53. When your church building is used for the community meal-but you can’t say grace.

One of the most interesting models I came across was a semi-rural church of less than 50 members struggling to remain vibrant and relevant in a town in the throes of significant economic decline. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to maintain its 500-seat building, this small congregation sat squarely in the middle of a town with an increasing need for food ministries across the local population, most especially among the elderly and developmentally disabled. The church had a large institutional kitchen and dining capacity for 250, but, by themselves, they did not have the human or financial capital to begin and sustain a food ministry. So the church successfully partnered in plurality with others across the county- a local college, the Girl and Boy Scouts, the local home for disabled adults, and other churches (to name a few), today providing a community-wide free and shared meal twice a month supported by donations and grant monies, and directed by part-time paid personnel who are not church members. It has become quite a social scene. Meals are cooked by a chef, people get a plate of hot, home-cooked food served through the kitchen window. They eat together around beautifully set tables. Beverages and dessert are served by volunteers who also eat after everyone else is served. At the meal I attended, the mood was buoyant-people had come to eat, but, perhaps even more importantly, they had come to be together for an hour. In informal conversation, diners shared how much they look forward to getting out for this meal, for the companionship, hot food, and warm welcome it entails. They remarked that it was like eating a meal with a big family. And, the food was exceptionally good-nothing “institutional” about it.

But, by definition, this was not a shared meal as Christian practice where people eat around the table together in God’s presence giving voice and assent to that presence.  This is because the plurality of the partnerships essential for the program to survive also necessitated that all faith-based activity, including grace before the meal and a sharing of the gospel were unacceptable to most of the sponsors. So, it is a meal that is shared by the community in a beautiful old church building where explicit references to the coming kingdom of God are muzzled, and the church members can only hope that coming to the church for a meal will encourage more people to investigate the church itself. An organizer, who is also a Christian but not a member of any church, said that religion is off the table at the meals because,

“I don’t want to exclude anybody. I don’t want the conflict. And it hurts me to do that, but I’ve seen it before. I have to pick sides. There’s people who told me, this is the first time they have been inside of a church. Could that be a start?”

Another interesting phenomenon at this church is that most of the church’s members do not really participate – they don’t support the program as volunteers, they don’t come to share the meal, and they are somewhat threatened that “outsiders” are using “their” church. One significant reason is that they are elderly themselves. But, the real threat is that the church membership has dwindled from 500 to 50 since its heyday in the 1960’s.   It is easy to see how these elderly members conflate the two issues in their minds- that their own congregation faces extinction, and that the hospitality of a warm and sincere welcome to the “other,” including the developmentally disabled, the poor, and the non-Christian elderly, always has an element of “stranger danger”.   They would very much like to grow their membership, but not necessarily if it threatens the church’s historical way of life.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for members in established churches to oppose opening the door to people considered undesirable in the world’s eyes. Such hospitality is viewed as a threat to the shared history and family-like “feel” within the congregation. The assumption is that needy outsiders will never be able to contribute to the larger community, a belief sown in our human refusal to recognize the dignity and worth of all people made in the image of God. But, as Christine Pohl graciously reminds us,

“[People] not valued by the larger community are essentially invisible to it. Hospitality can begin a journey toward visibility and respect… Deep sensitivity to the suffering of those in need comes from our ability to put ourselves in their position, and from remembering our own experiences of vulnerability and dependence… If, when we open the door, we are oriented toward seeing Jesus in the guest, then we welcome that person with some sense that God is already at work in his or her life.”[1]

It is difficult for many of us to even think of sharing a common meal with people on the other side of our doors, people with whom we can’t conceive of sharing the Lord’s supper, people that we, if we are honest, don’t want around our children. We must overcome our fears. If we truly understand the depth of our own sin, the magnitude of God’s mercy in Christ, then we cannot help but become merciful to others. It is the way of the disciple outlined by Jesus in the Beatitudes. We don’t feed the needy stranger out of our own moral superiority, but out of our poverty of spirit. It is our own bottomless neediness for God that should drive our desire to share His kingdom with the stranger.

In post 54, we will begin looking at some of the shared meal practices of the inner city churches I interviewed.  Stay tuned!

~J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

[1] Pohl, C. Making Room, 1999. pp 62, 65, 68

 

 

Advertisement

50. Too busy to eat, pray or love?

When we become overwhelmed by the way life can steal our sense of peace, give some thought and prayer to ways you can reign in the overcommitment, and gather nightly as a family around a nutritious meal.  When we are just hanging on all the time, the REAL needs of our souls are ignored, which is the twin necessity for relationship and food.  It is all symptomatic of the SAME problem.

Relationships take time.  How are you doing in your daily relationship with God?  With your spouse?  Kids?  Neighbors?   What about food, both physical AND spiritual?  How’s it going getting healthy food in the lunch boxes and on the dinner table every day?   Are you feeding regularly on God’s Word?  Is your prayer life nutritious?

Don’t beat yourself up.  Instead, think.  Perhaps what are you doing now is just crazy.  Does your battle with the clock rob your family of together time?  Keep you away from church too often? Running through the fast food drive-through out of desperation?

DECIDE.  Begin to PLAN how this COULD all go BETTER if you made even a couple of small changes.  Enlist the family’s help.  Start small and work your way up.  And take pleasure in the results!

Discussion Questions

  1. Who is responsible for the food in your home?
  2. What are some of the food challenges you face on a daily basis?   (e.g., budget limitations, picky eaters, food allergies, wacky schedules).
  3. What are some ways your family meets the disparate food demands of the group?
  4. Who decides what to eat? Where to eat? When to eat?
  5. Where does the food in the house come from?
  6. Who prepares the table, the food, and the menus?
  7. What kind of lunch do family members eat on weekdays?
  8. How often do you eat out? Is eating out usually at a fast food place?
  9. What are your table rules?
  10. How is your lack of time related to your prayer life?  Your love life?  Your family life?  Are these issues really, at heart, just one problem?
  11. Let’s say that being organized is not your strength.  How DOES a family meal happen without good planning?  What could you do differently?
  12. Let’s say you are a hyper-organized agenda maker.  Does your attitude sometimes feel like tyranny to the rest of the family?  Is there a way to plan and be organized without acting like an Army drill sergeant?
  13. Make a table and put each family member’s name in a column across the top.  In the rows, list out meal planning and prep issues that need to occur, and place an X in each column if that issue is age-appropriate.  For example, you may place an X under Joe’s name for helping cut up veggies for lunches, because Joe is 14 and capable of safely using a knife.  You might place an X under Carlie’s name in the table setting row, because she is 6 years old, and this is an age-appropriate practice.  We KNOW you are BUSY, and that it often feels as if doing these things will go faster if you just do them yourself.  But, making a list, and posting it on the fridge can be a reminder that you are actually helping family member contribute to meals in wonderful ways.  Let them develop their talents as they help out!

 

A MEAL PRACTICE TO CONSIDER AND DISCUSS

  1. Set aside four days, on average, per week when every family member is expected to be present for an evening meal. Try to meet at the same time for each meal.

 

Shared Table Blessings posts will be on holiday hiatus until early 2017. Please use this time to enjoy your shared meals at home and with others!  Thanks for reading.

Blessings,

~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

48. Lettuce & Ketchup Sandwiches

In this post, we continue the list of table/meal rules we began in post 47.  Once you have read them, write down the meal rules you followed as a child, and the ones you have instituted in your own family over the years.  Are there some that you would like to re-visit?  Begin to incorporate?

  • No talking with your mouth full or chewing with your mouth open.
  • No seconds of a particular food until what was served is eaten (or tried in the case of the ‘one-bite’ rule)
  • No trading foods at the table, or eating off another person’s plate, or sneaking food to the dog under the table.
  • No raised voices at the table.
  • Proper use of cutlery is expected (the knife is not a light saber).
  • Keep your hands to yourself and sit up properly in your seat.
  • Pre-determine who will sit where to avoid fights; a rotating seating chart is helpful, as is keeping track of who sits in mom or dad’s chair when a parent is out of town.
  • Everyone is expected to thank the cook(s) after every meal.
  • If you incorporate prayer and/or the reading of Scripture at a meal, decide ahead of time who will be responsible on a given evening.
  • No use of ugly words, inappropriate stories, gossip, or disrespectful tones at the table. Ugly words are just that, words which inflame, belittle, or create a vision of something too unpleasant to be considered acceptable at the table. In our family, this list includes words like hate, stupid, moron, pee and poop.
  • Involve all family members in the “making” of a meal, from menu planning, grocery shopping (and unpacking and putting away at home), meal preparation, table preparation, table service, saying grace, reading Scripture or devotions, and cleaning up afterwards. Encourage children to be in the kitchen- even small children can help put together a salad or stir the soup. Be ready for surprises like spills, cuts, or unusual menu items. The first meal our daughter, age six, proudly prepared for us, after shooing us out of the kitchen, was lettuce and ketchup sandwiches. We were compelled to pronounce every bite delicious!
  • Consider creating a useful rubric, or set of questions for guiding family meal conversation; here are just a few ideas:
    • Where did you meet God today?
    • Who did something nice for someone else today?
    • What’s the neatest thing you learned today?
    • Who knows why it’s good for us to eat this broccoli tonight?
    • If you could invite one other person, living or dead, to share this meal, who would it be?
    • If you could have a different first name, what would it be? Why?
    • What was in the news today? What should we pray about?
    • Did anything happen today that was unexpected or hard for you to handle?
    • Who remembers something from last Sunday’s sermon?
    • What two foods would you have to have with you on a deserted island?
    • What does it mean to be hungry?
    • What did Jesus eat? When he was a boy, do you think there was any food his mother Mary served that he didn’t like?
    • God gave the Israelites manna in the desert. What is that? Does God give us manna today?
    • With just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, Jesus fed over 5,000 people. What do you think it was like to be there and see that happen?
    • Where does hamburger come from? What about ham?
    • Why do lots of people decide not to eat meat? Dairy? Eggs? Fish? Poultry?
    • What are some foods we grow right here in our own state?
    • What makes a Happy Meal so happy?
    • If you made dinner for the family next Saturday, what would you cook?
    • Is there anybody at church, or school, or work you think we should invite over for a meal sometime soon?
    • If a total stranger rang the doorbell right now, should we invite him/her in for dinner?

47. Screen-Free Meals. Or How to Build Real Face2Face Relationships at Home.

Posts 47 and 48 will consider some rules you can create and adhere to for a flourishing family meal time.  Because the table is an important training ground, children and adults both need to understand that certain table behaviors and attitudes are expected at every meal. The shared food is really only a small part of the power of the table. It is more important than you might realize that your family table be a place of nurturing, acceptance, and predictability.

At a family meeting, make a list of table rules. Your rules should stipulate that family, as a unit, always comes first. Perhaps some useful rules might include: (you will need to determine the consequences should a rule be violated)

  • All meals take place around a shared table set aside specifically for that purpose on set days at set times. While flexibility is a hallmark of good hospitality, the more consistent you can be in this area, the happier your family meals will be.
  • No one eats until all are served and thanks to God has been prayed.
  • Determine how grace is said, either corporately or by an individual; memorized grace said in unison is an important means for training children in the rhythm of gratefulness and family concord, while a free-flowing prayer by one individual allows for the influence of the Holy Spirit and for practicing the skill of “public” prayer.
  • Everyone eats the same foods. After teaching college nutrition for fifteen years, I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of not giving in to the power struggles food can cause between parents and children. I have shared meals with a host of adult students who still remove the crust from a piece of bread, who won’t touch a vegetable, and think cereal is an adequate substitute for a meal. A child’s taste buds do take time to mature, and some foods which are delicious to you are bitter, or have a ‘yucky’ texture to your child. You must learn to acknowledge that although they won’t like some foods, they still need to try each food presented. As taste buds mature, more and more foods become acceptable, and multiple attempts to “try it, you’ll like it” have been proven to create palatability over time. It is unrealistic, counterproductive, and servile to prepare separate food items for a family meal based on what each individual member likes and will eat. This is exhausting, and does not adequately prepare a child to view God’s great variety of foods with joyful expectation, respect, or thankfulness. Food aversion is natural, but yielding on a consistent basis to a picky eater can hamstring a child for a lifetime. Obviously, a child with a food allergy or food intolerance is a far different matter. If you have one family member with, say, a peanut allergy, it is important that peanut products are kept out of the home altogether, an adaptation each family member willingly makes out of love and concern for the affected individual.
  • Everyone must try at least one normal-sized bite of each food at the meal without theatrics or whining. If you serve something you know will meet with disapproval, a “one and done” rule can save a mountain of unpleasant confrontation.
  • Everyone is expected to help before and after the meal in age-appropriate ways. This can be an assigned service (don’t call it a chore) or a rotating one. ‘Everyone’ means all adults and children in the home.
  • No one leaves the table until everyone is finished- this is family time. Allowing children, especially, to leave the table early fractures the family dynamic, and means that an untended child is off doing his/her own thing with no adult supervision. Young children do have trouble sitting still over long, protracted meals. But, they should learn to sit through and participate in a normal family meal. They must also understand that once they do leave the table, they are officially done eating. A child who wanders away after a few bites, then returns to the table only to leave again is disruptive. You will have a hungry child on your hands by 8:00 p.m., but you need to stand firm. The table is where we eat, and meal time is when we eat. Period.
  • No electronics during dinner. This rule applies to all family members. Do not allow cell phones or other personal communication devices, computers, or headphones at the table. Do not answer a ringing phone. Do not eat on trays in front of the television.[1]

We will continue looking at some more rules in post 48.

~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

[1] My husband and I were seated recently next to a large, three-generation family at a nice restaurant. To our amazement, the father pulled out a laptop device and started a loud, intrusive (to us) movie for the children at one end of the table so the parents and grandparents could ‘enjoy’ conversation at the other. This is no way to build intergenerational relationships or significant family ties, and it is rude to other diners in a restaurant.

45. Disrupted Family Time, Or, Just How Many Subs Can You Eat in a Week?

Well, you have to start somewhere, and taking a long, honest look at the disruptive schedule is a good and necessary first step. I wrote earlier of my belief that our children today are overscheduled and their lives over-managed by parents. While it may sound harsh, the more we schedule our children into adult-led structured activities outside the home, the less time they have for creative free play, learning the joy and discipline of solitary studiousness,[1] and developing the ability to resolve their own differences. When they get home too late in the day, they are often over-tired and over-stimulated, and low blood glucose makes them cranky. What’s more, today’s children live in an increasingly unstable world, including unstable families, and family instability is unhealthy at any age.[2] A shared family meal on a near-daily basis can go a long way in providing children with what they most need from their family: safety, face-time, encouragement, down-time, comfort, discipline, mentoring, and yes, even the predictability of structure, including set times for meals, homework, prayer, and lights out. Research clearly shows that children of families who frequently share meals at home actually perform better academically.[3] [4]. This is because children thrive on the dependability a structured family time affords, and truly benefit from the regular chance for practicing conversation, story-telling, shared prayer, and listening skills. Furthermore, as communication technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous, face time has become imperiled. Meals create opportunities for face-to-face exchange of ideas when the life of the family takes precedence, and the texting and phone calls are temporarily banned.

So, we probably can all agree that shared family time is critically important in a child’s development, and that because we all have to eat, a family meal is an ideal place to come together. But, our shared dinner hours are difficult to make happen. I believe that sports participation is the second most common cause of fractured family time at the dinner hour, the first being when all adults in the family work full time outside the home, or one or both parents’ work requires frequent travel or shift work.[5]   At some point, you may have to admit that it is not necessary or healthy, for your younger children especially, to participate in sports on a year-round basis. When we get caught up in travel teams, twice-weekly lessons with a pro, and hiring a special sports trainer for out-of-season conditioning for our 10 year-olds, we have stepped over a line in most cases, and we have done so at the real peril of regular, intentional family time. It is important for parent and child alike to learn that no one family member’s activities should consistently dictate the entire family’s schedule and routine.

Try to find several days each week when every family member is expected to be home for dinner at a reasonable predetermined time. Teenagers with work and school obligations will need to negotiate nights off from the family meal commitment, but should not be allowed to assume that their presence at the table isn’t important on a regular basis; while it is critical at this age for teens to begin to learn about the privilege of independence, they must not forsake their place in, and obligations to the family either.

In post #46 we will continue to look at ways to get a family meal on the table in these hectic times.  PLEASE!  If you like what you are reading, share this blog with friends at church.  Leave your suggestions and comments in the LEAVE a REPLY box below.

~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

[1]a very under-developed characteristic in my college students

[2] Susan Fiske, “The Spiritual Costs of the Missing Family,” By Faith Magazine 34 (Winter 2011): p.29.

[3] Catherine E. Snow, Unfulfilled Expectations: Home and School Influences on Literacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000).

[4] Sharon M Fruh et al, “The Surprising Benefits of the Family Meal,” The Journal for Nurse Practitioners 7, no. 1 (2011): 18-22.

[5] As a child-athlete myself, and the spouse and parent of child-athletes, I do not pick on sports with random disdain. The ramped-up nature of the sporting world has made indelible marks on Christian families that we ignore to our peril, and we need to start and continue serious ongoing theological reflection and discussion in Christian circles of the true and rightful place of sports in a child’s and family’s life. The same can be said for any other extra-curricular activity.

Featured Image Credit: http://edacious1.blogspot.com/2008/06/good-eating-at-ball-park.html

 

44. Tricky Balance:Food Idolatry vs Quick, We Need to Eat!

Actually, food preparation is an important concept to think about. We are currently experiencing a rash of new writings about food- what constitutes real food, why fast food threatens our health and way of life, why we should consider eating only locally grown foods, and why the planet cannot sustain food production for the anticipated population of nearly nine billion people worldwide by 2050. The latter chapters of this book attempt to address our individual connection and ease of access to food in the United States with issues of food and water scarcity in much of the rest of the world. For now, suffice it to say that our present national attention to food is, perhaps, overindulgent, and a fascinating study in human nature. On the one hand, we idolize food and nearly make food practice a religion. Food critics, cable cooking shows, and internet bloggers remind us that the world of food has its own language and rules, where food takes on godlike characteristics. On the other hand, such obsession-compulsion and misplaced fidelity is contradicted by a post-modern and relatively mainstream insistence that food be characterized, above all else, by convenience. We don’t have time to fuss over food, and we just want something to mollify our hunger. Somewhere in this dilemma, most of us find ourselves having to work very hard to find middle ground. We want to provide healthy food for ourselves and our families, and wish we could enjoy it together more often.

Unless you have hired help, procuring, storing, and preparing food is a necessity that someone in the home must meet on a consistent basis. Because nutritional needs across the age span can only be met by regular consumption of a variety of healthy foods, we need to understand the importance of the roles of planning menus, buying food, keeping ingredients on hand, and making time and space for preparing food in ways that are appetizing, wholesome, and, yes, even convenient. What’s more, most of us need to do this on a tight budget.

More often than not, this obligation falls to the adult women of a household, but more and more, men are taking an active role in a family’s food needs. One of my colleagues is a single father with two elementary school-aged daughters. The three of them have a routine for the four nightly meals they share each week. On Mondays after school, they go together to the grocery store. Each girl plans the menu for one meal and dad plans two. They walk and talk themselves through the store, picking out the ingredients they need for their planned meals. Once home, they work together in the kitchen to put foods away and begin the evening meal prep. It is not unusual for some of the girls’ friends to stay for a meal with this little family. Each meal begins with prayer, and dad intentionally guides the conversation around biblical stories and themes while having the girls replay the day’s events. My colleague says that this activity of planning, shopping for, making and sharing meals has bonded the three of them together like nothing else they do. In the process, the girls are learning to shop and compare prices, consider substitutes, store and prepare food, and entertain friends in their home over a shared meal.

No matter who sees to the food provision in your home, that person must be well-versed in the age-appropriate nutritional needs, within budgetary limits, of all of the family members being fed. And, if time is tight, it is a job that requires planning, discipline and creative thinking. In Post #45 we will begin to address where to start.

~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

Photo credit:  K. Luymes

43. Table or Trough? Does Your Family Dine or Feed?

Have you ever stopped to wonder if the shared meal is less about food and eating as it is about the time set aside (meaning sacred) for coming together? In this way, the shared meal sets us apart from the animals. Animals feed, eating whatever they find on their sorties, and as their appetite dictates. Humans, on the other hand, dine- a process of planned menu and shared dishes and, in families, companionship (com meaning with, pan meaning bread). When eating at home is degraded to each family member grabbing food whenever it suits them, we lose much of what it means to be both human and family.

For those with children still at home, you might, at this point, be tempted to say that although this all sounds great, it would never work in your family. Your table is messy and noisy, and people are distracted. Your mealtimes are more like boxing matches or a three-ring circus, with fights over food, over who sits where (or won’t stay seated at all), over who manipulates the conversation and hijacks attention. The hour is not settling but restless. I have a friend whose three children argued constantly over who got to sit in between both parents at their round table. With one more child than parent, it always turned out that at least two of the siblings had to sit next to one another each night without a parent on both sides. The poking wars, verbal as well as physical, were endless. I know of another family whose table was always in such constant motion that the mother began reading children’s adventure stories during the meal as a way to keep the children seated throughout the meal’s entirety.

Despite the chaos, it is good to remember that the table is probably the best place in the home for teaching children about respect, manners, and service and sensitivity to the needs of others. It is at the table we learn firsthand what it means to work for the common good. This helps fortify the notion that each child is indeed a member of the family, this tight little community called “us.” At the table a sense of belonging, of kinship is born and nurtured. Will there be times of conflict, of petulant teenage resentment, of childish behavior?   Most certainly. Just remember, there will also be times of shared joy where drama and comedy play out around the table every night as food is shared. If you want to build family, share the table.

There are, of course, other barriers to regularly sharing meals at home. Often, children are so hungry when they get home from school they fill up on snacks then aren’t hungry for dinner. For some children with attention disorders, medication has begun to wear off toward evening making this a frustrating time for parent and child alike.[1] What’s more, it is not unusual for a family with two or more children to have something scheduled for every night of the week. It is also typical for one adult in the family to bear the lion’s share of food-related acquisition and preparation; let’s face it, somebody has to be in charge of the food, a responsibility that is difficult to sustain in very busy families.

~ Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

Are you NEW to Shared Table Blessings?  WELCOME!  I invite you to join a growing number of people interested in the importance of the shared meal amongst family, friends, and strangers. Each post is numbered that you may follow the book I have written about the Christian Practice of Shared Meals.  For the best understanding, start reading posts in order, and send comments or questions my way using the LEAVE A COMMENT box found at the bottom of every post.  ~JAPW

[1]Families with children with attention disorders may experience evening mealtime challenges related to both behavior and medication side effects like appetite suppression and insomnia. When the last dose occurs at noon, a behavioral rebound effect (in particular hyperactivity) around late afternoon is probable, and if a subsequent medication dose is taken, appetite for the evening meal will be blunted, and the child more likely to have trouble sleeping at bedtime. Sometimes, a lower dose at 4:00 p.m. is helpful. In these cases, it is often advisable to delay the evening meal so that appetite is less negatively affected. Working closely with a pediatrician is highly recommended.

40. Family Supper-Are You Kidding Me???

With schools starting, this is a great time for us to start Chapter 6:Table Time at Home for Families in this blog book called Come Back to the Table: A Countercultural Call to the Christian Practice of Shared Meals.  Hopefully, the preceding chapters have convinced you that sharing meals, as a distinct Christian practice, should be an important part and pattern of your daily family life.  But, as any parent will tell you, mustering the family around a nightly meal can be a harrowing, energy-sucking experience. This may be particularly true for one-parent families, those in which both parents work full time outside the home or in homes with children with special needs. When I began working full time at our local hospital after years of being home all day while going to school at night, I was not prepared for the panicky rush that the dinner hour became. One of us had to eat and run back out for a meeting or school event. A child forgot to tell you on the way home that she needs a large neon-green poster board (no, the white one in the closet simply won’t do) for an ecology assignment that’s due tomorrow. Your spouse ate a big lunch out today with co-workers and isn’t hungry. Dirty breakfast dishes in the sink need clearing out before dinner preparations can begin. Lunchboxes need cleaning out. You forgot that the frozen ground beef you were counting on for tacos tonight got used up in last week’s meatloaf.  The dog is starving and needs to go out, and the laundry should be started before supper to ensure that the volleyball uniform is ready for tomorrow’s big game.

Is it any wonder that the shared meal becomes sacrificed to the tyranny of more pressing issues? Yet, for me and my family, dinner together around the family dining table remained a critically important activity, and we were determined to make it all work even after I began putting in 45-hour weeks at the hospital around the same time our daughter started middle school sports. This is because the table is where we build family. It is the one time each day we can each sit in a place we call “ours” and, for even twenty blessed minutes, know we are in this life together, and that God is at its center. Miriam Weinstein believes a family evening meal “sort of forces an environment when everyone has to stop and sit down. It creates a boundary when you’re sitting around a table. It’s a designated time. It focuses attention on what is going on here and now between the people around the table. It gives us a specific time to review our day”[1] together.

In our next post we will start to “dig in” to what this kind of family life can look like.

[1] Miriam Weinstein, The Surprising Power of Family Meals: How Eating Together Makes us Smarter, Stronger, Healthier, and Happier (Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press, 2005), p.74. Weinstein’s treatment of the challenges facing the regular family meal is excellent.

17. Willfully NOT Caring

When our daughter left for college, my husband and I found our table manners slipping. With an empty nest, we both became exceptionally stretched, having taken on more and more responsibilities both at work and at church at the same time the health of our parents began a slow decline. Not surprisingly, our mealtimes suffered. I’d find myself standing in the kitchen too exhausted to be creative and too hungry to care. On more than one occasion we settled on having a bowl of Cheerios for dinner, only to discover the milk had soured because neither of us had had the time (or inclination) to stop for groceries in the past two weeks. Sound familiar? Well, this is not abundant living. Regularly sitting down at night for cereal, ordering a pizza that’s too costly, financially and calorically, or grabbing a sub sandwich, which completely transgresses our daily sodium limits indicates something’s amiss. It is subsistence living. These are not meals. As a little family of two, our garden was choking from weeds of inattention. We had fallen out of practice. So, we’ve recently pared down a few obligations and recommitted ourselves to healthier foods, intentional conversation and prayer at the table, to taking homemade soups and casseroles to our parents, and to inviting others and our parents over more often no matter how messy our home might be.[1] “Whether we are reluctant or eager, we should understand that hospitality was meant to be an opportunity, not an imposition.”[2]

Accordingly, at this stage of my life, when Jesus asks me what I want to nurture at my family table, and during the evening that follows, I find I want to grow six things: simplification, grace, gratitude, empathy, stewardship of the evening hours, and wisdom. I want my husband’s and my life to be less complicated, less filled with noise and calendars and exhaustion, and more centered on God, each other, our aging parents, our church family, and the stranger we usually avoid by pretending s/he doesn’t exist. Our table comfortably seats six people, yet almost always only two places are set. I pray for the room to let God into our packed, busy lives.

My first response has been to simplify our meals. I still make menus and shop ahead (a later post will have ideas), but our evening meal is far simpler than in days gone by, with fewer ingredients, less food (and less meat) overall, and a reliance on quick but healthy main dishes, with vegetables, salads, breads, and fruit to round out the menu. When we host others at our table, the idea is to dwell together in God’s presence rather than play at entertaining our guests. As a result, my new practice is to keep the meal simple enough so that all enjoy and participate at the table-even me.

I want us to invest our time in knowing God, and through experience of his grace, to practice being more gracious in serving family and stranger alike. I want God to know how grateful we are for the ‘Bread of Life’ in Jesus Christ, for this food that satisfies above all others. I want to stop pushing the awareness of the needs of others to a dark, dusty corner of my mind, and bring that certainty to the very forefront of my heart and my family’s awareness. I no longer want to insulate my mind with deliberate ignorance about the plight and sufferings of others, especially where food, and the impact of our own food and economic behavior is concerned. I want to invite the stranger to eat with us.

More than anything, I want to stop: wasting time and food, and willfully not caring. I want our evening meal to signify day’s end, and to mindfully help us transition into a night spent in God’s Word, in prayer, and in his presence as we actively participate together in the start of this new day. All of this will take the sort of wisdom only God can provide, and I want that for my family and the friends and strangers with whom we dine. I hope my “wants” resonate with you at this stage in your life.

There is a box below to leave comments, and a LIKE button to share if you find what you read helpful.  PLEASE!  Take a moment to give me some feedback, and/or start a conversation.  I am a TEACHER.  I welcome you into my “classroom”!

[1] It is critical to get over any pride or guilt about the condition of your home. When perfection is your goal, then you are not being a faithful host. Hospitality is about enfolding guests in love, comfort, and respite, even if they must share in the messiness of your life. Having a “Martha” approach to hosting a meal becomes more about “entertaining” than it does about using table time to invite, nourish, challenge and send your guests out prepared to shoulder the co-mission of Christ. Obviously, you don’t want to convey to guests that you are a slob, and that your home might not pass a cleanliness test from the public health inspector! Still, a little dust, and “things lying around” should never keep you from opening your table to others.

[2] Douglas Webster, Table Grace: The Role of Hospitality in the Christian Life (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2011), p. 11.

15. Evening: the New Day Starts Now

The truth is, we find getting together at the table (even just getting the food into the house) a practical challenge in a today’s world. In Eden, God invited Adam and Eve to eat all sorts of plant life.  God fed them well.  There was, of course, that one forbidden food.  Now, forbidden foods have a way of not being good for us.  A diabetic must avoid sweets.  Walnuts or shrimp are life threatening for people with a nut or seafood allergy.  But, Adam and Eve, driven by what Griffiths calls the vice of curiosity, made a fatal mistake for all of Creation.[1]  The intimacy we had with God was broken, and not until Jesus came- eating and drinking, suffering, dying, rising, forgiving our sins, and inviting us to the feast of the Lamb-did we have any hope for restored relationship with God.

The table, then, at home and at church (table and Table) is the place of invitation, nourishment, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, learning, growing, and going.  It is as much about relationship building and disciple-making as it is about food.  In both instances, we come hungry for food and companionship with one another and with God.  In both instances, we are invited and fed by something or Someone who had to die for us to live.  God’s Word fills us.  In both instances, we leave with a co-mission to go and do likewise for our neighbor.  And, in both instances, we can stand with Jesus and proclaim “that we live by ‘every word that comes from the mouth of God,’ because that word has everything to do good things, with real nourishment for body and soul.  With the eyes of faith, Christ comes to be known as that word, incarnate, embodied, the Word of God, present then and now.  Christ is then the invitation, the way we have of re-creating that living relationship of intimacy with God that the original humans knew in the garden.”[2]

 Rethinking the Practice of a Shared Evening Meal

I believe we need to be at the table each night, fully present and alive to the invitation, provision, and gratitude a meal together involves, with a keen insight that compels us to keep families knit together and to regularly weave strangers into our midst. In our homes and churches, the time spent at the table, especially in the evening, is never wasted.  It slows time down, it reconnects us with those we love as well as with the guest, it provides a shared training ground for life’s challenges, and it generatively introduces the next generation to the saving ways and nourishment of a life in Christ.  Perhaps most importantly, I suggest that it affords us the time for opening a new day together because the rhythms and predictability and rightness of the Christian practices transform the way we view the world and time.

Dorothy Bass considers how attending to the practices shapes a day in her book Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time.[3]  This book unlocked for me an entirely new perspective on how a regular “day” could flow.  Our modern notion is that each day starts at sunrise and continues until bedtime. However, a careful study of the creation story in Genesis 1 literally flips a day on its head; God created, there was night, then day.  In practice, then, a new day actually begins in the evening.  Can you believe it?

After Adam and Eve sinned, God was strolling in the garden in the cool of the day looking for them.  Evening was a time for walking with God.   Imagine the implications of making it a regular faith practice to restructure your “day” so that a new day begins as you get home from work or school.  Then you can consider the place of the evening meal as a shared practice from the ancient Jewish custom of beginning the new day in the evening.

Gathering family, friends, and strangers around the table for supper might actually be considered a corporate event for greeting the new day.  In other words, the evening meal is a threshold we cross together, a natural transition from the work and school day that is behind us to the new day ahead, filled with all of God’s creative possibilities.  At the evening meal, we gather together to be nourished, but not just with food.  We prepare to spend the evening walking and resting with God as Adam and Eve did, putting aside a day in which we may have done or said something we should not have, or failed to do or say something we should have.   God intends for the day to be done.  And at the table, together, we transition to a new day in Christ that is immediately ahead of us.

I don’t know about you, but this was a revolutionary idea for me, that nighttime be less a time of recovery and more about active preparation.  For me, getting home from work was always about wrapping myself in the comforting insulation of house and family.  It was a way to hibernate and shield myself from the outside world, to recover from this day, and to literally shed this day’s responsibilities.  In doing so, getting a nightly meal on the table always seemed just one more obligation in a long day’s to-do list that included work, laundry, packing lunches, helping with homework, paying bills, and church committee meetings. Next time we will dig into this idea of new day like hungry teens into a pizza!

Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT ALL THIS!  IT HELPS AS I W RITE AND REVISE 🙂

Featured Image credit:  K.Richardson, 2016

[1] Paul J. Griffiths, The Vice of Curiosity: An Essay on Intellectual Appetite (Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press, 2006). In this short treatise, Griffiths discusses the darker nature of curiosity as a means to owning and controlling knowledge for power, the same kind of appetite Adam and Eve gave into.

[2] Cathy C. Campbell, Stations of the Banquet (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2003), p. 13.

[3] Dorothy C. Bass, Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000).