Sunday, February 26, 2012

How often is enough?

If you're keeping up a healthy diet, and I hope that you are, you eat dinner seven times a week.

Now, those seven dinners can be a chance for you to try out a new recipe, go to your favorite restaurant to unwind from the daily grind or maybe the twenty minutes you have to put some fuel in your body before you rush off to study for that midterm exam.

Regardless of how you spend those seven dinners, it's important that you are conscious of what you choose to do with that special hour of time towards the end of your day. Even more so, it's important to think about who we choose to spend that time with. And if everyone is eating dinner at some point during the evening, that means that every day we have an opportunity to share a meal with someone.

How do you spend most of your dinners? Are you sitting in front of the TV watching a marathon of "Real Housewives" episodes? Are you aggressively wrestling a burrito out of its microwave- safe wrapper, shoving bites of refried beans into your mouth as you fumble for a bottle of hot sauce? Or maybe the thought of preparing dinner for a guest stresses you out so much that you throw down the spatula and reach for the phone to tell them there has been a change of plans.

Not that we don't all need a little down time where we just look to nourish our bodies and have a bit of a quiet evening, but think about all of the possibilities you are denying when you choose night after night to eat dinner alone! Maybe sharing dinner with someone means more to them than meets the eye? What if you thought of each dinner as a chance to let someone into your life and provide a bit of care that they haven't received in, perhaps, a long time?

Makes those seven dinners seem a little more meaningful.

How are you making those seven evenings count? Are you allowing memories to be created or waiting for them to come to you, if it's convenient or if you finally get the house cleaned?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Who aren't you inviting?

I know my dinner guests.

Their faces pop into my mind as clear as a freshly cleaned window. Before they even arrive I can hear their voices, the various inflections in their laughter and the expressions they'll most likely exclaim when they take a bite into a dish they think is especially delicious.

I know them so well because my dinner guests are my friends, or friends of friends. I invite them over because I want to spend time with them, to hear about what their week has been like and what simple moments have made them stop and smile when they least expected it. I create a meal because I want to share with them, to give them a taste of something home-cooked, maybe the only non-prepackaged food they've had all week. I delight in their company and I want to cultivate a space where they feel welcome to talk about what's on their heart while simultaneously nourishing their bodies with real, whole foods.

However good these intentions may seem, I realized they're only lukewarm.


Yes, lukewarm. While I feel so much joy cooking dinner and eating with those I really care for, most weeks, I'm sharing these experiences with people that probably expect to get an invitation. Even though they might feel the same joy that I do when we come around the table each week for our Friday Night Dinner, they have already known for weeks that this opportunity awaits them each Friday. They've grown comfortable, and so have I, with the idea that we will share this meal together on a consistent basis.

However, each week I'm missing the chance to ask those who really need an invitation to dinner. Maybe it's the student from South Africa who has come all the way to IU to study theatre, leaving behind their family and friends and left to eat alone in their dorm room each night. Or perhaps it's the boy who you've talked with occasionally in psychology class, a guy who you know likes the St. Louis Cardinals and rock music, but who you have no idea desires to meet new friends that make healthy choices. It could even be the barista at Starbucks who knows you like extra hot chai tea lattes, but has been dying to do more than make coffee and start dabbling in cooking. All she wants is someone to share her creations with, but she doesn't know who to turn to.

Those examples don't even begin to touch the long list of people we come into contact with on a daily basis. We might not give too much thought to what these people might do, or not do, around the family table each night, but maybe they are the people who we really need consider when we invite guests to our family table.

It's easy to give to those who are close to you, who you feel comfortable around and know they will more or less accept your kindness. But how often are we reaching out to those that actually need our care?

In Luke, chapter 14, Jesus talks about the importance of who we invite to gather around our table. To his host, he says, "when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" 14:13

Who do you know that might need a home-cooked meal, an opportunity for fellowship or a simple reminder that they are cared for? How can you bless those who are in need? If we don't take the time to do this, are we really giving our love to those who would benefit from it most?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Radical hospitality

Does this image look familiar? Most of us have seen the Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast. Maybe it was during our childhood, perhaps we caught it when we were babysitting, or even as an adult who couldn't help but love animated cartoon animals and household gadgets that teach life lessons while simultaneously singing and dancing.

Amidst the twirling teapots and sashaying silver wear, I think all of us can admit that we were dying at the chance to receive an invitation to dine at the Beast's castle. When that symphony of place settings belted, "Be our guest! Be our guest!" we were all secretly shouting, "Yes! Please, pick me!"

If you don't remember this feeling when you first watched Beauty and the Beast, I'll confess that this was my reaction. When I was 6, the chance to dine with Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs. Pots would have been reason enough. However, looking back on this fanciful scene, I realize there is greater meaning than I once thought. The characters reveal to us what is means to show radical hospitality.

Now, most of us don't greet our dinner guests with choreographed numbers, nor should we, but we do have the potential to really make them feel wanted, to show them that we're excited to be sharing our homes with them for the evening. I'm not suggesting that it has to be an exhausting effort to show your enthusiasm; I'm asking you to think about whether you truly are happy to treat your loved ones to a home-cooked meal, that you are mindful of the awesome experience that you create when you ask people to join you around the table.

Yes, our weeks are busy and most times we throw our hands up in praise when we make it do the dinner table after a long day of work, but are our lives that busy that we can't express our love for one another by inviting friends to the table for a single night's meal? And more than that, are we too caught up in our own lives that we forget to act out the joy we feel when we gather together in communion?

Maybe it's time that we pull out our VHS copies of Beauty and the Beast and rekindle that magic of what it's liked to be treated as a guest!