As far as I can tell, Jesus never ate a meal alone. Jesus often goes off by himself to pray, away from the crowds or his disciples, but when it comes to eating a meal there’s always a crowd. I’d imagine in his culture it was almost impossible to eat alone.
He might have a hard time in our culture. We prize the self-sufficiency, independence and confidence of the lone eater. Think of all the pre-packaged, frozen dinners and single-serve breakfast shakes. The corn dog typifies this independence. I guess you could share your corn dog with a friend. Usually, this fried meal-on-a-stick is only shared when someone else is eating their own fried meal-on-a-stick. These individually portioned food items are the core of American food culture… if you can call it that.
Contrast that with other food cultures that are communally centered. Many Asian cultures serve their food in large portions or many small dishes that are passed around and shared with everyone at the table. Soup is another great communal food. Everyone dips out of one big pot of something. Bread is a big mass of food that has to be cut up or torn apart to be shared. Almost as soon as I mention communal foods, I think of ways American culture has turned them into individually shrink wrapped products to be consumed in cars, on subways or staring out the window of efficiency apartments. Soup in a can or microwaveable container. Take out from a chinese restaurant. And everyone’s favorite invention, sliced bread.
Today, we celebrate independence day. Some of you may know I have an awkward relationship with this country we live in. I love her beautiful landscapes. I cherish many of the values in her founding documents, even though she has not lived up to them from the beginning. I love her people, a nation of immigrants pursuing their dreams. I even love the fiercely independent spirit that settled this land, even at the expense of others. There is a drive for self-sufficiency, to provide for yourself and your family that I think is healthy.
But this same drive also leads us to think we can live somehow separate from the people around us and from the earth. We moved into a neighborhood this weekend that is two blocks from our church and within a ten block radius of half of our congregation. On moving day we had the help of friends at the farm we had known a long time and only a couple days. When we left the farm it was dry, but by the time we got into town it was pouring down rain. Our mattresses and recliner were inevitably soaked. Someone from our church works across the street and came running over to help. Initially we were overwhelmed by the mess of moving in the rain. Soon, fans and a dehumidifier were donated from people in the neighborhood. Pizzas were brought over for lunch and friends stayed to help us unpack. They offered extra furniture and help finding things we needed.
I wouldn’t choose to sleep on an air mattress for two nights while or stuff dried out again, but we experienced the joys of dependence, the glory of community. You can only experience this kind of community if you have needs.
So, this July 4th, I’m celebrating Dependence Day.