Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Kingdom of God is like...a school lunchroom!

“Jesus said..., ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it?  The Kingdom of God is like ...a high school lunchroom.”  (Adapted from Luke 13:18)

The bell rings, it’s lunch time!  The race is on!  Students hustle out of the classrooms, making a made mad dash to the high school lunchroom.  Forming 2 serving lines, they grab their lunch, and then move with more speed and agility, like skiers on a Salomon course, maneuvering between classmates and tables, carrying their tray of food, searching out their friends, praying there is still a seat at the table.  

After 5 years of overseeing the lunchroom at McFarland High School, I can tell you where every student sits.  Like adults, teenagers are creatures of habit.  Each new term, they stake out "their" table and seat around it.  Once they do, you can find them seated in the same place, every day.

Do you remember where you sat and who you ate with over lunch?  Did you eat a school lunch or did you bring your own?  Maybe your school had an open campus?  If so, where did you go to eat and
who did you eat with when you went out?

It would be safe to say that we all have memories of our days of eating in a school lunch room.  While most of our memories of the lunchroom would bring a smile to our face, a few might still be cause for lingering nightmares.   Lunch time can be the most social time of a student's day, but for some, it can be the loneliest time.   

Charles M. Schulz, creator of the Peanut’s comic strip, through the eyes of Charlie Brown, writes about the school lunch hour in this manner:

“Rats! There goes the bell...oh, how I hate lunch hours! I always have to eat alone because nobody likes me... Peanut butter again... I wish that little red haired girl would come over, and sit with me. Wouldn’t it be great if she’d walk over here, and say, “May I eat lunch with you, Charlie Brown?” I’d give anything to talk with her...she’d never like me, though... I’m so blah and so stupid...she’d never like me... I wonder what would happen if I went over and tried to talk to her! Everyone would probably laugh...she’d probably be insulted someone as blah as I am tried to talk to her. I hate lunch hour...all it does is make me lonely... during class it doesn’t matter... I can’t even eat... Nothing tastes good... Rats! Nobody is ever going to like me... Lunch hour is the loneliest hour of the day!” 

How many of you felt like Charlie Brown during your lunch period?

Of all the phobias his friend, Dr. Lucy van Pelt, talks with him about at her “Advice Booth,” she fails to mention one important phobia that Charlie Brown seems to suffer from - “Solomangarephobia,” which is the fear of eating alone.

Secretly, I wonder if we all don’t suffer just a bit from Solomagarephobia?  No one likes to eat alone, and yet, we all do from time to time, burying ourselves in a book, staring at our smartphone, checking our Facebook status, or Tweeting, all in hopes of avoiding that lonely feeling that comes from eating by yourself, especially in the midst of a crowded lunch room.

I am mindful of the students who sit by themselves during lunch.  At the beginning of this new school year, as I walked around the lunchroom, conversing with different groups of students sitting together, I stopped and talked with a new student.  A senior, she had moved to our small village from a larger city, leaving behind her group of friends, who I would guess, she ate lunch every day.  Now she was sitting, alone, eating, all by herself, yet, surrounded by all her new classmates.  After my visit, I continued around the lunchroom, though this time with an intentional purpose.  I knew of another group of senior girls, eating at another table, one with a few extra seats.  Stopping at their table, I mentioned their new classmate’s situation.  Without hesitation, two of the girls were up and off to introduce themselves.  They invited her to join them for lunch, which she gladly accepted.

The word, Companion, derives its meaning from the “Old French word ‘compaignon.” It literally means ‘one who breaks bread with another’.  It is based on the Latin “com - ‘together with’ + panis ‘bread.’”  

The school district where I work, does a wonderful job of providing “companions” through the use of “Mentors” for their new students and teachers.  Many churches do something similar with their new members.   I would imagine businesses and companies do something similar with their new employees.  The idea is to make the new students and staff feel welcome by showing them around the school or church, answering any questions they might have, and being a helpful resource to them as they make the adjustment to their new community.

As intentional as this type of community-building activity is, there is sometimes an important piece that is overlooked.  In relation to the new student, I discovered that while she had been paired up with a “peer mentor,” they had two had different lunch hours.  The new student was left to eat alone.  Churches also miss this important piece of hospitality on a Sunday morning.  We welcome guests to our worship, but when the service ends and fellowship time begins, we so often find the people we know to visit with, leaving our guests to eat all by themselves.

In my reading, I came upon a sermon by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, on the sacredness of food. Rabbi Goldstein offers this thought:  “We eat to live, but we also eat to be together, to share with others, to experience the joy of community and family, to exchange ideas, to nourish and be nourished.... Eating is a symbol of the life of community.  We aren’t supposed to eat alone. “Companion” is the one you break bread with.”

I believe God created us to live together in community, as companions with one another, and with God.  The meals we share together are sacred. I would even say they are “Sacramental” in nature.  When we break bread together, whether around a table in the school cafeteria, a table at fast food joint, our own kitchen table, or the communion table in a church, we are doing so with God, whose loving presence is made known to us in the food we eat and in the companionship we keep.

Margaret Visser, author of the book, The Rituals of Dinner, says, “None of us would want to live by bread alone, even if that were possible.”   Just as the body needs bread to live, so we need to be nourished by the bread of companionship.  We hunger for it, in some cases, starved for it.  I believe that is why more people are organizing community meals and planting community gardens.  I feel it is why restaurants are serving patrons at “community” tables.  For me, these are all signs of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom.

Jesus, a guest around so many other people’s tables, where bread was broken together, is now offering a spiritual form of bread to those gathered around him.  He is teaching them about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus says, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it?  The Kingdom of God is like...a high school lunchroom, a place where no one will ever eat alone, again.”

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