by Laurie Gudim
In the story in which Jesus’ disciples come to him with 5,000 hungry people on their hearts and he says to them, “You give them something to eat,” we get a taste of the invitation to offer abundance, not out of our own resources but out of God’s. It has often been said that the miracle here isn’t so much that the multitude is fed but that community is built. People sit down together to eat. They share what they have. There are so many leftovers after this meal that twelve baskets of scraps are collected.
In our town there is a not-for-profit restaurant called the FOCO Café (www.fococafe.org). FOCO stands for “Feeding Our Community Ourselves.” It’s a cafeteria style restaurant for which the menu is created each day after the chef sees what produce he has available. You pay for your meal by slipping a check or cash into a wooden box with a slot in it or you make a donation with your credit card via a Square terminal. You are the only person who knows how much or little you have given.
The food is delicious and of the highest quality: organic, locally grown produce and meats that are transformed into vegan, vegetarian or high-protein soups and salads, some of which are gluten free. The belief of the founders, Jeff and Kathleen Baumgardner, is that all people regardless of their socioeconomic status deserve good, nutritious food.
But the genius of the Café is that it creates community. People generously donate food, equipment and hours of service. If you can’t pay for your meal, you can help out in the kitchen or you can serenade the diners with your accordion. Everybody eats together. People with limited resources rub elbows with the town’s elite. Everyone has a place in this little kingdom.
My town loves this place. It is always crowded and always there are lots of volunteers. In addition people are coming from many neighboring communities to eat here, to see how the café is run, to consider if it is something they might want to do in their own towns.
Creating community is the Christian Way, especially community in which all people are offered the same nutritious abundance. “You give them something to eat,” Jesus told his disciples, and when we remember his words and generously put them into effect, we are living the Gospel message. The kingdom of heaven comes near a community in which everyone shares so fully.
And yet I find myself a little hesitant to buy into this vision fully. In the story from the Gospel of Matthew the disciples hand their bread and fish to Jesus, and it is Jesus who distributes them to the crowd. The disciples give everything they have brought, and God incarnate creates of this the miracle of enough. Is it nit picking, I wonder, for me to long for some mention of the Source of all abundance as people are fed and community is created? The desire stems from my deep sense that God longs for relationship with each of us, just as we each pine for a connection with the Creator. Mentioning God points all of us in the right direction. For me this is of first importance – but maybe that is because I have never in my life been so hungry that hunger drives everything I do. I don’t know.
In any case FOCO is a blessing and so is any other endeavor that generously welcomes the lost and the needy, not only filling empty stomachs but inviting alienated hearts into a communion that includes everybody. Maybe, invited or not, God is present. Who am I to say?
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: Over the door of Carl Jung’s Kuessnacht home is carved the Latin inscription: Vocatus atqua non vocatus deus aderit. (Called or not called, God is present.)