What I Learned at the Pigs’ Trough
I grew up in a large family. At least I thought I did until the Goodbody family came to dinner. They had eleven children and we only had seven. But four brothers and two sisters still seemed like a lot to me.
When you came into our family’s kitchen there was a long, wooden table that stretched across the room to the kitchen sink. Tucked underneath its far edge was a bench for seven. On the near side, there were two chairs where my mom and dad usually sat.
When we were younger, we ate breakfast there like hungry birds in a nest, but by the time we were teenagers, my parents gave the table a new name. They called it the “pigs’ trough” because of all the shoving, rooting and snorting.
Nighttime wasn’t much better. Quite often, my parents would turn that area into a buffet. While standing in line waiting to serve myself, I sometimes worried that there wouldn’t be enough left for me. I knew what my brothers could pack down.
Thankfully, however, I grew up in a Christian home, where my father and mother read the Bible and taught us about God’s love. They not only taught it, they demonstrated it in every way they knew how.
Some of my earliest memories were crossing the border to the river-bed area of Tijuana. I remember spinning handmade tops on dirt streets with my Mexican friends while my mother and father sat on mismatched chairs with their parents, talking for what seemed like hours. Little did I know that those conversations were seeds of long friendships and mission partnerships that would improve the lives of thousands.
As I grew older, I realized how committed my parents were to our own city too, especially fair housing and prison reform and public education. They could have made other choices with how they spent their time. Yet, their deepest joy was to make a difference in the lives of those who struggled.
Experiencing joy from these relationships didn’t mean their efforts came easily. Some of the positions they took put them at odds with our neighbors. I even remember death threats being sent to our house. But they never backed down from standing with people they believed the Gospel called them to support.
In my last column, I wrote about a movement in our presbytery to claim who we are as disciples in this particular community of faith. I followed Roger Nishoka’s invitation to celebrate those unique gifts God has given us to share with the world.
Certainly, one of those gifts is the commitment Presbyterians have to “the promotion of social righteousness” and a belief that God wants all people to be treated with love and dignity [Great Ends of the Church]. The God of the Scriptures wants all people to have food to eat and love to share. That’s the heavenly banquet that God has called disciples to offer to the world.
I’ve been struck recently by the verses in 1 Corinthians 11 that warn against taking communion in “an unworthy manner.” The apostle Paul says, “20When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. 21For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk” (NRSV). Then he goes on to conclude that doing so makes a person “answerable for the body and blood of the Lord” which, he asserts, is tantamount to “eating and drinking judgement against oneself.”
Paul is not referring to isolated or private sin. He is exhorting the Corinthians about how to behave now that they have become members of a new community established by Christ himself. Those who are aware of Christ’s grace will naturally care as much about the plight of those behind them in the buffet line as they do themselves. In this new community, one’s healing and wholeness is bound up in the healing and wholeness of others, and to act as if it isn’t, is “to eat and drink judgment” on oneself.
In a few weeks’ time, we will have the great privilege of interacting with Soong-Chan Rah. Where Roger Nishioka focused in May on nourishing a “community of flourishing congregations,” Professor Rah will stimulate our imaginations around what it means to “joyfully participate in God’s redemptive work in the world.” During his time with us, he will provide theological tools and practical insights to envision and advocate for the world as God intended it to be.
Given the events of this past summer with North Korea testing nuclear bombs and white supremacists chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and, in contrast, the positive response of so many to Hurricane Harvey, I couldn’t think of a more timely conversation for us to have.
I never did ask my parents if they were aware of the connection between the Lord’s Table and the “pigs’ trough,” but in hindsight, they made the connection for us through countless buffet lines and dinners. Even if they wouldn’t use the same words, the Lord’s Table was the model for their own table, and, indeed, one which they extended to as many people as they could.
As we gather later this month, I look forward to learning from Professor Rah, and praying with you for our world. May the table we share together, and the many resources God has given our presbytery, be used to bring glory to our Risen Lord, the one who teaches us how to love and live.
With you on the journey,