Putting the Bowl Back on the Table

By Dustin White

January 12, 2017

For four years running, I have gathered with my friends at the same dark bar every Wednesday night at the same time.

It’s a dark bar. It’s a dirty bar. I would dare describe it as an ugly bar.

But it is not a sleazy bar. The dimly lit room is cozy. The peanut shells and popcorn kernels that litter the floor are indicative of stories, laughter, tears (and of course beers), shared among friends new and old. A staple of this bar is a bowl of popcorn placed upon the center of your table as the bartender takes drink orders. It is at this point that I must pause…

This is no ordinary popcorn.

There is something about this popcorn. It’s not so much that it is even good popcorn—but there is something so unique and addicting within it that it creates an insatiable appetite for all who partake.

It’s that sort of popcorn.

Oddly enough, that popcorn has taught me so much about what the direction of our church ought to be. It has become the filter of how we as a community approach ministry. That popcorn bowl—suspect of being laced with PCP because of its addictive qualities—has become like the compass given by our Guide Jesus to the Kingdom He has called us to.

A little over a year ago, like any other night, I gathered there with four other friends. This was a pretty diverse group of friends crossing race, age, culture, and creeds. Pints were poured. Popcorn was devoured. Laughter was shared. The conversation began to shift from frivolity to the current racial climate within our city. We shared experiences, asked questions, and lamented over systemic inequalities and privilege.

I watched my friend shift through a fresh bowl of popcorn while he passionately shared about his experiences as a black man who had endured awful injustices. Without saying a word, I reached down, picked up the bowl of popcorn and cradled it under my arm.

The immediate shift in body language of the table indicated that there was a sever breech in etiquette on my part. Rashaud began to stammer in his words. All who were at the table grew more and more agitated by my actions. Finally, I asked “I’m sorry. Did you want some popcorn?” Rashaud let out a soft laugh of relief as he nodded and said “Yes.”

He then reached for the bowl and I immediately slapped his hand.

“Dude, you’re not getting the bowl back. Here…” I said as I handed him a few kernels.

His face became a cocktail of emotions—confusion mixed with incredulous disappointment.

What in the world does this have to do with Jesus and the mission of His people?

Simply this…

The popcorn bowl represents the resources within our communities needed for people to flourish. Systemic inequality takes the bowl from the table and places it within the arms of those with privilege. Sadly, the Church has often been the benefactor of injustice. Its pulpits have gained their power at the expense of others more often than the Holy Spirit. This may be a bit provocative, yet an honest survey of the landscape of the American Church would confirm this. Doling out meager kernels with people in need is called “service.”  A large handful of popcorn given out is called “generosity.” Yet, at the end of the day, those who need it most have no access to the bowl.

I suspect that when Paul spoke of God trusting His Church with both the message and ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5), dispensing kernels from our abundance was not was he had in mind.

Instead, we must begin to answer the question…

How can we put the bowl back on the table?

Within our congregation, we’ve still yet to find a definitive answer to that question. Instead, it has become a trial and error process. It has largely been a time of listening rather than doing. Yet, we believe that this is the work that Jesus envisioned for His Church. The remarkable thing is that it was through this conversation of popcorn and privilege that Rashaud was pointed to Jesus. In that dark and dirty bar, Rashaud said “yes” to Jesus and was imbued with a passion to follow Him.

We all, teary-eyed and slightly trembling asked the “what’s next?” question. Immediately, Rashaud responded… “We need to form some sort of alternative community where this Jesus-thing can happen. We need to form our own Jesus community where we can put the bowl back on the table.”

Amen.

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