It was a THANKGSIVING MEAL that I first remember my mother saying the words, “You need to try a little of everything that I put on your plate.” Those words were translated by me into, “There is going to be some weird food today, much of which you won’t want to eat.”
Let me set this up. Usually, we had a THANKGSGIVING meal in our home, my earliest memories are of our “A” House (government alphabet homes in a government-built town) where grandpa would travel in from the neighboring town he lived in just a couple of hours away, and my “grandma & grandpa” (really my grandmother’s sister and husband) who lived in town and were ancient, living in a smaller house in the next town, and sometimes people from church (usually also ancient, in my eyes) who had no family in town. Mom cooked for days, turning into a demonic version of Martha Stewart.
I was familiar with everything on the table, usually: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, some sweet potatoes, homemade rolls, green bean casserole, a cranberry dish of some sort (either gelled or in a salad) peas and pearl onions, cornbread, lettuce salad, and a variety of pies – all homemade. Me, and my stomach, were not only familiar with, but looked forward to, this feast every year…and the leftovers that we fed on for days afterward.
The year I’m speaking of, however, was different. THIS year it was different, however. There was a new family at church, the dad was a new scientist working where mom worked, and their family was from the south. My mom, who was from the south as well, was looking forward to having a THANKSGIVING she didn’t have to cook for, AND looking forward to some dishes she hadn’t had for a while.
Then, on THANSGIVING DAY, my mother spoke those words to me and I was filled with dread in anticipation of the horrors that awaited: strange vegetables, probably not turkey but some odd southern animal, like possum – dishes that were unidentifiable, etc.
We arrived in time to see the turkey (thank heaven!) being carved. There was another family I knew there, and another one I didn’t know so well (strangers…ugh!). We sat down at the table after standing around the table to pray. (At home we ALWAYS prayed right after sitting down, what kind of pagan ritual was this…STANDING!?…oh no, the terror was beginning).
Mom sat to my left and therefore received the food before me – which gave her the “power” to place food on MY plate before I had a chance to simply pass over things.
Turkey, stuffing, and potatoes. Although the dressing had something in it (chestnuts, I discovered later) I had never seen before…all was well…so far. Then came another dressing made from a base ingredient called “grits”, then what looked like little Barbie doll-sized cabbages. There were beans (Beans…!?) that were called, “black-eyed”…and tasted like they had, indeed, been beaten up. There was cornbread (I can deal with that). There was a weird Jello they called “aspic” – it had VEGETABLES in it…VEGETABLES! Egad!
When the “bowls of horror” had ceased going ‘round, mom leaned over to me again and said, “Take a bite of EVERYTHING on your plate or you’ll hear from me when we get home.” To which I replied, “Why do I have to eat stuff I don’t like?” To which she replied,
“Because we are here at the invitation of the host who made something for everyone. You don’t know whether you’ll like it or not till you’ve tried it, and even if you don’t like it…you’re not the only one at the table.”
I’ve always said, “Everything I know about worship and church, I learned from my mom.”
Here we are, in a day and age where “personal service” and “customized service” are the bywords of commerce. Say something out loud in the privacy of your home, regarding something you’re possibly interested in purchasing, and it will immediately pop up every time you turn on your phone, pad, or laptop…seducing you to purchase.
And somehow, that attitude has entered the Church. Many are under the false notion that “worship service” is the same as “personal service” as if the word “service”, whenever related to spiritual matters, refers to us and not God…how WE are served. It’s reflected in our conversation and comments about worship and church: “I’m looking for a church that serves me.” “I’m looking for a church…where I can be fed.” “I left because it didn’t meet my needs”…and so on.
These all may be legitimate excuses and comments; however, I think it’s always good to be reminded about our priorities. Even when things are going well, when people DO have their priorities in line (as it seems in our own congregation at Central), even when things are done the correct way…we remind ourselves about the priorities so we stay on the right path, which we are currently on.
Some things my mother reminds us, when it comes to the work of the church, and worship specifically are:
FIRST: JESUS is the host, not us. We are the guests.
SECOND: At the event will be familiar and non-familiar faces. The guests there all have their own stories, come from different places, with different packs to carry, with different journeys to travel, with different preferences – but we are connected by the same thing: THE HOST. JESUS has invited us. JESUS has prepared the event. JESUS presents what HE believes is best for all. (codicil: if every leader involved is doing what THEY are supposed to be doing as well)
And sometimes, even in a heavenly place like Central, we will share together in an experience that is not necessarily customized for us, personally, for an important reason:
Christianity is not a “solo event” it is a “community event”. Christianity is not academic, it is action, it is shared and practiced on those around us….and…to quote Marge Vale (still the greatest theologian I’ve ever met):
“You try everything, and share everything…because we are here at the invitation of the HOST who made something for everyone. You don’t know whether you’ll like it or not till you’ve tried it, and even if you don’t like it…you’re not the only one at the table.”
Give thanks for THE TABLE, provided by THE HOST…for all of us.