Fifteen strangers are gathered for supper. We share from a common table where everyone has offered a little dish. Around the country, thousands of others are doing the same thing. These multi-hued, boundary-crossing gatherings are happening thanks to a call from Dream Defenders, a “national uprising of communities in struggle, shifting culture through transformational organizing.” The basic idea of this organizing is delightfully simple: people who know and love one another will work together to build structures to protect one another. They will defend each other’s children.
Justice is important, but supper is essential, Ed Loring says. Eating together often helps to uncover a common hunger for justice. It builds solidarity, as in love we prepare, share and clean up with a neighbor who also experiences hunger, who also likes beets but is allergic to strawberries, who used her grandmother’s recipe to prepare the pie she brought. It turns out that she also fears for her children to grow up in a violent world, and that she likes walking the nearby greenway, and that she’d like to someday own a house, but she’s not sure she can afford it.
Supper is nice, but there are things supper won’t do. For instance, it won’t stop Mitch McConnell from killing poor people through violent, anti-democratic policy measures. Supper is essential, but it has its limitations in terms of short-term social change. (Though one imagines that if “Leader” McConnell knew a poor person, or ate supper with one on a regular basis, he might not act so hateful towards them.)
Politics and religion are off limits at the table, according to convention, but they turn out to make pretty good conversation on this night. The most poignant question in the room is simply an observation of what we are doing: “We are eating supper together. When did that become such a radical act?” In other words, at what point did we flee so far from neighborliness, that even the simple neighborly act of eating together requires a national community organizing effort, and a hashtag, and a Twitter campaign? When, indeed, did this happen? And what have we been doing instead?
Staring at screens, for one, we quickly agree. Which is to say, substituting pixels for flesh-and-blood community, though we also know that social media drew this gathering of strangers together. Still, our daily scrolling habits mostly get in the way of a more robust neighborliness. The dinner conversation takes us many places, a few of them uncomfortable. It turns out that adults can manage uncomfortable moments and learn from them. Who knew? In the end, we exchange numbers and place other meet-ups on our calendars. Who knows what beautiful thing might grow from this supper, and more suppers after it?
I leave the dinner wondering about the transformative potential of this project in renewing our common life. What can be the new commons that draws folks together? What does the space look like that pulls people into solidarity with one another? What kind of furniture does it have, and how is it arranged? Who keeps the floor swept or fixes the plumbing? And who makes sure the space is really common, welcoming to all, with a special eye to those who are usually kept out?
The question of when eating together turned into a radical act is a lament for both these divisions and the lack of creativity by our so-called leaders in building an ethic of mutual care. I join in that lament. I have also seen that in spaces of want and oppression, sharing supper is a way of life. Poor folks get by through an economy of sharing, and without the aid of Twitter. The kind of solidarity we long for exists, just not in the places we are looking. Sharing supper mimics the tactics of some of our best leaders, none of whom hold press conferences on Capitol Hill. We need to get those folks to the table, and on the panels, and giving keynotes.
As a Christian, I think it important to remember that sharing a meal has been at the center of our lives for two millennia. Eating together is not a ritualized symbol, but a practice which draws us into a story where we learn that in giving our lives away, we find ourselves. In this story, what comes after supper is a fierce resistance to a violent empire hell-bent on maintaining power at the cost of whichever lives it must destroy. Sounds familiar.
In the short term, that supper turns out to be insufficient to hold back the hounds of hell and the policies of Caesar. But in the long-term, as the story goes, even death is not a tough enough pre-existing condition.
My friends, there’s work to do. Let’s eat.