Three Tables or One?
A response to the film A Place At The Table
As a pastor within the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, the practices of a sacred table are of great importance and value to me. Every week at the Lord’s Table, we celebrate the sacrament of communion in worship and consider it the central organizing feature of our gatherings. It is the place where we remember all that God has done for us as and celebrate God’s continuing presence with us in community. In this tradition, all are welcomed to the table to share a meal as the words “The gifts of God for the people of God” are proclaimed. Everyone gathers and everyone gets to eat in this symbolic act.
As an individual of privilege, the practices of a secular table are also highly interesting to me. In some form or fashion, we frequently find ourselves sitting or standing together at a flat surface where food is served and consumed. We celebrate special occasions with specially prepared food and a variety of beverages. Birthdays, anniversaries, life transitions are all considered appropriate times to express recognition through an abundance of food shared with community. Even on the ordinary days, we dine with colleagues at lunch or meet a good friend for dinner. We shop at Farmer’s Markets and take pictures of the food we prepare to share through social media. We grow our own vegetables and relish the taste of home grown tomatoes. We are surrounded with the evidence of the seemingly abundant availability of food and community in our culture. This worldview is so common that it seems that everyone experiences the same reality. But it is not so.
A Place At The Table is a film documentary highlighting the growing issue of food insecurity in our nation. It presents a realistic and often disturbing picture of the realities facing as many as 25% of our population at any given time who do not know where their next meal is coming from. Food insecurity is a pervasive and invisible problem that can no longer be assigned solely to the poor or even working poor in our country. More and more, middle class families and individuals are also facing the same stark realities of deciding between paying the rent, repairing a car, buying a prescription or buying food. Seniors on limited incomes or children are the most vulnerable in our population, but regardless of age, those who are food insecure approach the table differently than you and I. Three times a day, the lack of food must be addressed. Mothers feed their children first and often do not eat themselves. Children steal food from the local market or bring home a free school breakfast to share with the family. Buying pop is cheaper than buying milk, and pasta is cheaper than fresh vegetables so nutrition becomes secondary to filling empty stomachs. In a culture where food seems to be available to everyone, food insecurity creates a sense of shame and promotes isolation. No one wants to admit they can’t feed themselves. As a result, tables become reminders of what is not accessible and symbols of lost community.
There is a lot of incongruence for me among these three expressions of table. One proclaims food as the gifts of God for the people of God, one proclaims food as a commodity to be consumed for our pleasure and one proclaims a
commodity to be consumed for our pleasure and one proclaims an absence, even denial of food and community that cries out for justice and healing. I believe in living in integrated ways that promote wholeness. So what might be possible if we began to draw these three tables as one? Is it possible to admit that not everyone has a place at the table of abundance, and that we have a role in that? What would an inclusive table look like when everyone gets to eat? How might we regain a sense of food as sacred gift and change our food buying practices accordingly? Could our communities thrive if we recognized our common identity in food?
The reality is that food insecurity is a pressing need that implores us to make food more accessible to all. And, sharing food can be understood as a sacramental act born of community and covenant. A theological response to food insecurity based on table practices seems appropriate. If we give food and fail to dine with others in community, we have missed our calling. If we provide food and don’t covenant to walk with others in solidarity, we have failed to see ourselves in the journey of our neighbor. When we gather at the table to share a meal and our stories we have opportunities not only to strengthen community but also to live into a covenantal identity in sacred ways.
Community cafes are an innovative idea popping up across the country to provide these types of opportunities. These cafes are places that make sure everyone gets to eat regardless of ability to pay. They bring people from all walks of life together at tables where their common humanity can be discovered. And, they make space in a community for all people to engage with each other in times of hardship and abundance. It could happen here. As a local non-profit, StoneSoup Community Venture is working to open a community café as one component of a much larger food security initiative in Tulsa. We see our café as an alternative to many other responses to hunger in our city that are making a difference as well. Ultimately, whether sacred or secular, we know that coming together around a table is a sacramental activity that tells a story of God’s grace for all of us. We only need make ourselves open to the experience. Here’s hoping you’ll say yes to the invitation.
With prayers of hope and healing for all who hunger.
Rev. Christy Moore
StoneSoup Community Venture, Inc.