Table manners

Published 11:18 am Saturday, July 28, 2018

by Nathan Decker

“I prefer the Chinese method of eating….You can do anything at the table except arm wrestle.”
-Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet

My mother insisted. I didn’t want to go, but ‘mama said’ and that settled it. My mother tried her best to instill in me a better etiquette than she or my father were raised (keep in mind I come from poor hillbillies in the Ozark Mountains.) The basic rules at our house were no elbows on the table, say excuse me after any bodily function, and dogs were allowed in the house, but not under the table. We didn’t pay attention to the different sized forks. Napkins and shirt sleeves were sometimes interchangeable in functionality. And conversations about politics and other disgusting subjects seemed to be encouraged by my dad.

My mother insisted that one of my uncles take me to “one of those high dollar places” and teach me proper manners and etiquette. I was so nervous and uncomfortable. I had to wear a tie. I don’t remember what we ordered; I do remember the gentleness with which my uncle attempted to tame the mustang into a show pony.

He had endless patience when it came to showing me how to place my napkin, how to pick up the glass of water, and which forks were used for each dish.

Once the meal was finished, and we were walking to the car, my uncle said the most profound thing: “you know it doesn’t change the taste of the meal by how you eat it, but it does change how you can relate to other people.”

Every church has unwritten rules, manners, and etiquette. For some it has to do with how we dress or act. Others have to do with who is invited, included, and shunned. All of these have less to do with faith, the Bible, or Jesus than our own insecurities, prejudices, and misconceptions. Church is not about rules, limitations, who is in and who is out, or from what social status we come.

As Church, we teach one another how to love God, love one another, and be like Christ. And, yes, there are some table manners on which we need to focus. When we gather at the table to receive the grace and forgiveness God has shared – we are called to look at how we are relating to one another as human beings. Jesus isn’t worried about whether we dip, sip, or drink when we take communion; he is concerned with holding us accountable to being compassionate with the poor. Christ’s disciples didn’t even wash their hands, and while that bothered the Pharisee; Jesus was more concerned with the fact people were hungry.

As a disciple of Jesus, our priority is always the relationship we have with God, people, and all creation. Church, like a mother, must insist that we worship God, love people, and care for the creation as an extension of the table manners.

It doesn’t change the taste of the meal by how we eat it, but it does change how we relate to one another. Having some table manners that we take into the world isn’t a bad thing. After all – it’s what Jesus would do.

“Go to the highways and back alleys and urge people to come in so that my house will be filled.”
-Luke 14:23

NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.