by Kellie Lisi Davis
Food is an intimate topic. Our experience with food is tied to our earliest memories, our most precious memories, or perhaps our hardest memories. We watch the food shows on Netflix (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat being my personal latest favorite) and drool over cooking blogs. We save recipes and print them out and forward them to our moms. We post photos of our meals on Instagram and ask our Facebook friends for tips on cooking in our new InstaPot we scored in a post-Christmas sale. And yet food can also be hard to talk about meaningfully. It can feel too emotional because of all the memories that are bound up in it for us, or it can feel too mundane because my goodness gracious, everybody eats. Some of us even eat 3 times a day or more!
But for me, food is the crux of my experience as a mother, a teacher, a daughter, a wife. My love of food and, more importantly, my love of what experiencing food together does to a community, is what led me away from the high schools where I happily worked for 13 years as an English teacher and administrator and led me into seminary.
It was the experience of being a co-chaperone with Jason (who was then a youth director) on a trip to Galveston where I worked with a small group of high school students each afternoon to plan what they wanted to cook for the large group each night. It was grocery shopping with them, reinforcing their understanding of how to compare prices, how to check sodium content, how to look for the most unprocessed version of what we needed, how to budget our money wisely. It was teaching them to chop an onion quickly and with all their fingers intact. It was their absolute joy in serving their friends a meal they had concocted and executed. It was their parents telling me weeks later that the cooking had been their kids’ favorite part of the trip.
It was sitting with my group of advisees, who were high school students and mothers, down to a potluck feast in our classroom; a lunch they had collaborated to plan so that we had all the tamales and carnitas and horchata and pastries we could manage to eat. It was all our babies gathered together around the desks we had pushed together to make one large table. It was our reluctance to leave one another to return to the regular afternoon schedule.
It was hearing about a church in Brooklyn that was doing weekly dinner church that first made me feel like seminary could be an acceptable path for Jason to pursue. It was hearing about food ministry that opened my heart to my own call to become a deacon, and it was the reason I went to New York for J-term last year to study food ministry in the city. It was standing in a circle in the foyer of a beautiful small space, lit candle in hand, feeling the song rise through my body to join with all those in the room. It was a moment in which I felt all things were exactly as they should be, that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, and that I was listening and moving in the ways in which God needed me to be.
Food is holy. We become who we are through food. We become God’s through the sacrifice of body, which is bread. We become each other’s by preparing, serving, and eating. And so, for me, this has become the truest call of all: to teach and feed, so that all may eat to live.
Too often our theology seems to deal only with distant abstractions and so things like food and eating seem too basic, too every day for theological treatment. But I think it’s in the mundane that faith and God become most alive. From Food for Life by L. Shannon Jung, “When we begin with personal experience, theology loses its aura of dealing only with remote, profound, and infrequent events or doctrines. Indeed, our own experience counts, and counts a great deal, in the theology of eating.” For me, it’s become an essential element of my own theology as I’ve found that food and eating can reveal the presence and intention of God, while also expressing the deepest values of a community.
This is what we will live into as we worship in the dinner church context here at The Lutheran Center during the season of Lent. We will work together to create an environment of true hospitality and stewardship as we prepare a worship service that is an extended experience of communion, a true meal focused on connecting ancient liturgy with sustaining food and community.