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.
Henry,I think of the fast breaking dinner I shared with our Muslin friends.You and Nancy were there, as well as Yena, and maybe some others.
I was supposed to arrive early enough to be in the service beforehand.I got delayed in my directions. They needed to be more precise for me.
When I finally arrived,I could see I was not in time for the service inside.The tables and chairs were set up outside In a clear summer night.The moon was full, and it was about the most perfect evening I ever remember.There prevailed an atmosphere of peaceful people setting up a dinner buffet as others arrived. It was men setting up the food and severing. This was totally opposite from the way we would do it at FPC .
The delicious fragrance of the food was inviting, as well as the pleasantness of the people. I looked around to find people furthest from where I was entering, and I joined a table that was beginning to fill. Never have I been a shy person. I was very comfortable to make sure I was In the middle of the table to be surrounded by whoever came to sit with us.
I sat down smiling, and introduced myself.Soon I found no one spoke English. I did a lot of smiling, and they did too.A smile,I’ve read, is understood in any language.That night I found it to be true with these Muslim speaking people, and this English speaking lady.
Soon more people arrived, and some were from Clifton Presbyterian.And then a Muslim lady who was a teacher. She spoke English.There was now hope I would learn more about my new friends.
At some point, we were invited to the buffet. They had prepared a delicious beef stew, and rice pilaf.Then there was a sweet desert like baklava. The Turkish coffee was rich, and very good.I hunger for another meal like that soon.
The people from Clifton had been to one of their fast breaking dinners several times. They carried on a conversation with the English speaking teacher for all of us to enjoy. I have not learned the art of dinner conversation while eating with people I don’t usually dine with. I can talk or eat, not both.Usually,I prefer to talk, taking my food with me at a restaurant. You can attest to this.That night I ate, enjoying the conversation.
I have been all over the world with Monte on business.I have enjoyed dinner with many people who did not speak English. Some dinners have been lavish.One other I think of was in Rome.It too was outdoors under the stars with delicious food, good wine, conversation, opera singers, and ending in fire works.It is second best.What was the difference ?
It was something more beautiful we had in common that brought us together.Something far more beautiful than aviation.
It was GOD.
GOD IS LOVE.
Where GOD is, there is Love.