From Tablet To Table –Where Community is Found and Identity is Formed by Leonard Sweet
In the spirit of Jesus’ open table, Len Sweet’s latest gift-sized book, From Tablet to Table (171 pages including the notes at the end) is so engaging that I read it in one sitting, late at night, forgetting that I had to be up at 5 am the next day. Part of the reason that I couldn’t put the book down was that it demonstrated how our everyday lives are filled with the possibility of transcendent moments. My heart warmed at the thought that common foods, everyday objects, familiar faces, and routine places can become the grist of wholeness and holiness.
Jesus led the way to an “open table” lifestyle. He broke through barriers, both religious and social, welcoming to the table all those who would eat with Him. Jesus’ table changed relationships. Where the table may have been non-existent, restricted, or strictly formal, Jesus made the table family-friendly –and all those around the table family, effecting a gigantic shift in the paradigm of His day of what defines community.
Most of all, it’s the storytelling at the table that provides the most intimate and profound effect on those present at the meal, especially our young people. According to Len Sweet, “The best place to tell a story is at the table.” Here are his words:
When you tell a story, you are transferring your experiences to the brains of those listening; they feel what you feel, think what you think, smell what you smell.
You are teleporting your story to their brains…Our stories should point not just to ourselves but to Christ.
If storytelling is brain-syncing, then telling God’s story is God-syncing.
As we gather around the table, we learn to live well-storied lives, and to connect our story to God’s story.
At the table is where a child’s identity is formed. And a strong identity allows a young person the freedom to be creative, entrepreneurial, and innovative, rather than consumed with trying to find and create his or her own identity.
The book also touches on cultural and personal issues relating to food and the family table. Among them are the difficulties in arranging family meal times, learning how to wisely combine the ministries of the communion table and the fellowship table at Church, and learning how an open, Christ-present table can be set for anyone, anywhere in the world. Len Sweet reminds us that Christians can set the table everywhere, because the Church is not a place. It’s a body of people who love the Lord and also love the lost.
Inspired by this book, a group of friends and I gathered for a meal and book discussion. We combined the discussion with a youtube video of Dr. Sweet’s lecture at Tabor College in Wichita, Kansas called “Bring Back the Table.” You can watch it here now:
It was a wonderful evening. The video was great, the food was amazing, and the conversation was passionate. There is no doubt that the subject of the table is important to people. It certainly was to Jesus. Indeed, it was so important to Jesus that he instituted a sacrament around it. Filled with good things to sustain us, I believe From Tablet to Table deserves yourdelighted attention too!
Here are some discussion questions to help you get stated. Feel free to comment on any of them, or better yet, serve up some of your own! The table is open.
- On page 2 we read: “Christianity in the West is suffering from an identity crisis,” and that “The table is the place where identity is born –the place where the story of our lives is retold, re-minded, and relived.” (pg. 3). What is your reaction to these statements? Can you think of an experience in which your identity has been molded at the table?
- Dr. Sweet writes, “Our identity has become so fluid that we are drowning in celebrity fixations, wishy-washy from our consumerist lifestyles and diluted in our discipleship.” (pg 47). Who are the celebrities in your culture? How does consumerism affect your lifestyle? How do these affect your life and discipleship?
- On page 28, we learn about “St. Nicodemus.” Dr. Sweet calls him the patron saint of all those suffering from “versitis.” “Versitis” sufferers are those who cannot make the transfer from a word-dependent understanding of scripture to the fullness of a story and image-rich narraphoric (narrative plus metaphor = narraphor) presentation of the scriptures. According to Dr. Sweet, narraphors help us to inhabit and understand the truths of scripture. Do you struggle with versitis? How can reading the scriptures “narraphorically” enrich the Stories of Jesus for you around the table?
- Dr. Sweet tells us that “the table is the best place for storytelling.” Do you have a favorite story in scripture, or perhaps a favorite family story that you love to share at the table? Does your story point to Christ? Is there a place for Jesus at your table?
Please add your own comments and questions! Thank you for sharing this table with me this week!