Friday, May 25, 2012

Dinner with Jesus and the CEO

The communion table is the ultimate Christian dinner table.
Wait, is that a can of Red Bull? (Photo by Tom Gaulke)
A few weeks ago I participated in a workshop at the Chicago Temple called “Resetting the Table”. It opened with a theological reflection from a professor at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in which our 21st century American society was compared to sitting down around a table for dinner. The professor posed 5 questions:
·         Who gets to sit at the table?
·         How are the seats arranged?
·         Do the elements served nourish the body?
·         What bonds are formed around the table?
·         And in whose name is the meal blessed?

Considering that I live in a co-op with seven roommates, these questions have quite direct implications on how I eat my kale and pasta at night.

The other important consideration is that this symposium took place only two weeks before NATO came to Chicago and in the middle of a national effort to get into shareholder meetings of the country’s largest companies. And about a week after the United Methodist Church General Conference.

Generally, I like to like to imagine that people get an equal shot to come to the dinner table; that no one has a more important seat than another; that the meal will help keep me healthy; that I become closer to the folks slurping soup around me; and we bless the meal in the name of God, our Creator and Redeemer. I like to think that generally our democratic systems in government, corporations, and churches run this way, too, though maybe in more secular terms for government and in corporations.

But that’s not the way it often works. Here’s an example.

On May 23 the CME Group, also known as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, held its shareholders’ meeting at the iconic Chicago Board of Trade building. To give you an idea of how important that is, Forbes Magazine called CME one of "the four companies that control the 140 companies that own everything.”  Corporations are ultimately accountable to the shareholders that own the corporation’s stock, so this was a big deal.

Last year CME Group threatened to leave the state of Illinois unless it received a billion dollars in tax breaks over the next 15 years. Illinois was and is facing record budget deficits, and now the state legislature is looking to cut $1.6 billion dollars of funding for health care for the poorest people in Illinois. Despite this fact, the legislature gave in to the CME’s demands and Illinois residents will pay the ransom for years to come.

That meal is poison for a state with the third-highest home foreclosure rate in the United States. How were the seats around that decision-making table set? In whose name was that meal blessed?

We live in a world where many, many people only have access to the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table. People of color, people without proper immigration documents, people with felony convictions, people who are attracted to the folks of the same sex, perpetually can’t eat at this dinner table. In fact, very few of us can eat at that dinner table.

Stamp on the hand of a friend who entered
the CME Group shareholder meeting. 
(Photo by Joe Hopkins)
Several people I know tried to go to the dinner table at the CME’s shareholder meeting. They had to show that they had shares of stock, and then their hands were stamped to show that they had only one share. When they asked the CEO about how nourishing the elements are for the people of Illinois, they were rebuffed. It was clear in whose name the meal was blessed.

I know that many people are debating the role of public protests this spring. Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement have people talking about it. When is it okay to set up tents in a public park? Is it out of order to keep singing in the middle of General Conference?

Jesus talked a lot about the dinner table, in fact a lot more than he did about homosexuality. And when Jesus talked about the dinner table, he included the despised people who normally would never eat with a CEO or a defense minister. And Jesus even deliberately disobeyed the rules during dinner.

Dear friends, let’s look at our dinner tables. Who gets to eat there? How are the seats arranged? Is the food good to eat? Are we becoming closer together as children of God? Do we take God’s name seriously when we say grace? I think we will find heartbreaking answers to these questions if we answer them honestly.

However, I know that the Spirit of God moves around the dinner table. The doors will burst open, and it won’t even matter what language you speak or what your immigration status is or what crime you were convicted for or who you have sex with. God is so much bigger than all of that.

And when you feel that Spirit whip around in tongues of fire, how will you respond?

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