Liberals and conservatives. Supporters of Donald Trump and supporters of Joe Biden. Men and women. Native-born Americans and recent immigrants. Gays and straights. There is much that divides us. But good things happen when people sit down and eat together.
Eugene Scalia is the U.S. secretary of labor, and he recently wrote a column about the friendship between his father, Antonin Scalia, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Both served until their deaths as Supreme Court justices. The two could not have been more different: Scalia was a Christian and Ginsburg was a Jew. Scalia was very conservative and Ginsburg was very liberal. But they, and their families, had a very close relationship. In fact, since the 1980s, they usually celebrated New Years together.
Dinner at the Ginsburg’s
At these dinners, Justice Ginsburg’s husband Marty would prepare dinner. Sometimes he would prepare venison or boar that Justice Scalia had shot on a recent hunting trip. The families would drink champagne, listen to opera, and enjoy each other’s company. Scalia and Ginsburg were both New Yorkers and “they liked a lot of the same things,” says Eugene Scalia: “the law, teaching, travel, music and a meal with family and friends.”
They respected each other, and, even more importantly, they loved each other. And this love extended to their spouses. Marty Ginsburg had a “powerful love and dedication to his wife,” says Eugene Scalia. “He was a cherished friend for my mother.”
But this respect and love did not mean that the two justices agreed with each other. Ginsburg was a “pioneering advocate for women’s rights.” Scalia was “a critic of activist courts.” Ginsburg dismissed one of his arguments as “outlandish.” He said that one of her opinions was “politics smuggled into law.”
But they never condemned or ostracized each other. They learned from each other and knew that their debates were part of what makes our democracy great. Good things happen when people sit down and eat together.
In my novel City of Peace, an immigrant couple named Sofia and Youssef Ayad, Coptic Christians from Egypt, invite a Methodist pastor named Harley Camden over for dinner in the Town of Occoquan, Virginia. Harley had suffered the loss of his wife and daughter in a European terrorist attack.
“This food is delicious,” says Harley to Sofia. “Thank you very much. It all seems very healthy.”
“Food is important to us,” Sofia says. “Think of the many times that Jesus sat down to eat with people—even tax collectors and sinners. Christian hospitality is very important to Youssef and me.”
“I do appreciate it,” Harley adds. “Think of how much better the world would be if people actually sat down and ate with each other.”
“No doubt about it,” agrees Youssef. “The Bayatis have become some of our closest friends here in Occoquan, largely because we have shared so many meals. Back in Egypt, Christians and Muslims are getting together less and less, which has caused the animosity and violence to increase. Did you hear about the attack last December in Cairo?”
“No, I missed that,” admits Harley.
“A suicide bomber attacked St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. More than two dozen worshipers were killed, including a ten-year-old girl.”
“It was horrible,” Sofia says, shaking her head. “The worst attack on Copts in years. The Islamic State claimed responsibility.”
“How did the Copts respond?” asks Harley.
“With increased security, of course,” says Youssef. “But also with prayer—prayers for the victims, and for their attackers.”
Harley is impressed that the Coptic community could respond with prayer for such evildoers. Thinking back over the past year, he hadn’t said a single prayer for the terrorists who killed his wife and daughter. And yet he knows that Jesus commanded his followers to pray for the people who persecuted them.
When have you seen good things happen when people sit down and eat together? How can shared meals build bridges in our polarized society? Join the conversation through a comment below.