Tonight we are making dinner with friends. What I like about this is how everyone chips in to contribute. I made bread (more specifically, I made a whole wheat bread with bulgur and crushed oats. I even milled some of the crushed oats to make some flour since we were running low). Audrey brought ghee (a type of clarified butter) and few other ingredients to make velvety pumpkin soup with bleu cheese and bacon. Lynda and Tim brought by spinach and peppers to make salad, and actually Tim gave us the pumpkin a few weeks ago from which we made the soup base.
To me, this is an image of what community looks like. We each bring our parts but what makes it come together is the work that we each put in to make our ingredients something nourishing. We don't have a trough full of ghee or a plate full of spinach, but each part, in conjunction with the others, contributes toward the whole. It is not simply the sum of the individual parts, but the ways in which they interact (yeast rising, soup simmering, bacon frying) that bring the flavors to life.
I have seen meals where each item is prepared and served in isolation from each other. Think of elementary school where each food source has its allocated portion on the static tray. This has all of the trappings of a meal, yet it is really just a collection of foodstuffs. It is the same with people in my life, there are some who I am near out of necessity or geography, yet I do not intend to interact with them in any meaningful way. In fact, I prefer the separation. There is a threshold to my capacity for meaningful relationships so some people will just be left wanting. To see the whole of life as isolation, however, nulls the possibility for community, the same way that green beans will never compliment the half-white/half-wheat grilled cheese sandwich that resides adjacent, it will only make the bread soggy. Ingredients, like people, are not meant for isolation, but meant for interaction and development into something different from what they once were.
To think of people as ingredients in community also takes into consideration the varied paths that bring us to the table together. All of the ingredients had their own road to travel before arriving in the kitchen. Some were grown locally (like the pumpkin from Tim's backyard) and others imported to the United States from abroad (does anyone know any local growers of bulgur wheat?). So too, the five of us sharing dinner are all coming from such drastically different places in our perspective on life, community, and purpose. Yet after the assembling, preparation, simmering, and serving, we become something together (if even for an evening) that we could not have been apart.
It does not surprise me that a considerable number of Jesus' interactions were around a table at a meal. Maybe that was the best way to get his disciples to shut up for a few minutes and listen to him. Or maybe he understood what was essential to our shared need and common response. The human appreciation for taste and the revelry that comes from sharing the elements. In any way, if that was Jesus' method of community-building and ministry, I am all for it.
By the way, it was all delicious. If anyone wants to get in on some community/dinner-making, you'll have to make a reservation...