Wednesday, October 19, 2005

come to the table

A day or two ago, a list of bloggers from the Emergent Gathering appeared on the Emergent blog. I had a few blogs in my brain from some conversations, and had visited them, but I was excited to see so many and hopefully get the chance to see what others were saying upon their returns from our conversations. Some folks got even more interesting when they got back to their computers.
Yesterday Andrew Jones very favorably about the gathering, and ironically, described it mostly in terms of what it was not. Allison laughed when I told her about that, because one of my greatest beefs (as my blog plainly rants) is defining things by what they are not.
In the case of the gathering though, I'm not sure there was a better way to erase a picture of a christian conference in the minds of folks who weren't there. Andrew went on to explain what it was though, and in doing that, hit on what I think was one of the most important things about the conference, "It took place in kitchens, I like kitchens."
This is a picture of my upbringing. When Allison first met my family, she couldn't figure out why everyone loitered at the table a LONG time after the meal was finished. Ironically, my family rarely had a meal prepared, to which everyone sat down, ate, and rose from. Food would magically appear from my mother's magic ability and people mill about the kitchen, visiting and chatting, and chewing, and grabbing and laughing. When extended family gather at my parents' house the same thing happens. Dinner is ongoing and provides a means for people to move about and talk with many different people as they eat. Or should I say, eat as they talk with many different people?
This is what the Gathering was like. So that the more formal, scheduled conversations that took place under a tree or on the steps, or a rock, or at an art gallery, were easier and friendlier and more tolerant and more edifying, because folks had eaten together. I think there is no better facilitator of friendship than food and drink.
One of the most (if not the most) important benefits that we are afforded here at work, is that the faculty are given lunch if they eat with students. This has been a perk for as long as I've been here, and I believe that lunch is as important as any other time in campus life, including classroom and chapel.
We woo our wives with dinner. Perhaps the confusion of means to intimacy and expression of intimacy would be lessened if all expression was preceeded with a stint at the table. We received as a wedding gift 19 years ago, a book called, "first, we have coffee."
Jesus instituted the symbol of the new covenant with food and drink. And he refers to us as his bride. Is there any possible way to participate in this symbol without growing closer to him? Is there any way to participate in communion in community (sorry to be redundant) without growing closer to the represented body that is partaking of the represented broken body?
Jesus seems not to have been able to resist the table, for it was there that he broke the bread and poured the wine, taught as if there was no tomorrow (true in many ways), prayed long and hard for those who had just eaten with him, wrapped a towel around himself and washed their feet.
As I thought about this aspect of the gathering, I thought of the very first conversation I was a part of, that dealt with means of connecting students between colleges like ours, with other colleges close by. We were brainstorming ideas of getting students together across disciplines and campuses to discuss issues that were common to both. I told the group about a two friends of mine, a couple from Japan who take guitar lessons from me. This couple have a full time ministry to students at USC, that centers upon lunch. They provide lunch, students come and eat and hang and talk, and my friends become a part of their lives. Everything else they do together, everything they talk about, is all made possible from a friendship grown at the table.
Everything I am now, or will ever attain to is made possible by a gift that was symbolized, before it even happened, at the table.