A few days after we moved to our new neighborhood a few weeks ago, we decided to be a bit adventurous and go out to a restaurant down the street from us. We chose to go to Yaowarat Road, an eatery named for a street in Bangkok’s Chinatown, which specializes in Thai/Chinese cuisine. When we first arrived and read the menu, I thought about going elsewhere, as there were few dishes I understood or thought we would enjoy. But we ordered what we comprehended (as well as some Pad Thai, which was not on the menu) and it was all delicious. It was a wonderful meal that I could have missed if I was unwilling to take a risk.
I was reminded about my supper at Yaowarat Road as I studied about a practice the Bible calls “the breaking of bread”. This phrase is complex: it is typically a reference to the ordinance of communion (referencing the Lord’s breaking the bread at the Passover table); it could, however, be referring to any meal shared by the people of God (as would be the case of Passover, which involves breaking bread, and the feeding of the five thousand, which also specifically states that the Lord broke the loaves). It is this more general meaning that I have been reflecting upon.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. Mark 6:41 (NIV)
One of the most unifying aspects of ministry is dining together, the time when the church comes together to break bread. A fascinating dynamic is at work when we share a meal, whether it be at a pot-luck or a restaurant. Our choices of cuisine say something about us: they show our preferences and our tolerances, they reveal our habits and our palates, and they demonstrate our knowledge and our experiences. When we share a meal with another, we display ourselves on that plate. Serving up jerk chicken tells us something. Ordering dessert tells us something else. Eating off another plate tells us yet something more.
Breaking bread also expresses our acceptance of one another. When we eat what another person has prepared or ordered, we are saying that your traditions and tastes matter. We might use more (or less) seasoning or another cut of meat or a different protein, if we were given the choice. But we allow another person to build the menu and we are given a glimpse of themselves. If we are lucky, we discover something delectable that we knew nothing about; if not, we might need an antacid for a day or two. Either way, our culinary knowledge and our fellowship is enlarged.
So, take a risk and break bread with someone – invite them to your home or your local diner and eat a meal with a fellow saint. If you are hesitant, I invite you to join me for dinner at the church this Wednesday night for one of my favorites. I hope you’ll have a heaping helping of hospitality.
There is a new coffee shop in the neighborhood of the church, Ripple Cafe, which offers hot and iced coffee, free wi-fi and comfortable seating. I visited the café last week and found their coffee and staff most pleasant. I could easily picture myself taking my laptop and ‘working’ there on a sunny spring or summer afternoon. I probably won’t do that, but I like to think I might; but then again, I said the same thing about the last three coffee shops that have opened in the neighborhood. I would like to think that I am the kind of person that has deep conversations and composes thoughtful sermons in a café.
But I am more a Dunkin Donuts kind of person. I want my coffee plain, with cream only, in a Styrofoam cup with a plastic cover. In fact, I think I might be a coffee snob (or whatever the opposite of a snob might be, an ‘anti-slob’): I have a tiny bit of distain for those who are willing to spend a few dollars more for an inferior serving of joe in a mermaid-logo cup and I scoff at the pretension emanating from other purveyors who serve their multiply hyphenated fare that they pass off as their exclusive caffeinated blend. I don’t need fancy titles, foamy additives or socially aware saying imprinted on cardboard sleeves; I want a good cup of coffee.
The truth is that I am not the center of the universe and not everyone shares my opinions about coffee. All the coffee shops and all the coffee drinkers can mutually co-exist. There might even be some positive interact with tea drinkers. Good people drink chai lattes, as do those who are dark of heart. Godly people consume espresso from tiny cups, as do the ungodly. I hear that some of the morally upright even drink iced tea, through I cannot comprehend why. There is a place for everyone, and everyone can find what they need in some place.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
I find it unfortunate that what is true about coffee shops is often also true about the church. The followers of Christ tend to flock to where they are served what they prefer – there are churches that cater to the porcelain demitasse crowd and churches that cater to the 20-ounce paper cup crowd. Occasionally, these diverse demographics are drawn together – at denominational meetings, retreat centers, funerals or weddings – and we politely sip what is offered, like it or not, but typically we stay where we get what we want. I sometimes wonder if we could, as the church, share fellowship with those who treasure every sort of coffee concoction.
In the kingdom of God, there is neither ‘large regular’ or ‘americano’, neither ‘Sumatra single-origin’ or ‘Maxwell House’, nor is there ‘K-cup’ or ‘organic’, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. And, for that reason, I will enjoy all the coffee my community provides, perhaps even trying something I might never choose otherwise, as I sit with my laptop at that cozy café near the church.
As I stood in line at the bank the other day, anachronistically waiting for a genuine human being to process my deposit, I longed for simpler times. I long for the days when there were more than one teller and a bowl of lollipops in the bank lobby instead of a customer service representative encouraging the use of the ATM. I long for the days when the supermarket had a full bank of staffed registers instead of one live cashier-bagger and six self-service aisles. I long for the days of phone calls with actual people on the other line instead of a stream of texts and snap-chats. As technology advances, it seems that social interaction recedes.
Thankfully, there are a number of places where personal relationships are accentuated and face-to-face conversations are encouraged. Primary among those places, in my opinion, is the local church. While many of the functions of the church can be accomplished without human interaction – web-based Bible studies, live-streaming worship services and christianmingle.com – the greatest benefits of the church occur when we gather together. The Bible is full of activities that we can do together: greet one another, instruct one another, serve one another, encourage one another and love one another. We do these things – and more – through spending time in the presence of one another.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25
The blessing of meeting together, in prayer and in praise and in proclamation, is multi-faceted. There is the blessing of diverse interactions: few places outside of local houses of worship have such a variety of people with differing ages, experiences, educations, relationships and resources. There is the blessing of nuance: we have yet to be able to capture sarcasm, subtlety or body language through electronic media and we know that communication involves more than words. There is the blessing of presence; one of the initial comments of God was the fact that it is not good for humans to be alone, and yet we are fast becoming a society where we need no longer interact with others to exist.
God is relational – He is, by nature, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and He created us in His image (i.e. relational). As we bravely advance in this world of kiosks and tablets, we must challenge the societal momentum toward an impersonal existence. We must interact with our words as well as our pixels, with our presence as well as our avatars and with a handshake or hug as well as a hashtag. Some of us need to push back against the tide of isolation and take the time to have a conversation with a few other fascinating human beings.
A good first step is to enter a local service of worship this weekend, sing shoulder-to-shoulder with a stranger and surround all your senses with the Savior of your soul. Perhaps it will give you something to think about while waiting in line at the bank.