Common Eating is an idea for a university of seminary type course that has been sitting in the back of my mind for several years now. Over the next several weeks I hope to go through each of those posts and update and rethink my way through them. I’ll be leaving each new post at the top of my blog for a few days. Any new material will be printed in bold.
The original post and the first update can be found below.
Since I first posted this, almost eight years ago, there has been a movement within the church to put a greater emphasis on eating as a significant part of the life of the church. The most notable group within this movement is the Dinner Church Collective. C3NYC is another group that is doing something similar as well.
Now it may seem that because these groups are growing that such a course as I’m proposing isn’t necessary. I would argue that on the other hand it is more necessary than ever. Many of these approaches to doing church sprang up from the practical need to find a way to reinvigorate declining forms of church.
Having taken these steps, it would be good for the church as whole to be able to step back and do some deep and serious theological reflection on the ways in which forming church communities around on our beliefs and practices. This is especially true if we wish to examine models of inclusion and exclusion. In many ways such new expressions of the Church will open the doors to people who felt left of the outside before, but at the same time it’s possible that other will feel that they cannot be included.
Another big thing that has happened since the first wrote this is the reclamation work being done by writers such as Michael W. Twitty, Kelly Fanto Deetz, and Adrian E. Miller(aka the Soul Food Scholar). These and many other writers are examining the ways in which North American Cuisine was built, in many cases, by plagiarizing the work of enslaved people, and turning it into the food of the white, settler majority. These sort of food justice issues are becoming more prominent and are something to be included in our own theology of food.
More than ever, though, I think the real critical question that we need to be asking ourselves is: What is the purpose of food: Is it primarily there so that we can keep the biological mechanisms of our bodies running. Or, is food primarily there, so that we are forced to stop, sit together, and over food building and strengthening our communities. I’m sure it’s more likely a combination of both.
Perhaps another way to put it is: To what extent are we willing to allow food to always privilege the individual as individual? This is a particularly interesting question when we put it into the context of our food preferences. This question is also one that has become quite a bit more complicated in relationship to the increased numbers of food allergies that exist.
I think the overriding thought for this course would be: “Grace isn’t something that we say before or after a meal, but rather what we must always be extending to our fellow eaters.”
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I was reading a couple of Twitter comments today involving food and wine that had been posted by @ReverendChef and they got me thinking, what might a seminary course on “common eating” look like. I’m using the term “common eating” as a play on the ideas of common prayer and common worship that are so much a part of Anglican practice.
One of the ideas that this appeals to me so much is that as a single person, common eating, is not a major part of my life. Yet, eating together is one of the activities that defines our lives together, from the family dinner to gathering around the Lord’s Table for the Eucharistic meal. The focus will be on eating together, so as such, it will not be a course on food justice, but as we reflect on eating together, I intend to structure it in such a way that I hope such issues would naturally result from the discussions the class is having.
This course will also be practical. Seminary is supposed to prepare people for ministry, and it does so, much in the way that mini-golf prepares people to take on the greens at Augusta National. The concept is the same, but the reality is greatly different. This class will involve developing a lived theology, ie we’ll be trying to practice as we learn.
So, every class will begin with a meal. I realize that this might be the biggest hurdle to such a class, but holding it in an off campus location might solve this problem in some situations. This meal would be prepared by the students in teams of 2 or more. This will be a limited budget exercise as well, (I will have to work out the details).
A trip to a soup kitchen to prepare for and eat a meal with its clients might be part of such a class. Inviting a group of strangers in for a meal might also be part of such a class. A Eucharist will be included every week (a willingness to take part in the Eucharistic practices of other traditions will be a requirement for acceptance into the course). Of course, if such a course was taught in a denominational setting, this likely wouldn’t be an issue.
In addition to dealing with material from the Biblical text, the course would possibly include the writings on food and eating by Robert Farrar Capon and Margaret Visser, along with cookbooks such as the “More With Less,” cookbook put out by the Mennonite Central Committee(I did say this was going to be practical).
My bibliography for Eucharistic Eating is ever growing, and would definitely provide a wide range of background reading material for any such course.
Is there enough material in the subject for a thirteen week course? I don’t know, but I suspect there is. Fall suppers, church potlucks and picnics all fit within the parameters of such a class. Scruples in eating (veganism and vegetarianism for example). Example behaviour for a priest/minister when offered tea, etc. on home visitation. Food and drink. Corporate fasting and feasting. These are just a few things, that may benefit from deeper, more focused thought and action.
One of things that I have been thinking about since first writing this post is the inclusive/exclusive nature of dining, particularly as it relates to a church community. How might a parish better use eating together to broaden it’s welcome to the community around it, or conversely how might a use eating together to keep people out of the life of the community.
Over the next three weeks I hope to flesh out these ideas, and if it is feasible, I would like to have a PDF outline finished by that time. As I prepare this, please feel free to leave suggestion in the comments, especially if you have reading suggestions.