once was a dad and his son. The dad was taking his son to a family reunion. This was the first time for the boy to go to the reunion and the first time in many years that the dad had gone. The dad remembered going every year when he was a boy. For years family members had asked him to come to the reunion but he declined. Now that his son was 10 years old, he wanted to give him the same experience he had had as a boy.
One of the dad’s fondest memories from these reunions was the main dish. It was a family favorite that had been part of these reunions for years. His great, great, great, great grandmother had perfected the recipe and passed it on to her children who passed on to theirs. It wasn’t a lavish recipe. In fact, it was a basic beef stew containing nothing more than roast, carrots, potatoes, green beans and corn.
This recipe was so cherished that every member of the family had a copy of it. It was taught to them as children. They faithfully memorized it. They meticulously copied it. They lovingly passed it on to their children. They all learned to make the stew just as she had done. At the family reunion, the beef stew was the main attraction. It was made exactly as it had been done for years. The dad was so excited to give his son his first taste of this wonderful stew
As the dad and his boy walked into the large gathering room where the reunion would take place, they saw many people most of whom eagerly greeted the dad with hugs and kisses. It made the dad feel very good to be back among his people. He proudly introduced his son to everyone.
When it came time to eat, the boy couldn’t help but notice that there were two pots of stew. The boy was a little confused. His dad had only talked about one pot of stew. “Why were there two on the stove?” the boy asked his dad.
The boy sensed that his dad was saddened by the question. The dad had hoped his son wouldn’t notice the two stews but now that he had, he needed to tell his son the story.
Back when great, great, great, great grandmother was alive, everyone ate the stew she prepared. They were happy with her stew. It wasn’t fancy but it was what she had prepared. After she died, the family decided they would remember her and all the things she had done for them by having a reunion every year. They also determined that the main dish served at this reunion would be her wonderful beef stew. For years, this was what they did. There was no question. They would eat the beef stew that their grandmother loved and that she served.
As the generations came and generations went, the reunion continued but there were less and less people in attendance who had ever known grandmother. Eventually, as the years went by no one in attendance had ever met her or even her children. They had heard stories, especially stories about the stew, but they seemed like some remote legend instead of a story about their own family. The family would gather because it was what they had always done but very few held the stories dear to their hearts although the stew continued to be prepared just as it had always been prepared.
One year, as the women were preparing the stew, someone suggested that they add a radish to the stew. Stunned, everyone stared at the one who made the suggestion. They asked where that idea came from. The one who had suggested the radish said that he had heard that other families put radishes in their stew. It didn’t change the taste so why not? There was quite a bit of discussion about this new idea. What about the recipe? They had always followed the recipe. After much debate, it was decided that they would continue making the stew following the recipe as great, great, great, great grandmother had done. The one who suggested the radish was unhappy and left the reunion.
Well, that was not a happy day. Never before had the family had a controversy over the recipe. There were some who were upset that they hadn’t gone ahead and used radishes just to make everyone happy. What harm would it do? Although the rest of the day went on as usual, there was a little bit of sadness in the air. Even so, everyone enjoyed the stew and the stories of their great, great, great, great grandmother and promised to be back the following year.
The next year, the stew was being prepared the same as it always had been done. The one who had suggested to add the radishes was not there and while that was sad, everyone else knew it was important to continue with the plan to honor their great, great, great, great grandmother by serving her beef stew every year at the reunion.
Then someone made another suggestion. This time someone wanted to add sugar to the stew. Sugar? Yes, she had heard that others were adding sugar to their stews and that when sugar was added, everyone ate much more stew. Besides, she liked sugar. Well, after what happened the year before when the radish addition was suggested, no one wanted anyone else to leave and not come back, so they cautiously added sugar to the beef stew. Just a little at first but eventually there was lots of sugar in the pot. Not just that. Others saw how willingly the recipe had been altered so they brought in things they liked and put it in the stew: apples, limes and yes, even radishes.
Looking in the pot, there were the original ingredients, the roast, the carrots, the potatoes, the green beans and the corn, but there were also all those new things. They were pretty floating in the stew and looked good to eat but it wasn’t great, great, great, great grandmother’s beef stew anymore.
Looking around the room, you’d think that everyone was happy with this new recipe. It was as if great, great, great, great grandmother had never written a recipe for beef stew. There wasn’t much talk about her anymore either. Everyone eagerly talked about themselves: about what they had done and about what they wanted to do. That is, except for the small group in the corner.
There was a group of great, great, great, great grandmother’s descendants who did not approve of changing the recipe. They had voiced their disapproval but were told that they were just being old fashioned. They were told that adding a few ingredients to the recipe wasn’t really changing it. The new ingredients were enhancing the flavor of the original stew. They were told that they would be able to get many more of the younger relatives to want to attend the reunion if they would make the recipe more up-to-date. They were told that if they didn’t like it, they could leave.
This small group didn’t want to leave. They loved their family. They loved the family reunion. They loved the beef stew. They wanted to honor their great, great, great, great grandmother by preparing her stew just like she had done. That’s just what they did. They used the same old pot that had always been used. They used the same ingredients that had always been used. They were sad that the family could not be in unity as they had been before but they knew that keeping the recipe the same was what honored their ancestor, so now there are two pots of stew on the stove.
After hearing the story, the little boy looked up at his dad and said, “Which pot will we eat from?”