Thursday, October 05, 2006

breaking bread together

Oh, why is it we invest so much energy in holding each other at arm's length? How much of it is on purpose, and how much by accident?

We are in the midst of a major loss in social capital. I am no economist, nor am I a sociologist - but I would assert from my limited understandings that in this framework, we are in the midst of a kind of recession. In my own community, I see declining involvement in service clubs. A decrease in volunteerism overall. Certainly, this is not news. Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone is more than 5 years old now, but still provides a useful overview of the phenomenon. For a more searing view on the issue, watch the movie Crash. The first lines of the movie say it all:
It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

I may not be in L.A., but I can identify with that sentiment. We over-rely on the idea of self-reliance. Now, I'm divorced, and my ex and I share placement of our daughter 50/50. I also work full time as an executive director, in addition to being a part time commuting graduate student. My life moves fast, and I'm seldom in one geographic space for very long. I'm certainly guilty of a "go it alone" mentality, as much as I believe otherwise.

I work in a nonprofit agency that helps survivors of domestic violence move towards healing. For years, we have used the watchwords of "independence" and "self-sufficiency." Certainly, these are important for someone whose days and nights have been focused around decoding the whims of another. In the face of fragmented relationships that are the result of domestic violence, perhaps we should also consider how healthy networks of interdependence can be just as important. Check out this post on StreetProphets that picks up a theological conversation about relational power and dominion theology.

(By the way, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Wear a purple ribbon. Do you know how to contact your local domestic violence agency? What about its 24-hour crisis line? Do you know any of the signs of domestic violence? It's worth thinking about.)

This insidious trend of separation sneaks up everywhere. It even came up in one of my classes recently. In the course of his presentation, a classmate asked his audience to reflect upon the most recent table around which they shared a meal. More detail: a meal that involved people not in their immediate family. I had to search my mind for a while to remember when that shared meal might have been. So when the time for comment came up, that was my first thought. In the course of trying to connect with his audience, my fellow student may have distanced a significant percentage of people who couldn't identify with the phenomenon of a shared meal. Prove me wrong! Comment, and tell me about your most recent shared meal.

I look at the ways our political discourse and civic life cooperate to separate us from each other, and realize that this is truly not a course that we should pursue. I believe that the life of faith requires that we build community rather than focus on categories and divisions. A first step? Sitting at table together, and sharing your stories. Whom will you invite to dinner?

PS, on a related note: Kudos to one of my CTS classmates on this recent post addressing compassion and "wedge issues". It's not about the issues, it's about the people! If you're interested in thoughtful progressive takes on politics and economics, visit Fragmentary Theology often. It's well worth the read.


'Stine said...

Actually, I had the pleasure of a shared meal (chaotic though it was) just 2 days ago. The meal occurred at the playground on a picnic blanket and consisted primarily of peanut butter and jelly (some of which the children involved in the meal actually consumed). My sons and I were joined by another mom and her two boys.
As a stay at home mom, I sometimes feel disconnected from the "real" world inhabited by other adults. One of the benefits my job does offer however is the opportunity to connect with other moms and families on a fairly regular basis. Last week we had lunch at the playground with two families we know, and shared our table with several other children and their nanny as well (all acquaintances via my older son's preschool). The week before that, my sons and I had lunch at the home of a friend and her 2 daughters. I am fortunate that my "schedule" allows me the time to forge these bonds. In our fast paced world, I imagine that there are many people who struggle to find the time to fit in a meal at all, especially at mid-day, let alone find the time to share that meal with friends.
All this talk of shared meals is taking me back to college days at Smith, where every meal was a community event, shared among housemates and friends. There is just something about a mealtime that nourishes something more than just the body. So often, meals are just one more "chore" in the day, something to get done so that we can move on to the next item on our "to do" lists. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone had the time to linger over a meal with friends on a regular basis...

Susan Thistlethwaite said...

You are getting posts, excellent. It seems to me that 'stine's post is an example of how your post might be "electronic bread." Susan

Becky said...

I was blessed to have had my last meal away from home with dear friends this weekend, after weeks and weeks of trying to coordinate a date that worked for all of us.

It was an evening that I have looked forward to for weeks and will cherish. Though we have all stayed connected through e-mails and cell calls, it was that face to face time that allowed us to feel the depth of the support and encouragement we have shared with each other long distance.