Level Ground is bringing a dinner party to Nashville because the table is where we do the work. For strangers, it is a barometer of whether we are welcome or not. For people of faith, it is a familiar ritual, recalling memories of time spent at Wednesday night dinners or after Church potlucks. Of all the references to "preparing the table" in Christian scriptures, this particular dinner was prepared with two in mind. In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out the disciples and instructs them to share the good news where they are welcomed, i.e. where there is a place prepared for them. Where they are not welcome, they are told to move on. Jesus makes it clear that preparing the table is what one ought to do. it is an ethical claim. The second is Psalms 23 which reveals such a beautiful irony that has powerful implications for our world. The Psalmist is marveling at the contradictions between his troubles and the opportunity for rest and abundance. He is doing the work to make this world a better place.
We, too, are doing holy work when we create spaces of respite and richness for the laborers.
All of the elements of a dinner party - the seats, the table, the food, the decor - are incredible binding agents.
The dinner will include a "Radical Manners Gallery," which is a collection of photographs, edited print material and video about etiquette and hospitality to view before dinner. Throughout the day festival attendees will be able to add to the gallery by collaboratively editing more printed materials from old school etiquette books and taking photographs that represent how hospitality can help us to build relationships.
It is simple, yet profound in 2016 to be talking about ways to build a bigger beloved community.
The food will be unapologetically southern. The shrimp and grits, peach cobbler and sweat tea will be a conduit for us to concurrently pay homage to our Southern ancestors and begin to write new narratives of the land. We'll eat shrimp and grits to honor our southern waters that destroy and heal. We'll sip on sweet tea as if it were the nectar that connects us to our roots. And if only for these few moments, we will be in and of time; creating what's next from leftovers. The full range of emotions, the various accounts of history and all of the theories of change will be present and accounted for. The point of moments like these is to develop an unshakable tolerance for contradictions and ambiguity. Then when are bellies are full of southern goodness, we will be nourished for the work ahead.