exiles at the table

Some of our best “church” has happened around a table.

Michael Frost has a great chapter in his book Exiles called “Exiles at the Table,” in which he describes how food and drink — and specifically time spent by Christ-followers with not-yet-Christians in “third places” (like restaurants, pubs, coffee shops, etc) — has always been a catalyst for kingdom activity. (he talks about the dining habits of Joseph, Daniel, and Paul and what they can teach us about the role food can play in the kingdom. He doesn’t even get into the eating habits of Christ, however, who is probably the very best example we have of mealtime “mission.”)

Here’s an excerpt that I think is worth reading, then discussing:

The problem … is the fact that many Christians don’t actually go to third places. In fact … for many Christians, the church is their third place. All their leisure time is spent at church meetings or gatherings, belonging to church-based committees and occasionally socializing with their church friends. While not-yet-Christians are connecting over take-out Thai or whipping up a Moroccan couscous dish or barbecuing Atlantic salmon steaks, Christians are out several nights a week at church services, small groups, and leadership committee meetings. They have no time to engage meaningfully in third places, so the kind of excitin missionary table fellowship that Paul practiced is lost to them. Even when we do invite non-Christians to our table, often it’s on our terms. We invite them to our church breakfasts or our evangelistic dinners or our potluck suppers. When it’s on our terms, the guest rarely fully relaxes.

Exiles have freed themselves from the busyness of church activity precisely so that they can share food with their friends, neighbors, and work colleagues in a more mutual fashion. A meal should be an equalizing experience. It should be a time when people share in the truest sense of the word. Only when a guest feels welcome, honored, and safe will he or she open up to the host. The exile will be as equally concerned about creating such safe, welcoming spaces as about entering into such spaces created by non-Christians. And that means freeing our social calendars and enjoying the company of people who don’t share our faith. We should cook the freshest, healthiest fare, complementing it with great wine, supporting small businesses and family farms. Our menus should reflect our concern to avoid products made in countries that lack fair labor laws or produced or stored in ecologically unsafe ways. The exile’s table should be a place of justice, generosity, laughter, safety, and conviviality. Serve up something delicious, and then just watch the conversation flow and trust God to stick his nose in somewhere. (p167-168)

Describe a mealtime experience when God has “stuck his nose in.”

(here are another couple of posts I’ve written on “table”: 1, 2)

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6 responses to this post.

  1. I mentioned last blog that Mom and I were going to Neil’s (local bar) for a neighborhood “meet your neighbor night.” It was great. The dozen or so of us who showed up sat informally around a table and just talked. Some of us ate dinner, some didn’t; some drank, some didn’t; some played pool, some didn’t. But we got to know each other better and found many common interests among us. Now, it will be easier for some of those neighbors to say yes when we invite them over for a meal. God is present in every situation where his people reflect him.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Steve on June 24, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    Meal story from tonight (Sunday):
    We joined a household of Christians for dinner and fellowship. This household of young women have a specific calling to reach Muslims in Greater Boston (I hope to blog about them at length in the future), and they host a meal at their home EVERY NIGHT and invite people they meet during the day. (two are students at the local community college, and the other is studying massage therapy)

    Tonight, one of them got a call from the Muslim owner of the store where she was buying food for tonight’s meal (who she had flippantly invited over to join us), saying he was on his way over with “some meat” and bread. When Muhammed got there, he had a pan full of lamb and several loaves of bread. We had already eaten, but we did what you do when a Muslim offers you food: you eat again.

    Dessert was a wonderful conversation about Muhammed’s Muslim faith, which is not an uncommon chat to have with most Muslims. He enthusiastically told us about how many similarities exist between Islam and Christianity, and many of the Christians present were able to tack on a few of the notable differences (mainly, that Jesus is God, not just a prophet). It was cordial all around, and yet another example of how food can truly be a catalyst for kingdom activity.

    (oh, and he lives just down the street from us…)

    Reply

  3. Wolfgang Simpson eloquently said, “Jesus loved eating in people’s homes…he was almost a specialist at eating other people’s food.”

    Last night I went out to a bar with some of my co-workers and met someone who had just moved to Abilene just 3 weeks ago. She was looking for friends and was frustrated with the “bar scene” and how clickish everyone was. Somehow she pried it out of me that I was getting a degree in missions. After a few minutes of awkwardness, she asked, “So why are you at studying missions? Doesn’t that make you a Christian?”

    I told her, “I think Christ changes lives. I want to spend my life sharing him with others.”

    She was obviously confused as to why I, a Christian, would be at a bar. She said, “You know, all my Christian friends back in Atlanta were nice, but they never hung out with me outside of their own homes. They would never come to my place or head out with me to the bars. My life would be very different if I had more Christians spending time with me.”

    That did it for me. I’ll spend the rest of my life in the “smoking section” if it means interacting with non-Christians.

    It starts at their table.

    Reply

  4. […] Steve, my Bostonian buddy, just finished writing a great post on “exiles at the table”.  Christians have become professionals at inviting others to their own activities…their own tables.  But could it be that many non-Christians are waiting for Christians to join them at their own tables before trusting them will ever be an option? […]

    Reply

  5. […] let friends miss Heaven…ken on The right stuff…johndobbs on I want to make the journey… You should read this… Tuesday June 26th 2007, 11:04 am Filed under: Missional I just read an excellent post by SteveHolt […]

    Reply

  6. Whoa, I love that story, Mark. I once said that I’d never let a smoker into my house or car. I’ve since repented. Keep up the God work.

    Reply

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