Several months after leaving Renovatus, I was slowly starting to engage the world again. It was the second long block I had taken where I did not attempt to speak or teach at all. I still did not really want to. I did not know if I had the heart for it. But however broken I felt, the fire in my bones to speak good news about God flickered in me somewhere still, and I knew I had to wade back out sometime. I was both excited and terrified. So much had been shifting in my head and heart over that time, that I wasn’t even sure who this person was that was about to step behind a pulpit again. I was as intrigued as anybody else to find out.
My first time back out felt like some kind of chemistry experiment. With all my preaching muscles rusty, I was flying to Sweden to speak ten times in less than a week. As out of rhythm as I was, the prospect of speaking in a country I had not visited to people I did not know sounded daunting; and yet there was a sense of adventure to it to. That trip was also significant in that it was the first time I had attempted to do a major international speaking trip alone. To put it mildly, I am challenged at finding my way around new places (as well as old ones, really…I have no sense of direction). But I had steeled myself for this trip. Sure, I felt fragile, like my bones were all glass—but I still had the fire in my belly, and that had served me well enough before.
I had planned to do some sightseeing around Sweden for a few days before my first speaking gig. As it turned out, I was going to be there over “Ingmar Bergman weekend,” a whole weekend of festivities built around the life and work of the famous Swedish director on the tiny island of Fårö, where Bergman lived the second half of his life. Entering the second half of my own, stumbling not strutting, I was ecstatic about the opportunity. I’ve been a huge fan of Bergman’s bleak, spiritually and intellectually provocative films all my adult life. The prospect of visiting the locations where his films were shot, the places he lived and played—as well as the Bergman Center itself—was intoxicating. It was good to feel really excited about anything in my life again…it felt like it had been such a long time.
There were a number of issues surrounding the flight, and I slept very little on the way to Stockholm. But my excitement was undeterred. By the time I boarded the tiny plane in Stockholm to the medieval town of Wisby, where I would then rent a car to take to Faro, I had been awake for over 24 hours. But I was in high spirits, however discombobulated I felt. When I got the rental car, I noted it was a manual—I drive an automatic back home. I had not driven one in a few years, but I figured I could get the hang of it. Besides, I was ready to be on my way.
So using my phone GPS to guide me, I set out in the little Volkswagen, bright and eager, like it was my first day of school. You could practically hear Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” in your head even with the radio off. It felt like I was in a movie about starting your life over and finding hope again. I was ready for a taste of resurrection, and hoping this trip might be my first. As I got into the little town of Wisby, the roads got tinier — these were cobblestone streets built in the 1100’s. Most everything was one way. But my Spidey sense was too tired to be tingling. I kept following the GPS.
Siri guided me down an especially tiny side street that went through an alley, down a hill. The further I got down, the more it felt like the walls were closing in on me, like I was in a scene from Alice in Wonderland. Jet lag is a very real thing, and I thought it explained my little mini-head trip. I was near the bottom of the hill when it became painfully clear that this was not an optical illusion — the street was actually getting more narrow. You could barely get a bicycle through the outlet at the bottom.
That’s when I knew I was in trouble. I had not yet had to put the car in reverse, and I couldn’t figure out how. So whenever I tried to back the car up, I would slowly inch even further…and further…down the hill. But of course I had to let up on the clutch to try it at all, so I just kept going further down—until I was completely wedged between the two stone walls.WEDGED. As in, the side mirrors were collapsed in, and there was literally no way to even crack my door open. I was completely stuck. I could not back up, and there was no way out of the car for the time being except breaking the front windshield. I can’t believe this is happening, I thought.
Along with a string of really innovative, fatigue-induced obscenities.
You have to understand — my greatest fear traveling anywhere internationally is playing the role of “the stupid American.” I am not going to be the obnoxious, demanding American — I do have control over that. But I’m terrified of looking foolish in another culture. As I’m sitting there, big guy in a little Volkswagen, some people walked out of the pub on the corner and saw me. I was paralyzed. What should I do? Should I try to get their attention? How would I even know exactly what to ask for at this point? My brain and body were tired — I couldn’t think straight. As I’m feeling my cheeks shade deeper hues of red from embarrassment, trying to figure out how I might escape, they pull out their Iphones — and start taking pictures of me. While laughing. They went back into the pub and got more friends — who also took pictures. As the minutes passed, a whole crowd of onlookers gathered. And I am not making this up (why would I?) — by the time it was all said and done, at least 30 people had taken pictures of the stupid American trapped in his car with their cell phones.
By the time I was done with my two weeks in Sweden, I could say honestly they were the gentlest, sweetest people on earth. In fact, I would go as far as to call it my favorite country I’ve ever visited. The people I met were delightful, like they were out of a storybook. I was all but ready to become a citizen by the time I left. I want to LIVE in Stockholm, with all its old world charm and new world fashions. But in that moment, on no sleep, mostly incredulous at myself for not being able to even get to the hotel without my first mishap—I hated everyone in that god-forsaken country. I cursed IKEA, Swedish meatballs, their fabulous healthcare, and even that @#$*ing Swedish chef. I decided I would sell my white Volvo when I got home. I’m a staunch believer in Christian non-violence, but I cursed them for abstaining from wars I did not believe in. It was the one and only moment of my life I ever wanted to wear camouflage, join the NRA, and drink beer while listening to Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.” Of all the transformations/mutations this season has brought me, that one was the scariest—it was like something out of The Fly. God help me, for five minutes I became a Texas Republican. That felt a lot worse than anything else I had done or experienced.
Finally, a really nice man came out from the pub who tried to help me. Unable to tell me how to get the car in reverse, he called a tow truck. About 80 minutes later, the tow truck came, and I was back to loving Ingmar Bergman art films, streamlined modern furniture, Scandinavian luxury in automobiles, and universal health care—even for animals. I was back to wanting to marry the country of Sweden.
But here is the kicker: while he was hooking the cable up to the car, another man came around the corner with a large, professional camera with a really long lens. He was from the local paper. I saw a copy the next morning, and sure enough — there was a picture of me trapped in the car in the alley on the front page. Translated from Swedish, “Oh no, not again: American tourist stuck in Alley.” That’s right. Less than 24 hours into my trip, and I made the front page for being the stupid American. The reporter asked me why I was in Sweden — and I was not about to tell him I was there to preach in churches and lecture in seminaries. “I’m here for Ingmar Bergman weekend,” I said. The last line of the article read, “Martin, a Bergman enthusiast, says, ‘I got my own drama.’” If they only knew.
That scene felt like an allegory for my whole life in this season: feeling helpless, exposed, foolish, dependent, unable to move at all on my own — having to rely on other people to come and pull me out of where I was. It was that line from Jesus to Peter again: “Someone else will dress you, and lead you where you do not wish to go.” I had never felt more incompetent. I was no longer the guy calling shots, giving advice, saving the day — I was the one in need of saving. If I could not find some people who could come along and pull me, I was hopeless. I got myself stuck. I had no way out.
I was no longer bringing people to Jesus by the carload. I was the lame man on the mat, in need of someone else to carry me to Jesus.
Anybody who read my book Prototype has already met my friend Blake. She is one of my best friends. She is the Anne Lamott in residence in my life-salty, contrary, and deeply good…also the best storyteller that I know, which is saying something. (Aside/plug: she has written an absolutely gorgeous memoir that I’ll be plugging hard in a few months when it comes out) When I first met Blake, she was living in a lot of hurt, anger and bitterness over the hand her life had dealt her. She credits me largely with leading her into faith. Eight years later, her friend and pastor was exiting the bubble of pastoral ministry, and was as clueless about dealing with the underside of life as she had once felt clueless about living as a Christian. This time, I was in need of her help. I needed somebody to tell me, you are going to survive, one way or another. I needed to hear there could still be life on the other side of things like this, from someone who actually had lived enough from the underside of life enough to convince me. Blake was that person in my life—and still is.
It was mid-June, and I was just six weeks into whatever kind of life I had on the other side of pastoring. I felt pretty useless to the world and to myself. I’ll never forget, though, that Wednesday afternoon when she called, wanting to tell me all about this experience she just had. Blake is open to the Spirit in ways that make her a kind of reluctant, accidental mystic, in ways she never goes looking for. A couple of nights before, she had been invited to go to this class at a yoga studio, where apparently all you do for an hour is breathe, deeply and intentionally, while there is some gentle instruction and evocative music in the background. It opened her up in ways she did not expect. And to her surprise, she felt like she got caught up in a vision from God.
First, she saw a giant tree with a pea pod, and she could tell that Zyler, the one-year old son she lost years ago, was inside of it, safe and warm and protected in the presence of God. She had this sense that he had always been there, even before his birth. Then all of a sudden, she was in a garden paradise, like she would have imagined the Garden of Eden to be. As she looked around at all the beautiful plants, she was seized by this sense that God was somehow in all of this, that all the life, all the beauty was an extension of God Himself. In the garden, she saw Zyler again, twice: once as a toddler, and once as a nine or ten year old kid. To see him happy and at peace, she felt comforted by the image at first. But within a moment, the comfort gave way to rage at having to be apart from him still. But why can’t I be with him NOW?, she screamed. And the voice kept telling her gently, you already know the answer, you already know the answer, you already know the answer.
She was overwhelmed with grief, but she knew her son was safe. A few minutes later, she had this strange sense that the garden paradise and her own real life were merging, as if they had been two sides of the same reality all along. The garden world slowly started to disappear, and a light started coming to her—carrying her 16-year old son, Noah. Ever since she lost Zyler, Blake has always felt that her love for Noah has been laced with fear that one day she would lose him too. It had made her afraid of the depth of her love for him, feeling that would inevitably end in another hearbreak too great for her soul to bear. But before the garden faded, she saw a glimpse of Noah as an adult, also safe. Somewhere deep she knew that God was giving her permission to love him without fear and without reserve, to know that he would be protected and cared for. Thus she did not have to protect her heart. And because she knew Zyler was safe in God’s presence too, it was like God was saying, I’ve got him, I’m taking care of him—it’s okay…now you can take care of the people I’ve given you to take care of.
There was a kind of peace in her vision, but also a kind of searing grief. She could feel all the ways she had unwittingly bottled up guilt for Zyler’s death within her very own body, as if somehow she was responsible for the genetic defects that led to his death. To have all of that pain come rushing through her at one time felt like more than she could stand. In the middle of the breathing class, she sobbed. By the time she got done telling me the story, I was crying too. Even in my own deep darkness, there was still this strange way of being able to see into someone’s else’s heart and life, when called upon. And for the next 15 minutes, through tears, I shared all the things I felt like God was allowing me to see about her vision. She felt traumatized by the experience of seeing and feeling so much, so intensely. But it was clear that the only reason God was pressing in on her pain was to reveal it, to bring it into the light, where He could attend to her, love her, heal her. It was emotional for us both.
There was so much in Blake’s experience that both revealed the God I needed to see and know in my dark place, and yet a way that God gave me to feel like I could be useful in someone else’s real life again, too. I felt like I had nothing to offer anyone. I wanted to hide under a rock. That was the first moment after leaving the church, in what had been for me an especially tumultuous six weeks where I felt like my life was unraveling even further, that I knew without a doubt that everything God had placed in me to be and to do was still present and accounted for. In fact, I felt like I was somehow far better at being present in such a moment than I ever could have beenwhen I was a pastor. It was like I was awake in a way I could not have been before, alert in ways I had never been before. Maybe in a way it was my whole self that was finally present and accounted for.
a wild goose chase
It is from here that the story gets, if you can imagine such a thing, even stranger. For anybody looking to arm themselves against the experiential, heart-first way of Pentecostals, congratulations: you are walking into an empty gun store the day after the apocalypse, and you can get all the ammunition you want—to use on me, in particular. If you like, I can supply you with a list of pejoratives you can use. But it’s my story, the only one I’ve got, and I’ve come a bit too far at this point in my life to play any of this politically.
Two nights after my conversation with Blake, Amanda and I, very much in our own broken places, respectively, went to the Wild Goose Festival, three and a half hours away in the little town of Hot Springs, NC. I had been invited to come and be part of a small musical set with a friend of mine, where he was going to be mixing dance music while I loosely preached/exhorted/prayed over the beats. I was completely awkward with it, but I jumped into it like it was the most perfectly normal thing in the world, doing a little sermon/spoken word something around an idea that had been lingering in some corner of my mind: The Trinity doesn’t have a dance, the Trinity is the dance.
But that skips too far ahead. We got to the campground a few minutes early, and went walking around just to get a feel for the place. I had been there for about 10 minutes, not yet having spoken to a single soul, when I heard someone shout out my name from across the woods. It was my old friend Steve. from my hometown. I was glad to see him, and we exchanged pleasantries. He immediately introduced me to his friend James, who’s eyes got big when he realized who I was. Apparently, James’ best friend (who lived in Portland, Oregon) had listened to my sermon podcast for years. He had been trying to get James to listen forever, but James said he just wasn’t interested in listening to sermons. Until a few months ago, when his friend insisted that he had to listen to this one sermon—the one I described in “The Death Chapter.”
That would be the sermon after I felt like the Holy Spirit came crashing in on me while reading John Irving’s novel, In One Person. That was the sermon where I talked candidly that I felt like God had gently leveraged my own angst about the state of my own heart and life back onto me in reading this novel about sexual identity and the AIDS crisis among gay men in New York City in the early 1980's. It was in that sermon that I recounted through tears the way God spoke to me about keeping certain kinds of stories and certain kinds of people at arm’s length, because deep down I knew “they would lead me where I did not wish to go.”
That week I was preaching from John 9 via the lectionary, which is all about seeing. And I felt like God tenderly but firmly showed me that my repressed, insulated life in vocational Christian ministry had kept me from truly seeing a lot of people where they are; that He was using this situation in my life to make me see that which I would not have let myself see before. I was now going to have to see through the prism of my own heartbreak, anguish, and sin. I was going to have to see the world as as a participant in all of her brokenness, instead of an objective onlooker keeping clinical distance from a few feet above it.
He said it was the most powerful sermon he had ever heard. He said he had distributed it broadly in the LGBT community in Charlotte, where James also lived. He proceeded to tell me more of his own story, working for years behind and in front of the camera in Christian television, most of his career with Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. He told me about the books he published with a major evangelical publisher, trying to live on the straight and narrow as he understood it, while struggling violently with his own sexuality. He told the painful story of coming out a few years ago, as he chronicled in his last book, Gay Conversations with God. The transparency of my sermon moved him, and he apparently tried to send an e-mail to our office thaking me for it, that I never received. There was so much holiness to that moment, my heart could barely take it in.
But you’ve heard nothing yet. We were wrapping up the conversation so I could go and do the set, when James somehow casually mentioned the breathing class he led at the yoga studio on Monday nights back in Charlotte. I felt all the blood drain out of my face. I just stood there, stunned, almost too flustered to ask the natural next question I somehow already knew the answer to. “Um, and you were leading this class last Monday night? At Okra in Charlotte? Did you meet someone named Blake Blackman there on Monday?” And of course it was the same guy, and he had met Blake on Monday, and he remembered her (as people generally do).
Slow down for just a minute, okay? That conversation with Blake two days prior was the first time after leaving the pastorate that I felt like the calling side of me, maybe even the human side of me, wake up again. I would have described the conversation about her experience itself to be a kind of turning point for me, even though at the time I did not exactly how or what for. So now two days later, I’m meeting the man who led the class she was in a little town three and a half hours away. A man who, mind you, had listened to exactly one sermon of mine, which was the sermon in which I confessed that I felt I had unintentionally kept people on the margins of my life so I would not have wrestle too deeply with the implications of their stories in my own. I confessed that I had navigated those waters politically because I did not want to get in trouble.
I don’t believe every coincidence has to indicate some kind of divine synchronicity. And I’m aware that I’ve got at least a few Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters who are already thinking almost out loud, “yeah son, but that could be the devil orchestrating all of that, too!” I can only tell you that for me, if I’ve got any authentic belief in a God that is still moving and speaking by His Spirit in the world—in any way at all—this kind of experience is nearly impossible to deny. And especially when it is accompanied by tears, conviction, empathy, compassion, and new openness to God and others, why would I want to?
I awkwardly made it through our little music/preaching experience. (I’ve always been awkward dancing, but I suppose for all the losses, maybe that was something I was supposed to be learning how to do in this season yet still) Afterward (and I’m having a hard time keeping my composure as I write this), we went back to James’ room in a little lodge across the street from the campground, and talked to him for several hours. He gave me a copy of his book, and I devoured it through the night before I ever went to sleep. And in an act that now seems almost ceremonial to me, James, knowing we would be wandering into a town 40 minutes away to crash at a hotel, was absolutely insistent that we stay in his room, while he sleep in the little rooftop tent he brought with him. He absolutely would not take no for an answer. When I had no space, he made space for me.
The encounter hung with me. I knew that whatever else that weekend meant for my own story, at the very least it meant that James was somehow supposed to be a part of it. So the next week, we had lunch. And the week after that, I went to do the whole breathing thing. It was the first time I had ever stepped foot into a yoga studio. I’m smelling the incense as a person raised to be suspect even of people who use incense in church. The class is open to people of all kinds, and is not explicitly Christian in its approach. But because James is a Christian, he very much understands it in those terms, and during the intro subtly makes the connection between spirit and breath in Greek and Hebrew. We are inviting God to fill us with His holy breath, to be open to wherever that breath might lead us.
I’m broken open so far at this point, and for that matter, my own life felt so entirely unmanageable—I’m open to get to God anyhow, anyway these days. I had already been going to an Episcopal Church on Sundays, where God kept meeting me in the eucharist every Sunday, where I couldn’t believe all over again that people would give the body and blood of Jesus away for free. I cried through the entire Eucharistic liturgy every Sunday, even less able to believe that such a meal could be offered to me in such a terrible state. It was funny too, because I guess I had a lot of my most “Pentecostal” experiences just opening up my heart in that liturgical worship. I don’t think I had ever prayed so much in church before! I know for people who are raised in that way, the traditions can get stale in the same way a person raised Charismatic can get bored with all the hoopla. I just know that it in the foreign, exotic land of that sacred space, it had been the only plot of land on earth where I didn’t have to feel like a stranger anymore.
But now I’m in a yoga studio, laying on a mat, with an EYE-MASK ON. Being taught how to do something as basic as BREATHING all over again…by a gay man. (I can’t even imagine how much some of my friends reading this are going to want to travel back in time, to stage an intervention) I can’t speak for anybody else, but I know that for me, like it was for Blake, the God revealed in Jesus is the only one I know anything about. And good grief—did He meet me with me in that space. The deeper in I went, the more immersed I felt in the love of God. I had never experienced anything like it before.
For one thing, I felt astonishingly safe. So when all the grief pent up in me came out, I didn’t just cry—I wailed. I lost all track of myself. I’m glad they play the music loud, but then again I was probably too far past myself to care what anybody else would have said. Every ounce of grief, guilt, came out in what felt like an eternal kind of travail. And yet I felt so completely loved, somehow beheld so tenderly by the presence of love Himself.
I knew in my head that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” I remembered Sister Anne, when I was on spiritual retreat, asking me to be mindful of God at work holding together the dirt and rocks and sand and sky all around me when I walked the cliffs. But I don’t think I ever KNEW experientially before that moment that God is not just a being, God is being itself. I don’t think I ever really knew experientially the way David described God in the Psalms, “even if I make my bed in hell…even if I take on the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the sea, you are there.” I don’t think I ever really comprehended that this God literally could not be outrun, no matter where I fled or what I did. The very fact that I exist means I exist in God and am sustained by God, literally with every single breath. The inescapable presence is the only reason I am able tobe…anywhere, anytime, at all.
And because I have not yet successfully alienated enough people—there was a consistent image the last few minutes of the new puppy my parents had bought, Gabi. While staying at their house, a 36-year old man feeling like a complete loser, mind you—them getting that sweet little dog had helped keep me alive. She didn’t judge anything about my life or my heart. She just loved to see me come home to this place that was not my home, and just wanted to be with me and play. The love of God was being manifest in the face of that dog, who never takes her eyes off of me, never wants me to leave, and always wants to draw me into life, laughter, and the wonder of the present moment.
I cried. Then I laughed. Then I cried-laughed, and laughed-cried. You know, it was the experience I always wanted to find in the Pentecostal altar services. And to be clear, I believe in all of that, and think there was in fact an encounter with the Spirit to be had in those places. It wasn’t God who wasn’t ready, but me. Before I was broken open by my own suffering, my own pain, even the pain I caused, I couldn’t have dropped far enough from my head into my heart and body to enter fully into such a moment. Only in the experience of feeling bankrupt in every conceivable way, an absurd man living an absurd alternate version of my own life, that I had no choice but to let go. How could there be any holding off that Presence now, when I couldn’t even hold myself together?
Oh, but it gets better. I’m drunk and near delirious on the love of God, laying on the mat in a yoga studio, in an environment where there are no explicit markers of Christian worship at all. I had been lost in all the ways I never wanted, and thus finally in a posture where I could get lost in all the ways I always did want, but couldn’t. James does little to direct the experience—he lets the Spirit work through us in the breathing. But a few moments later, I felt like God revealed to me an aspect of my life that I was carrying in a way that was positively crushing me, consuming me…killing me. While it was deep, quiet, and entirely interior in the way I understand the voice of God to most often be, it was perhaps as clearly as I felt like I had ever heard the Spirit inside me. Echoing in the deepest chambers of my being, I heard the simple words, “you don’t have to carry it anymore.” Almost as soon as the phrase formed inside me, James bent down and gently whispered in my ear, out loud: “You don’t have to carry it anymore, my brother.”
Towards the end of the session, James bent down one more time and gently laid his hand on me. He was close enough to my head to where I could hear his voice softly above the music behind us.
He was speaking in tongues.
James has become one of my closest friends. These have not been easy times, and already there have been many opportunities for us to be care for each other in the trenches of our lives. It has been one of the great gifts of this season of my life that he is always there to talk, pray, and struggle out loud with me in my own attempt to follow Jesus somehow in my most desolate places. And I think I have been able to be there for him in some of his desolate places, too—such grace.
A few months later, I was getting ready to spend Thanksgiving day alone. It was just the way it worked out. I was going to have a meal with my Dad’s family the next day, but that day I had no real place to be. Like so much of my life these days, the day was going to quiet. I didn’t begrudge anyone else for being places where music or games would be playing or where children would be laughing—I think a lot of what I have been learning in this season is how to live in the quiet, where the phone seldom rings and the e-mail box rarely dings…and being more or less okay with that. But when James called and invited me over for Thanksgiving lunch, I have to admit—I was thrilled. Perhaps I was not as okay with the idea of being alone on Thanksgiving as I thought I was.
So I come over to the beautiful house James shares with his friend Greg. Strangely symbolic of my life these days, I didn’t have a dish to bring, I was just there to be fed from their table. I sat down around the table with James, Greg, Greg’s boyfriend Kai, their three doting mothers, and a young couple, a man and woman from the UK James is friends with (the young man is apparently 244th from the throne in England—who knew?). So there you have it—three gay guys, the former Pentecostal pastor trying to get his life together, three sweet southern moms in their 60's, and some vague British royalty. What kind of jokes could you make out of us all walking into a bar?
Sitting around the table that day, I had two thoughts: one, all the people in my former life who would, if they saw the scene, say some version of, “look how far he is fallen.” I could think of more than a few who would be sneering when they said it. And alternately I thought, there is no place on God’s green earth I would rather be on this Thanksgiving day than right here, right now.
No longer sitting at the head of Christ’s table with the people who decide who is or is not worthy to receive from it, I was the one in need to be loved and accepted. I was given a place at a table that was not my own. I was the wounded one, being offered bread and wine I did not deserve. There was no hope or expectation that my new friends would see Jesus in me—only an opportunity to see Jesus animated in the faces of my friends, these icons of grace.
James asked me to pray over the meal—”since we do have a pastor with us today…” “Um…former pastor,” I said, laughing. Truthfully, I think James and his friends were precisely the people I always longed to be in community with, but I would not have known then how to get to them, or them to me. So if I could be “pastor” enough for the ceremonial prayer for that Thanksgiving meal, I would take it. When we bowed our heads, it took me a full minute to compose myself enough to pray. There had never been in a place, a moment or a meal I had been more thankful for than I was thatplace, that moment, that meal. The Thanksgiving I had most dreaded was the most beautiful one I had ever had. I felt the same tremble in my lips I get when I take the chalice each Sunday, while kneeling to receive communion.
As we filled our plates with casseroles, the table was filling up with stories. Greg’s Dad had a paralyzing stroke recently, so me and his mom had a beautiful conversation about all that she was coming to see and know through her suffering. Everybody was comfortable talking about their brokenness and pain, but comfortable sharing their joys, too.
You can imagine how many jokes were made after dinner when Kai served his famous homemade tarts.