Fast Food and the Family

The dinner table is about love and belonging. I use to see fast food restaurants as a threat to our families and culture but now I realize that they are actually the creation of our culture. Our rugged individualism, independence,  demand for instant gratification, and minimum relational attachments find its expression in the drive-thru window.  Unlike our predecessors we can now afford to circumvent the dinner table by grabbing a Quarter Pounder and a Happy Meal all in the name of convenience.

But building relationships has never been convenient. A meal begins with the self-denial to set aside the time required to have dinner together as a family. As parents there is not only the surrender of our own wants (and laziness) in order to make dinner with our family possible but also the struggle to teach the value of the meal to our children as they are pulled by the internet, homework, television, video games, music lessons, friends, sporting events, and school events. We make room for whom and what we value and because relationships and family are no longer important to us the dinner table is disappearing from our culture.

The love of the dinner table is activated by the sacrifice of purchasing or growing the food, preparing the food, setting the table, and the clean up afterwards. It is hard work but meals provide for us the opportunity to lay our lives down for one another that results in having the meaningful relationships for which we long and for which we were made.

 

 

 

 

Disciple-Making and the Dinner Table

Cultures are established and sustained around the dinner table. Each people group is distinguished by its food and table customs, whether Chinese, Italian, Jewish, or Ethiopian. In addition to daily meals there are the special holiday meals that are set apart to remember and retell the stories that have formed the beliefs and values for each culture.  Americans use the Thanksgiving Day meal and the 4th of July cookout to remind them of their heritage.

Rituals associated with these special meals are designed to help pass on the stories and values from one generation to the next. The Jewish people use the symbols of bitter herbs, bread, and roasted lamb from the Passover meal with the intent to help their children remember the story of God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

Each culture also understands (1) who is expected at what meal, (2) what behavior is appropriate at what meal, and (3) what food is fitting for each holiday. (Hamburgers are not on the Thanksgiving Day menu nor turkey and dressing at the 4th of July picnic.)

Luke in his gospel shows us the role of the dinner table in the ministry of Jesus and how he used the table to challenge the culture around him and to shape his kingdom. Around a meal Jesus demonstrates the good news of forgiveness, redemption, and belonging by eating with sinners and being the guest in the homes of the social undesirable.

A dramatic and powerful table scene in Luke is the last meal that Jesus had with his disciples. Around the dinner table Jesus illustrated the high kingdom values of a servant’s heart and love by his washing the feet of his disciples and by the laying down of his life for them. Here he also established a dinner table ritual with the simple symbols of bread and wine to remind generations to come of his love found in the story of his life, death, and resurrection.

In closing:

Our families in Chicago are exploring the use of the dinner table for the spiritual formation of our children.

 

We are asking the question how we can use our dinner tables to engage the culture of Chicago with the gospel?

 

 

 

Hospitality Was Central To My Spiritual Ancestry

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This past year we had over 200 overnight guests and even more dinner guests in our home. We believe that Jesus demonstrated the inseparable link between hospitality and the good news of the kingdom of God.

Meanwhile this summer I began investigating my spiritual ancestry by interviewing my parents and Taylor Gardner who had discipled me over 30 years ago. He, along with his wife Jimmye, taught me the role of hospitality in disciple-making.

While interviewing the Gardners I asked where they had learned about hospitality. It all began in the 1960’s while Taylor was in seminary when a missionary named Dick Patty spoke on disciple-making and hospitality, which resonated deeply in Taylor’s heart. Dick had discovered hospitality through a World War II veteran named Jesse Miller whose life was changed forever when he experienced the hospitality of missionaries Cyril and Anna Brooks while he was stationed in the Philippines.  A biographer wrote of Jesse Miller:

“Longing for Christian fellowship, Jesse joined other servicemen at the weekly dinner and Bible study hosted by missionaries Cyril and Anna Brooks. He was so touched and overwhelmed by their hospitality, the Christian fellowship, and the teaching of God’s Word, that he prayed to God, “If I ever have a home of my own, You can have it for servicemen.”

Six months ago I was unaware of the existence of Dick and Margret Patty, Jesse and Nettie Miller, nor Cyril and Anna Brooks but now I see their spiritual DNA not only in my ministry but also in the lives of my disciples. Where would my life and ministry be today if Cyril and Anna had not opened their home to Jesse Miller 70 years ago?

I shutter to think how close I came to missing out on the richness of my spiritual heritage and not being able to pass it on to my disciples and to their disciples.

Jimmye and Taylor Gardner

Jimmye and Taylor Gardner

Margret and Dick Patty

Margret and Dick Patty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anna and Cyril Brooks

Anna and Cyril Brooks

Jesse Miller

Jesse Miller

Bless This House

Recently one of our families moved into a new home and so this past weekend we gathered in their front doorway to bless this family in their new house.

The ceremony went something like this:

  • Affirmation of Hospitality. The time began with the reading of the story of Abraham and Sarah extending hospitality to three men who end up being messengers from God. (Genesis 18:1-8)
  • Presentation of Mezuzah-One of our Jewish followers of Yeshua presented the family a Mezuzah, which is a little box to be hung in the doorway containing a scroll with the following passage:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9

  • Statement of Husband and Wife’s Vision. Next the husband and wife shared with us the vision for their new home and for their family.
  • Group Affirmation. The group then verbally affirmed the couple’s vision believing that their vision was in alignment with kingdom values. We also affirmed that their family belonged to us and we belonged to them.
  • Individual Blessings. Members of the group then expressed their individual hopes and desires for this new home and the family members who lived there.
  • Prayer. We ended the time in prayer asking the Lord to bless this home and family.

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Identity Crisis

Many American Christians are in an identity crisis or what may be better described as a crisis of non-identity. We spend time and resources to learn how to “do” life and ministry more effectively but rarely do we explore the question “to whom do I belong?” Misplaced identity is evident in the question “what do you do?” when meeting someone new while the question “to whom do you belong?” would seem odd to ask.

My friend Yitzhak (Ed) is a Rabbi who was over 50 years old the first time he read the New Testament. He exclaimed “How Beautiful!” when he read the genealogy of Jesus in the book of Mathew.  (The same list of names we skip over to get to the “good stuff.”) Just as Jesus was identified as the son of Joseph, the son of Jacob, the son of Matthan, so Ed understands himself to be Yitzhak, the son of Eliyahu (Ed’s dad), the son of Yosef (Ed’s grandfather).

This past week I meet with Ed and two of his Jewish friends and as I asked about their backgrounds it was evident that from childhood they understood to whom they belonged because of the intentionality of their parents, grandparents, and the Jewish community. To belong means that the family/community cannot imagine itself without you and you cannot imagine yourself apart from that family/community.

 

 

 

How the Kingdom Multiplies

Recently we had a farewell cookout for Jeremy and Julia Quigley who have been part of our ministry in Chicago for seven years. The first time I remember Jeremy was the night Ryan Seibert had invited him to our apartment for dinner.  Afterward I was cleaning up the kitchen and Jeremy said to me, “Lewie, I need to go home and study but what happened this evening is what I have been looking for my whole life and I am afraid if I leave now I will never find it again.” Well after seven years not only is Jeremy still hanging around but he and Julia have made many disciples and hosted countless meals in their home.

At the farewell we had a limited amount of time so I asked that only those who had been discipled by Jeremy or Julia to share their appreciation. There were tears as one after another men and women shared how their lives were forever changed because of the Quigley’s love. And then the unexpected happened-Peter spoke up and said, “Well I was not directly discipled by Jeremy but I am his spiritual grandson so I want to express my appreciation for him discipling Neal who discipled me.” Then Michael broke in and said “I was not discipled by Jeremy either but I have to say ‘thanks’ because Jeremy discipled my brother which made a huge impact on his life.” Then Derek spoke up and said, “I’m like Michael, though Jeremy did not disciple me he did disciple my brother which so changed his life that it impacted my family and my spiritual life.”

That evening we witnessed the multiplying nature of disciple-making. Jesus used agriculture to illustrate how the kingdom of God spreads and how only if the seed is placed in the ground with warmth and moisture does it germinate and produce a plant that will produce other seeds. Seeds sitting on the shelf do not multiply. Jesus said to his disciples:

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:23-26

Over the years Jeremy and Julie have consistently laid down their lives for others by pursuing them, by listening well, by giving groceries, by having people in their home for dinner, and by frequent hugs. As a result of their love for others there are now men and women throughout the country and around the world who are making followers of Jesus.

Relating to Your Children and Grandchildren

As Sansui, my brother-in-law, called out in a loud voice to his son inviting him from boyhood to manhood I was reminded of the baptism of Jesus and the heavenly Father calling out to Jesus telling him that he was loved and that he was pleased with him. Although I am sure that Jesus knew of his Father’s love and that the message could have been communicated telepathically, it is significant that the Father chose to express his affection and delight for Jesus publically for others to hear. Perhaps the reason why I was deeply moved at my nephew’s “Calling Out” ceremony was the Godlikeness of Sansui declaring before many witnesses his love and pleasure in his son.

For the ceremony Sansui read publically letters that he and dee, my sister, had written to my nephew explaining how the meanings of each of his five names were tied back to his paternal and maternal genealogy. (Again I was reminded of how the story of Jesus begins with his detailed genealogy.) For my nephew an understanding of his ascendants will form his identity and also prepare him on how to relate to his children and grandchildren.

There are two tribal ceremonies for a Nigerian child. The first is the naming ceremony eight days after his/her birth. Here the five names of the child are whispered in the baby’s ear so that he/she is the first to hear the names. The parents then declare the baby’s name to the gathering and explain the meaning behind each of the names.  In a Christian home the child is then given a life’s bible verse and the parents and community pray a blessing over the baby.

The second ceremony is the “Calling Out” from childhood to adulthood at age thirteen. Here the parents reiterate publically the meanings of his names to remind the child of his heritage as they launch him into adulthood. In both ceremonies the tribe/community is involved.

It has been said that our attitude towards our ascendants will be the same that we will have for our descendants. Could it be that our inability to connect to our own children and grandchildren, especially as they get older, is a direct reflection of our own attitude towards our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents? In other words our children have picked up the same attitude towards us that we have had for our ascendants, which may simply be called indifference.

The Calling Out

This past weekend was the “Calling Out” ceremony for my nephew. Sansui, my brother-in-law, is Nigerian and it is their tribal custom for the father, joined by the other men of the tribe, to “call out” a son from boyhood to manhood when he turns 13. It is a rite of passage of love, belonging, responsibility, accountability, and identity. Now living in the States Sansui has adapted the ceremony to include the significant men who make up their family’s American tribe. The men ranged in age from 83 down to 15.

The ceremony began with my nephew sitting among his peers wearing a colorful woven hat that identified the tribe to which he belongs. Sansui asked his son to rise and then in a loud voice called out his name inviting him to leave boyhood and to join the other men in the room to manhood.  My nephew acknowledged the call and expressed his desire to enter manhood.

He then moved to a designated seat where each man read to him a letter he had written concerning manhood and gave to him a gift that correlated to his letter.  The letters were autobiographical in nature drawing from the unique spiritual pilgrimage of each man. (Unexpectedly I was moved by what the 15-year-old men had to say.)  Woven together these letters made up a beautiful collection of wisdom, counsel, love, but also warning.

The clear messages from the 2-hour ceremony were: (1) you are loved and (2) you belong to us and we belong to you.

A couple of observations:

  • The “Calling Out” was initiated and led by a dad. It was a family event.
  • Although the ceremony was meaningful to my nephew, it also reinforced the importance of belonging for the adult participants. The older men were visibly moved as well as those still in their teens.
  • The ceremony made clear what in life is important and what is not.

 

 

 

 

Living Near One Another

Ed is a Jewish friend of mine here in Chicago. Often what to him is a simple side comment is a profound insight to me. Recently he said in passing, “It is unthinkable for a Jew not to live within walking distance of his community.” I stopped him and said, “Ed, wait a minute! What did you mean by that last statement?” He explained that in Judaism the value of community is expressed by a commitment to live within walking distance of one another. The children can play with one another, dads gather in the local park, and wives share a cup of coffee in one another’s kitchens.

Ed’s comment resonated with me because after being involved in disciple-making for 30 years I am convinced that living in close proximity is an essential element to making followers of Jesus. It is not enough just to have a weekly meeting together whether it is a church service, a one-on-one meeting, a small group meeting, or a house church. Living life together plays an indispensable role in making disciples because it is in the “doing life together” that your disciple has the opportunity to experience what it means to belong both in a nuclear family and a spiritual family.  You are also able to observe your disciple in various scenarios with different people and it gives him the opportunity to observe you among your family and friends.

Most anyone can sham love for a while whether in a service, a class, a small group meeting, or having coffee at Starbucks, but it is in the daily routine with our mates, children, siblings, parents, friends, co-workers, and neighbors where love engages with reality.  I am not advocating that Christianity should stop having services, bible studies, or small groups but I am seeking to raise our awareness to the importance of living in close proximity to one another in making followers of Jesus.

Jesus did not remove his twelve disciples from their hometown of Capernaum but rather he discipled them among their family and friends in the familiar context in which they had been raised.

 

Crippling Shame

Your disciple cannot follow Jesus if controlled by shame. Following Jesus is about belonging and nothing destroys belonging like shame. It is not an issue he can avoid nor will it just go away. It casts a long shadow so even shame from years ago he remembers as if it was yesterday.

Shame comes in various forms and degrees. Some shame is emotionally crippling while other shame has less consequence. There is shame he has brought on himself and shame that was not his fault.  Some was imagined while some was very real.

It could be shame associated with his family or the shame of a mental or physical limitation. A man with a learning disability said to me, Lewie, do you know how painful it is to feel dumb every day of your life? School for me was a walk of shame.

Whatever its source shame makes cowards of us all. It was R.G. Collingwood who wrote:

What a man is ashamed of is always at bottom himself; and he is ashamed of himself at bottom always for being afraid.[1]

Ministries have tried to accommodate people’s emotional fears by creating approaches, curriculum, and programs that limits relational risk for everyone involved, including the leader.  It gives the illusion of love and community but behind the façade there are not the bonds of trust necessary for authentic relationships.

Leading a small group, teaching a bible study, leading worship, and doing service projects can be done in emotional safety.  One can give the appearance of vulnerability but the test of vulnerability is in relationships. Recently I was with a friend who told me how her boss would display vulnerability behind a podium, but in a staff meeting or one-on-one he was anything but vulnerable.

Your disciple needs for you to place yourself in the vulnerable position to love him unconditionally. To place yourself in the vulnerable position of being the first to say,  “I love you.”[2]

 

 

 

 



[1] Collingwood, Robin G. Retrieved September 17, 2012, from http://www.quoteland.com

[2] Brown, Brene (2010, The Power of Vulnerability, Retrieved October 8, 2012, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4Qm9cGRub0)