Thursday, February 16, 2012

Church From Meal to Meal

I have a theory that you can tell a lot about a church just by observing how often and with whom it eats.

The common meal has always been at the center of what it means to be the people of God - from the story of manna in the desert to the disciples breaking bread in homes to the banquet as a sign of the age to come - the meal has a sacramental quality about it.

J.H. Yoder writes that when Jesus said, "Whenever you do this, do it in my memory" what he couldn't have meant was "Whenever you celebrate the mass" or "the Lord's Supper." What Jesus was referring to, what his disciples took him to mean was "whenever you have your common meal." "The meal Jesus blessed that evening and claimed as his memorial was their ordinary partaking of food for the body" (Body Politics).

With that in mind, I was thinking about the meals I've had recently. What if I strung those meals together, what would they tell me?

Taco Lunch. A few weeks ago Epic held its worship service in our host church's sanctuary; this is something we do once a year as we swap spaces. Because we have a late start and are in the sanctuary, we always desire to do something that says "Epic," which usually means we eat. This year we decided to have a local taco guy come out to cook on the plaza. As soon as our formal worship ended, we would continue to worship through the sharing of food - that was the plan. What we didn't anticipate was the line of people waiting for the food pantry to open across the street. The line proceeded just several steps from the taco grill. Though we didn't plan for this many extra people (and realized we may not have enough food) we also thought it would be terrible to not share either. I have to admit, for a second I saw the situation as a potential problem, but soon realized that it was a good problem to have. It was a mercy. So before service let out, we decided to limit the number of tacos for our church community. This left plenty of tacos for everyone, including our unexpected guests. As J.H.Yoder reminds us, "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 in the family." In the end it sure was nice to extend the family table.

Special Parents Dorene and I really enjoy this group. Right now there are three couples with special needs children that get together every quarter to share a meal, and talk about the struggles, challenges, and heartbreak of raising our kids. We also share the many joys. Together we extend an encouragement and "withyou-ness" that only we can for each other. Sharing and understanding - that's what this group is all about. Not wanting to keep all this good stuff to ourselves, we are extending the group to include two other families next quarter.

House Church Our Fullerton house church eats together for every meeting. Following Yoder we understand that, "Every meal in the Jewish household was an act of worship." We potluck it. And we celebrate birthdays. This particular week we celebrate Abraham's birthday. Abraham is newer to our church, but he is family here. What is neat is that our meal organizers Sandee and Fiona ask the birthday person(s) what their favorite foods are, and that becomes the theme for the evening. We also kick off conversation about our race & culture series, sharing a bit of our ethnic backgrounds and our hopes for the series in small groups. We pray for one another and for the church. It is a good Friday.

Valentine's Day For a day devoted to love, it can be awfully anxiety inducing, a nuisance, or ironically exclusive - maybe all of the above. Like New Year's eve, I wonder if the biggest effect of Valentine's Day is to remind people of their feelings of aloneness. Which is why I liked this Feb 14th so much. We were invited to spend a casual dinner with other friends from Epic - as families, marrieds, singles, children. It was nice to be inclusive. We enjoyed our chicken and waffles, shakes, and desserts. We chatted and laughed around the table and then strolled basking in the knowledge that God is good to give us one another.

Dinner for 6 Dorene and I hosted a dinner at our house to get to know people in our church. It is something we do from time to time in this form. Though there were only six of us, we marveled at discovering the differences, but also connections we shared: Beside Dorene and myself, the others were single. Among us were two Filipinos, an African American, a Chinese American, an Okinawan, and a Japanese American. Two of us had familial roots to a small town in Mississippi. Two of us were part Cherokee Indian. We shared our stories. We asked each other questions to better understand the struggles we faced living in our shoes. In many ways we dove into our Race & Culture series right there. It was beautiful and enjoyable. One of things that struck both me and Dorene, however, was something that was said as we sat down around our dinner table to begin the evening. Someone mentioned, "Wow, this the first time in months that I have sat down like this for a family meal." Then someone concurred. Then another. Dorene and I realized that what we take for granted every day (i.e. eating dinner as a family) was something very rare for these single friends. They elaborated that because they rent rooms with others, they usually eat alone in the house or eat in their rooms by themselves. I was struck by this. I never knew. Craig Bartholomew writes, "The home is above all else about the inner community of the family, and the home will need to be developed to facilitate deep relationship...Mealtimes will have to be recovered as slow times of reflection and enjoyment" (Where Mortals Dwell). For me, this meal took on a whole different meaning. It was not just about convening to have a conversation with food as a good excuse, it was the actual practice of eating around the table as a family that became such an ordinary, yet powerful experience.

Lunch with WAC Once a year, our staff takes the staff of our host church Wilshire Ave out for lunch to express our appreciation. We did this on Wednesday. Two different churches. Two different staff teams. But very much one in mission. One in Christ. And it so happens, on one campus. They are so good and generous to have never treated us like guests, but like family. Thank you Wilshire Ave.

Entering Houses As I write this, in the midst of all this goodness, I am also aware of a way I would like to partake more of in the future - something that is missing here in this link of meals. Alan Roxburgh, in his book Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, presents a theology of eating in Luke 10:1-12 that is compelling as it is challenging. He writes that "entering and eating lie at the heart of the message." But with a twist. "In this Luke 10 context the location of the 'church,' if you will, is in the homes and at the tables of the people in the towns and villages, and the stance of the 'church' is that of receiving their gracious hospitality" (emphasis mine). There is certainly a place for gathering and hosting, but I would also like to grow in going and receiving. I wonder where that will lead me? Where is Jesus present through a meal in a place I am unfamiliar, in which I am the stranger, guest, or foreigner? I will pray about that one.

Until then.

Food. Family. Jesus. Mission.

We're Epic, Let's Eat!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Race & Culture

Our long-awaited series on Race & Culture is finally upon us. In a diverse congregation such as ours, we want everyone to feel good about who God has made them, and to appreciate the differences among us that enrich our community. We also want to look at race as an issue of justice, and what that means for our church in addressing corporate and systemic racism. Lastly we want to imagine Epic as a concrete expression of a new humanity where Christ makes a difference in how we see, relate, and live. There will be an 8-week series on Sundays, and a 4-session conversation in house churches and reading groups.

Here are some of the resources we will be referencing for the series:

Exploring Culture - Gert Jan Hofstede,
Mujerista Theology - Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz
Churches, Cultures & Leadership - Mark Lau Branson & Juan Martinez
Divided By Faith - Michael O. Emerson & Christian Smith
The Next Evangelicalism - Soong-Chan Rah
More Than Equals - Spencer Perkins & Chris Rice
Mirrored Reflections Young Lee Hertig, Chloe Sun,
No Partiality - Douglas Sharp
Santa Biblia - Justo Gonzalez
Race: A Theological Account - J. Kameron Carter
RACE: The Power of an Illusion (video series) -