Over the past week I have had the pleasure and joy of participating in two great fellowship meals. The first event was a reunion luncheon party at a restaurant with some classmates of mine from the theology program at Georgian Court University, as well as with my main professor and the department’s former Chair, Joseph Gower, PhD. The reunion luncheon was nice, largely because of the camaraderie and shared stories of how each graduate has lived the Gospel they learned to love more deeply and profoundly, and how they have since applied the fruits of their education. The side benefit of this and similar gatherings is the stimulating conversation I get to share with Dr. Gower, during the long round-trip drives. The meal is, as always, far secondary to the people, which is a good thing since mine was fair at best despite its advertisement as being a “chef’s special” (I must have missed the words “…not so…” between “Chef’s” and “special!”). I enjoyed the genuine interest shown by the group in each classmate’s work. Let me introduce you to my “graduate friends” (That’s me sitting on the stairs, next to the good Dr. Considering his obvious fame, you don’t need me to tell you who’s who!!!)
The dinner party is a big deal. I began hosting it a couple years after my divorce, as a way getting back into socializing. The furnishings were sparse. Our dining room set was never a favorite of mine, and I eventually found a great deal on a complete cherry Thomasville dining room set at a nearby Habitat for Humanity. The cost of an original set would have been many, many thousands, a price that I never would have paid; but after some patience and hard bargaining, I was eventually able to purchase the set for only several hundred dollars! I love the traditional look; but more important to me is that the furniture allows the development of the tradition of a sit-down formal dinner, one in which all guests become involved in one great conversation. As vital as the meal is to the success of these parties, the conversation, laughs and fellowship are by far the most important to me.
Today it seems rare to enjoy sit-down dinners with fulsome conversation. More likely are catch-as-catch-can meals because of everyone’s crazy schedules, or dinners at restaurants with intrusive technology. The latter results from either multiple televisions that each show a different sport, or diners playing with their cell phones. In both scenarios conversation is not paramount, nor, it seems, are the people.
At the onset of my dinner party tradition, I knew I did not want a buffet-style meal, because that does not produce nearly the fellowship as the ONE BIG conversation does with everyone gathered around each other. I’ve written about my love for this experience elsewhere. We do not talk politics; instead, we talk about other things much more important–such as, well, life! I love to hold court, from my seat at the head of the table. And as is my wont, I may provoke a spirited discussion with a challenging or probing question (Dr. Gower can attest to this!), one that some might refer to as “Tom’s land mine.” For example, I asked Donald if he remembered his first kiss. At that question, his wife Betsy immediately whipped her head toward him, making him rapidly move his nervous eyes back and forth between his wife and his “friend” :-). Giggles were spreading among the guests, which included, Phil and Lois, Dan and Maura, Harold and Janet, Vinnie and Remo (not together, haha)
Pork tenderloin was the main course
The accompanying side dishes included root vegetable bisque; mashed cauliflower w/grass-fed Irish butter, pecorino-romano cheese and bacon; mashed rutabaga with chicken stock paste and bacon; brown rice casserole w/diced sweet sausage, asparagus and pecorino-romano cheese; sweet potato casserole w/caramelized pecans, grass-fed butter and maple syrup; caramelized onions; chocolate-toffee brickle. Maura made a delicious crab dip for appetizer; Betsy brought a shrimp appetizer and Vinnie brought a welcome spinach dip in a beautifully carved out round bread; Remo brought his favored, fortified Fortissimo red wine; Harold and Janet brought a fine port wine to top off the evening. Dan, Maura and Vinnie arrived early to help me setup, as the dining room table needed a strategic layout.
The kitchen is full-bore chaos, because preparing that many courses for that many people is always a challenge with the limited countertop space. Last year I deputized Dan as my first-mate in the kitchen, and his help has proved significant and very, very welcome (with the addition of his two arms, I now have twelve!). Vinnie has also been helpful, and has done so with much enthusiasm. And then, after what seems like an interminable period, the meal is ready for presentation!
To some, the repeated knocking of serving and eating utensils against serving dishes and dinner plates sounds like a disorganized cacophony; but to me, those sounds represent a harmonious symphony of enjoyment that, when combined with compliments and great conversation, give me great joy! I’ve read that chefs value the pleasure of their guests over their dishes, and I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. The growing potential energy within us is suddenly released, as the food draws each of us to the meal and therefore to each other. Relationships form so that strangers become friends, or existing friendships deepen as described in the book of Sirach (6:13-17)
Friendship, False and True
“Keep away from your enemies; be on your guard with your friends.
A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth.
A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds;
For he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself.”
So, say “hello” to my Friends:
This experience makes each of us an ingredient in a new and unique recipe of humanity. I’ve often described this thought to Dan after he and I have finished one of our “conversations,” especially those that involve our new radio program (“The 13th Apostle,” streaming every Saturday morning from 11:30-12:00 on WQPHradio.org). I’ve told him that he has his “Dan” ingredients and I have those that make up “Tom,” and when we blend them together we have a great discussion “recipe” that gives us (and others, we hope!) joy.
At dinner’s end, I don’t typically have a centerpiece dessert (I may add that to the tradition next year…); so the lack of that energetic hub causes the group to break up into smaller ones, all of which ultimately portends to the inevitable “good-bye”–and huge mess to clean up–for the next few days!
The joy I receive from this event makes all the effort worthwhile, and has made me want to begin a “dinner table ministry” through my church (St. Mary’s Parish, Barnegat, NJ). That effort could help lead more of my parish brothers and sisters–and me–to a deeper faith along our religious pilgrimage. These events would help us to engage in “Remembrance,” reliving the experiences of our earliest Christian relatives with their “church” communities.
How about you? Do you have special meals during the year, however simple or fancy, that bring people together in the spirit of good will and give thanks to loving Source of all that is good? I welcome your stories, and especially your BIG conversations.
God bless you.