Tuesday, 20 September 2011



Companions, Lords and Ladies


These three words are linked by loaves.  A companion is someone with (cum) whom one shares a loaf (panis), a lord is a “loaf-ward” – he looks after one’s loaf, and a lady is a “loaf-arranger” – she arranges for one to receive a loaf.

I’m thinking right now about three situations in which loaves and other food are shared, and i’d like to compare them:  shared meals and refreshments in a neighbourhood, shared lunches at a home ed group and shared bread and wine in Communion.  This is going to be mainly anthropological, but I can’t avoid some Christian elements and i’m not ashamed of them, so here we go.

I’m involved in two church initiatives involving food and the neighbourhood.  One of them is a late night cafe where we provide hot drinks, soup, crisps and biscuits to anyone who wishes to drop in.  These people are generally not Christian, so in a sense they are outsiders to us, but the act of offering these things to them is a good thing in itself and provides an opportunity for companionship, both between us and them and among themselves.  The other is a fortnightly breakfast at church including members and non-members, and is of course substantially about food and companionship.  It’s more mixed than the late night cafe, so to us within the church it’s the sharing of a meal with fellow Christians, and to those outside the church it’s the sharing of a meal within the community.

Then there’s Communion.  This is a lot of things, but one of its meanings to me is that it’s a symbolic shared meal with other people in our church, other churches on the planet, Christians in the past back to the Last Supper, Christ, and further back still to the Passover meal celebrated for centuries before that.  It’s also sharing a meal with all future Christians and with Christ in eternity, the eternal feast in Heaven where everyone will have what they need, freely given.  Everyone will be fed.

All of these meals, regardless of religious perspective, have the effect of binding people together through eating food together.  If you’re not Christian, you can lay aside what you doubtless see as my freaky God-bothering and just look at it as a social phenomenon:  we define and bond our group through food and drink and we also invite others to share with us.  This is even true of communion.

There is another shared meal in our experience as a family whose children don’t go to school, at the regular Tuesday meeting which as it happens also takes place in a church.  There, people cook lunch together and share it.  In my mind, the genuine obligation exists not to eat without providing food or at least contributing in another way.  This shared meal, like the others, is also bonding.  However, unlike the others, there is a barrier between me and the people who share, for two reasons.  Since i’m duty-bound to contribute to the meal, providing food cost me money, and since for us money is in short supply, this made it harder to eat for the rest of the week.  Also, the children in this family have been reluctant to eat the food provided.  Therefore, we didn’t share the meal with the others, placing us in the outgroup.  It meant we were not included in the sharing and interaction and had to sit there hungry while most other people shared a meal.  Not only that, but the food i offered was regarded as a nuisance and rejected.  Consequently, we have been pushed out of the group by the sharing of a meal.

To a degree, we are at least perceived as doing the same thing as Christians, though we are working against it.  I contribute to the shared breakfast and the late night cafe, but for some reason i don’t experience that contribution as onerous, unlike my contribution to the shared lunch.  I would also say that evangelism is “one beggar telling another where to find a crust of bread”, and that the parable of the banquet involved going out into the highways and byways and inviting people in to share.

This calls to mind another aspect of families whose children are not on a school roll.  It’s very tempting for us to become a clique and see ourselves as somehow special.  In reality, as i’ve said many times before, the vast majority of children in England are educated otherwise than at school for the majority of their childhood.  It also benefits those who are opposed to what we do to consider us an isolated clique or elite.  Therefore, the shared lunch which pushed us out may actually not only be entirely typical of a home ed group, but play into the hands of those who would seek to destroy what we do.