Draft Dodgers and War Veterans: Eating Away Their Differences
Updated: Mar 15
Have you ever invited someone over for dinner at your house with whom you were at complete odds politically?
Hmm. We don't see so much of that nowadays, do we?
Without being able to interact with people online, we used to set up face-to-face physical meetings in our homes. Sure, we talked to people plenty through our wired-into-the-wall telephones, but these were often cut short by our party line neighbors constantly picking up their receivers and injecting loud sighs into our conversations as a signal for us to hang up and give them the line. So, our only way to have a lengthy, satisfying visit with people was to meet up with them in person. These were actual 3-D scenarios in which we shook real people hands and hugged real people bodies.
I remember one family in particular--relatives from my dad's side--whom we saw regularly. The parents, Elvie and Charlie, were older than my mom and dad, and their kids were teenagers when my brother was a baby and my sister and I were early school-agers. Our family friendship began when we moved to Montana in 1969, right in the throes of the Vietnam war era.
These were the days when the Republican and Democrat labels didn't signify quite the same ideals as they do now. Although my parents considered themselves democrats in the Nixon era (Tricky Dick, they called him), they were right-wing Christian conservatives according to 21st century definition. Elvie's worldview, however would have placed her squarely in today's leftist liberal camp.
And therein lay the political gulf between my retired army dad and draft-dodger sympathizer Elvie. Dad, as a purple heart recipient in the Korean War, was disgusted with the idea of young men fleeing to Canada to dodge the draft. Elvie, on the other hand, claimed she would gladly harbor dodgers in her home on their way north through Montana. Dad counterclaimed that he'd turn them in.
Our frequent family visits were punctuated with this prickly Vietnam War talk as well as other societal points of contention for a conservative and liberal to disagree on. Feminism, the hippie movement and marijuana-smoking all entered the discussions that could get a little heated once in a while. But nobody felt threatened, and the conversation would inevitably turn to other topics. To all the other myriads of things the adults had in common--the stuff of real and rich lives.
Maybe their easy acceptance of difference was because no one had melded their political viewpoints in with their faith yet. Our families attended the same church, yet Elvie and Charlie's liberal political leanings didn't cause my parents to doubt their faith.
Elvie's political ideals might have been square pegs in my parents' round opinion holes, but the hand-sewn pajamas she gifted us with each Christmas fit us like gloves. The love she stitched into her gifts for us spoke louder than her opinions ever could. I would have missed out on a formative relationship if my parents had decided to be offended by her and canceled her from our lives.
Our families' opinion divide was easily navigable for people who had not been raised to disrespect someone just because they had a different viewpoint. And, who could hold a grudge around a kitchen table laden with delicious food, anyway? Mom's good bread and casseroles, and Elvie's lard-flaky crusted pies kept us all anchored to the table of fellowship--a place where diversity of thought incites patience, self control, respect, love, and, therefore, growth in Christ.
It's no coincidence that linguists can trace the usage of the idiom, to break bread with someone back to bible times. Then, as now, this phrase refers to sharing "...a meaningful connection over a meal, often bringing together two people or groups who previously had reason to be disconnected."2
Mom and Dad had no idea back then that they were metaphorical linguistics scientists, modeling for us the elements of idiomatic phraseology.
And, they also had no idea that politics could be attached to identity.
They just enjoyed having people over for dinner.
The act of sharing a meal with others carried significance beyond mere eating in Jesus' day. Culturally, it signified friendship, unity and intimacy. These qualities were reinforced by the customary seating arrangement in homes at that time. Meals were served on low tables around which people gathered to eat from common bowls. They had to stretch out in a reclining position on mats and cushions while using their hands and bread portions as eating utensils.
The wealthier homes treated guests to foofier cushions and couch-type options in their dining areas. But, whether a meal was eaten among the wealthy or poor, it was not a grab-and-go affair. The invention of takeout containers was still a couple millennia away.
Without modern stoves, refrigerators, slow cookers, air fryers, instapots, toaster ovens and George Foreman, the meal selections were generally simple. A typical dinner might consist of things such as lentil stew seasoned with herbs, sheep or goats' milk cheese, olives, onions, fresh and dried fruits and, of course, the ever-present bread.
Yes, always, there was bread. According to the Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, "No meal was considered complete without bread. 'Indeed, in a sense, it constituted the meal.'"1
Knowing, then, that bread was a staple in every meal in Jesus' day, helps us truly grasp the beautiful symbolism behind Jesus' declaration that he is the Bread of Life. When we gather together with others around a dinner table, sharing our perspectives on both spiritual and earthly issues, we are not only enjoying the daily food he has provided for us that day, we are also feasting on him, the Creator and Sustainer of everything present in that moment.
He is our staple and the one from which all our perspectives and resulting actions toward others should be fueled.
So then, we have been freed in order to feed others.
It wasn't just Elvie and Charlie who came for dinner to our house when I was a kid. By simply filling our home with the smell of her cooking and the feel of her love, Mom attracted all kinds of people. She casually hosted a steady stream of neighbors, relatives, and occasional strangers without ever resorting to marketing ploys or baiting.
When it came to her Christian faith, her hospitality was the net that drew big fish and small fish alike in, and her fresh, aromatic bread did the talking for her.
Like the day when Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Richard arrived for a weekend visit. I remember skipping into the kitchen and seeing them sitting at the table, talking to Mom while she was cutting into one of her fresh loaves. I was surprised to see the loaf was already half gone even though it had barely cooled.
“Man, this is good, Phyllis,” Uncle Richard spoke around a thick slice heaped with butter. He leaned over the small plate Mom served it on and chewed with the chomping gusto so characteristic of my dad’s side of the family. “Haven’t had homemade bread like this in years,” he said between loud chews. “Wouldn’t mind just one more piece if you have it there.”
“Richard, you’re spoiling your appetite for dinner,” Aunt Dorothy said with a frown.
Uncle Richard, lost in the taste and smell and texture of Mom’s wonderful bread, was oblivious to his wife’s admonishment.
He was also oblivious to his young niece’s shocked look. I couldn’t believe he had eaten what would have been several sandwiches’ worth of bread in such a short time. We would never have been allowed that much at once. But Mom, ever hospitable, kept doling out the slices to her appreciative brother-in-law without reserve.
And so, Jesus serves himself to us without reserve.
We can only hope we consume enough of him to spoil our appetite for worldly offerings.
1. Tenney, Merrill C. The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary. Zondervan Publishing House, 1963.