A Feature Review of:
From Tablet to Table: Where Community is Found and Identity is Formed
Hardback: NavPress, 2015
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
Reviewed by Andrew Camp
I was raised at the table. Every morning and every evening, I, along with my three sisters, were required to be at the table to have breakfast and dinner together, even when one of us had to be at school at 7:00 am. I don’t remember much of what was shared or talked about each breakfast and dinner, but I do remember the table being a very safe place, a place where no matter what had transpired throughout the day, when we sat down together as a family, I was in a sanctuary.
The primacy to which my parents gave the table has greatly informed my understanding of life, God and Church. When I set out on my own, I wanted the table to be central to how I lived and practiced the same hospitality my parents so generously exhibited. As I enjoyed table fellowship with others, whether in my home or in their home, I became curious as to why we were more than content to linger around the dining room table, sometimes sitting in less than comfortable chairs, long after the meal was consumed, when the living room furniture was just a few steps away.
This curiosity has developed into a passion of mine over the past ten years. The Lord has led me on an incredible journey into the world of food, eating, table fellowship, Eucharistic theology. And I am not alone in this journey. Over the past five years, more and more Christians are talking about food and the table and its substantial role it can play in the life of the church and the spiritual development of the individual (authors like Rachel Marie Stone, Norman Wirzba, Chris Smith and John Pattison, and Barry Jones, just to name a few).
Therefore, I was eager to read Leonard Sweet’s newest book, From Tablet to Table: where Community is Found and Identity is Formed (NavPress, 2014).
We have become a culture obsessed with speed, from fast electronic devices to fast food to even fast Christianity. According to Sweet, many Christians, including himself and myself, have unknowingly suffered and continue to suffer “from a serious and stealthy illness: versitis” (24). Like Leonard Sweet, I too was raised in this culture of sword drills, memory verse prizes, the Roman Road, memory verse flash cards, and much more.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me – memorizing Scripture is a good thing (Deut. 6:4-9; Josh. 1:8; Ps. 119:11). The issue becomes, according to Sweet, “because of our versitis, the Bible is too often stripped of story and mined for minutiae; it becomes not the ‘greatest story ever told’ but the greatest story never told, or half-told” (28).
But we as humans were made for story. “At the core of who we are, we crave a narraphor (a story made with metaphors that help us understand the world, ourselves, and God better)” (3). Instead of telling and retelling the grand, over-arching Kingdom story of the whole Bible, we have tried to nourish our Christian faith on info, tidbits, fast-paced, easy to digest truths.
The solution to this problem for Sweet is to bring back the table. Why? “At the table, where food and stories are passed from one person to another and one generation to another, is where each of us learns who we are, where we come from, what we can be, to whom we belong, and to what we are called” (8). Sadly American culture has forgotten the power of homegrown, indigenous stories in shaping our identity. Instead the story that shapes us is driven by mass media and the story they sell is one of who you associate with, what you wear, what you drive, where you live, etc.
In the first half of From Tablet to Table, Sweet lays out his foundation for the importance of story in Christian spiritual formation and the central role of the table in story telling, for “Christian identity formation is a process of soul making that comes through story shaping” (58, emphasis original). Formation through story began with Israel when God instituted the Passover and carries through with the institution of the Eucharist. In both cases, a story is to be proclaimed each and every time either is celebrated. The point of the story proclamation is that in the retelling we as celebrants become participants in the story. It is not just a story that happened long ago, but a story that continues to take place and continues to shape all of us in the most profound manners.