Monday, January 28, 2013

Bread and Life

Two weekends ago, Jan and I participated in a forum on food, creativity, and togetherness called A Place at the Table. The event was put on by a group of local artists called Friday Arts Project. We were blessed to be able to help, in a small way, our friends organize and put on this event. A Place at the Table brought together  nationally known speakers such as Molly O'Neill, Peter Reinhart, Tom Hanchett, and local barbeque provocateur Dan Huntley. We experienced a number of thought provoking talks, a film about food and community in New Orleans, and some absolutely fantastic food.

Peter Reinhart is a professor at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte and is considered an expert on all things bread. On Saturday, he gave a talk on bread. That's right. Bread. As Reinhart said, all writing about food is about something else, so his talk was about much more than just bread. The talk was titled, "The Leaven Factor: Bread as a Living Symbol of Who We Are as a People." The theme was bread as a universal symbol of connectedness. I hope my thoughts here do his talk justice.

The word "companion" comes from two root words meaning "with" and "bread," therefore a companion is "one with whom we break bread." Breaking bread with a person means that you accept them. It also means that you are willing to share your life with them and make yourself vulnerable. As I wrote in Table As Truth, the masks come off around the table. Sharing food with another takes us out of ourselves, if only for a little while, and allows the other to get a peek behind the curtain.

The way we get bread is a metaphor for life, especially the life of faith. When the grain is ground into flour it dies. That is the first step. In leavened bread, yeast is then added. Yeast is a living thing that brings life to the flour. As the yeast works, the flour is transformed into dough. The dough rises and is kneaded into the shape the baker wants. Then the dough is placed into the oven to be baked. During the baking process there again is death. The yeast is killed by the heat of the oven so the bread can bake without growing anymore.

After the bread has baked, it is then ready to be a source of nourishment. The death in the baking process is necessary in order for the bread to be something that is good to eat. I don't know too many people that eat dough on a regular basis. It just doesn't seem to have the same appeal as a warm loaf of bread. Henri Nouwen, in Life of the Beloved, speaks of the bread used in communion and how it is taken, blessed, broken, and given. The bread must be broken before it can be given.

Life as a follower of Jesus is much the same. Jesus said that whoever wants to find their life must first lose it. We must die to our own ambitions, to our own way of living life, in order to be made alive in Christ. I don't see much in Scripture that tells us to come to Christ so all our problems will be solved, with everything we ever wanted in this life there for the taking. Jesus simply says, "Follow me," and then lets us know that doing so means we give everything else up. In dying to ourselves, we find that we have true, abundant life. It doesn't stop there though. The dying process is not a one time thing. Jesus calls us to take up our cross every day. That's more than just carrying a burden through life. As we go through our our day-to-day, we are called to die to what we want and do what our Lord wants. Like the dough in the oven, we die in order to be something that nourishes others. Like the communion bread, we are broken in order that we might be given. In the process, we are transformed, like the dough, into something that brings life to those who taste and glory to the One who shapes us and "bakes" us.

Let us not despise the grinding of the mill, the heat of the oven, or our brokenness. We can be assured that they are forming Christ within us and indeed making us bread for the world.

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