Potlucks is the oldest and most consistent tradition that we have at theStory. From our very first meeting as a community, we met in each other’s homes and ate together. The importance of such a practice for us usually goes unnoticed for a while. Many new folks that first join our community show up to ‘church’ but then don’t stay for the meal after. They think it’s just a nice addition or something. This is for a bunch of reasons, sometimes they feel awkward, or unwelcome, or unsure of what to do. Sometimes they just want the sermon and see no value in whatever comes after the service. My dad is a great example. He comes to church for “the word.” However, since the beginning, we have always said that Potluck is the most important part of Sunday. This isn’t just because I get to eat either.
“The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.”
Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
Eating together is one of the oldest and most consistent traditions within the Christian and Jewish contexts. It is tied into everything. From the very first bite of the fruit from Eve throughout the festivals and feasts and Manna falling from heaven in the wilderness. Then as you get into the New Testament, you have Jesus who is eating with people as a political statement. You have all the writers and apostles talking about the wedding banquet feast that we are all looking towards. And of course, you have the ultimate Christian practice of the Eucharist that was centered around a dinner table.
In Acts, Luke lays out for us that this was a very important part of the traditions of the early church.
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
Food is important. It’s vital to our faith, it’s vital to our lives. Integrating this importance with each other is vital for community life. Slowly, eating together has become less and less valuable to sustaining families and communities.
The number of families regularly eating dinner together and taking vacations together has dropped by a third since 1970.
It’s important to note when we do Potlucks during the service. In many churches the church service climaxes at the Eucharist, with everything leading to partaking in this ritual. But for us, Eucharist also leads into Potluck. That is because for us, Potluck is as much part of Lord’s Supper as the two elements are. Being together, sharing a full meal, eating, serving one another is as critical to the Christian tradition as bread and wine is.
There is a solemness to taking the elements together, where we intentionally remember Christ and his death and what that means for us, and this is important as we partake in the elements. There is also the very fact that the entire tradition is centered around a meal, so why wouldn’t we do the same? Many scholars have argued that it isn’t truly Eucharist unless it’s done throughout a meal.
Potluck was also one of the first practices that we started acknowledging here at theStory. As the practices were coming together, we started identifying the things that we do regularity and aimed to unpack the significance of doing them intentionally. We’ve talked a lot about why we call them practices. Practices are the things that we intentionally do in order to achieve long term results, rather than short term results. So we practice piano daily not to perform Yankee Doodle, but so that we can actually have the freedom of the music in the long term and be able to play masterpieces. All of our practices on the table have a underlying freedom and long term goal of turning us into certain kinds of people.
For those of you that have been with us for a long time, you can likely see the benefit and results of what potlucks have brought to this community.
Q: How has potlucks shaped theStory? What has your experience been with them?
I’ve been to approximately 500 potlucks at theStory. Some of them have started with only a few timbits and a jar of pickles. Others have been so full and overflowing with amazing food that dishes got forgotten in the fridge. There is a reason why when people join other communities, that the absence of relationship is a noticeable difference. This isn’t because there isn’t relationships at these other places, it is because relationship is built on sharing experiences and sharing food and overtime you build these kinds of relationships. We’ve all heard the age old cliche that families that eat together stay together. It is true that churches that eat together, stay together.
Isn’t a meal together the most beautiful expression of our desire to be given to each other in our brokenness? The table, the food, the drinks, the words, the stories: Are they not the most intimate ways in which we do not only express the desire to give our lives to each other, but also to do this in actuality? . . . When we eat together we are vulnerable to one another. Around the table we can’t wear weapons of any sort. Eating from the same bread and drinking from the same cup call us to live in unity and peace .. . a really peaceful and joyful meal together belongs to the greatest moments of life.
– Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved
In all corners of the earth, we are beginning to see how powerful and disarming sharing a meal is and can be. For instance, an Israeli cafe is now offering a 50% discount to tables that an Israeli and Palestinian will sit down together at and share a meal.
Or in South Africa, when the Koinonia Southern Africa movement brought together courageous black and white citizens in “meal groups” to counter apartheid. The women and men met together in public despite social taboos and physical risk to their lives, and explored ways to break down stereotypes and build bridges of understanding.
A good example of this is artist Michael Rakowitz, in 2007 he used food to create a critical dialog in the United States around the war in Iraq with his project titled Enemy Kitchen. In this project Rakowitz invited groups of students, and adults, to cook together and share a meal made from the recipes of his Jewish-Iraqi mother. Run like a workshop, Rakowitz used the time spent cooking together in the kitchen to talk about contemporary political issues. He did this with the intention of opening up an new dialog around this conflict by using food as a mediating mechanism. Rakowitz has said that the practice of cooking and eating together, “is a public act that enlists and audience as vital collaborators in the production of meaning.” In holding cooking workshops like these in the context of the USA, and by using his mother’s recipes, he hopes to evoke “the poetry inscribed in the notion of consuming the enemy” (Winn 2007).
Conflict Kitchen is an ongoing food-as-cultural-diplomacy project in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. This take-out restaurant only serves food from countries that the United States is currently in conflict with. Every six months the menu, and store-font design, change to represent a new country and culture. In addition to serving food; the Conflict Kitchen also hosts events, performances, and discussion about the culture, politics and issues at stake with regard to each country that the project focuses on. The food comes in a specially designed wrapper that features interviews with representatives from the“conflict country”living both in the United States and back home. Thus far the Conflict Kitchen has served food from Iran, Afghanistan and Venezuela, with Cuba and North-Korea to be featured within the next year. This project uses food to open up a conversation in the United States about foreign cultures and the issues of geopolitics (Conflict Kitchen 2012).
All over the world, there is examples of how food is bringing people together, forcing us to face into our enemies and sit down with them at the same table. Sharing a meal together is a powerful way to build bridges and show love.
Q: In what ways does theStory potluck currently bring reconciliation? In what ways could it even more?
As most of you know, I’ve been living on my own for the last few months. One of the things that has been glaringly obvious to me is how empty it is to prepare food and eat it by myself. It just doesn’t feel right. The other day even I was out for lunch with my dad and he got called away to a job and I sat in a restaurant by myself for thirty minutes. It felt strange, like my meal wasn’t complete.
I think this kind of emptiness points to the deeper significance of food in our lives. Eating is not a solitary activity. It is meant for community. So when we eat together every week, we are partaking in the deeper meaning of what food means to humans and community. This is the kind of community that we want to be part of together, one that eats together and has a constant open invitation to others to gather around these meals with us.
By eating together, and making space for others to join, we are actively participating in the kingdom of God as we live out those kinds of values week in and week out.
The meal that Jesus blessed that evening and claimed as his memorial was their ordinary partaking together of food for the body. In celebrating their fellowship around the table, the early Christians testified that the messianic age, often pictured as a banquet, had begun. What the New Testament is talking about whenever the theme is “breaking bread” is that people actually were sharing with one another their ordinary day-to-day material sustenance. Bread eaten together is economic sharing. Not merely symbolically, but also in fact, eating together extends to a wider circle the economic solidarity normally obtained within the family. The Eucharist is an economic act. To do rightly the practice of breaking bread together is a matter of economic ethics. The Eucharist is one [way of planting signs of the new world in the ruins of the old], but so is feeding the hungry. One is not more “real presence” than the other.
– John Howard Yoder, Body Politics
So let me end with this. Paul, makes this connection between eating and the Eucharist and what it is for. The church in Corinth turned their gathering times into quite a riot. People were getting drunk, ignoring each other, not making sure everyone was eating. The whole thing turned into a big mess. Paul has some words for them in 1 Corinthians 11
In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.
For us, here at theStory I think Paul’s words here are an excellent warning. He is saying that coming together for our “meetings” is significantly more powerful and meaningful than just having a place to eat and drink. So as much as I love eating, and as much as food has to do with our time together, this is not the point. After all as Paul says, we have homes to eat and drink in.
Paul is offering a warning here. He is saying that there is an unworthy way of meeting together, of partaking in this meeting together. When we eat, we should ALL EAT TOGETHER. Don’t come here because you are hungry. Come here because you want to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Come here because by coming here you are proclaiming with your presence that this is real. This is truth.
So as we go into Eucharist and Potluck today, may we remember that the very act of eating together is the proclamation of God’s promises. We are the body of Christ, living and breathing and moving the way hopefully God would move in the world. May we continue to ensure that no one is hungry among us. May we continue to work towards meeting each other needs and being inclusive to all by inviting all to the table to join us.