Meals can be quintessential enactments of home. In their newly published book, The Hunger for Home, theologians Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun explore how shared meals become sites of nourishing mutual encounter. On November 15, Matthew Croasmun, our Faith Initiative Director, joins our Faith Initiative Coordinator Katie Grosh, for a conversation about The Hunger for Home and what the Gospel of Luke teaches about hospitality, food, and visions of flourishing life.
“But it also is meant to tap into something more profound: that deep desire in each of us to belong somewhere, to be safe, to be loved and at peace.” – Matthew Croasmun
In this Q&A below, Matthew explores this hunger for home and offers insights about the book and the upcoming discussion on November 15. Join us for this free and virtual Books on Faith & Meaning event between 12 and 1 pm. Register here for this discussion. We welcome people from all ages and backgrounds.
Feature photo by Dean Kaufman
What inspired you to write this new book?
One of my favorite things to do is to study sacred texts with other people. I just love coming to ancient words with the expectation they might speak something important to us today. I learn so much from others when we inhabit the words of scripture together. This book came out of these sorts of studies in my church and with my colleagues at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. The main themes of the book—meals and home—came alive in those studies. Time and again, we felt the Gospel of Luke inviting us to take another look at our homes and the meals we eat there. Who is around the table? To whom are we giving thanks?
The title “The Hunger for Home” is interesting. How did you both come up this title and why?
The big takeaway for us was that meals can be quintessential enactments of home. At their best, meals are nourishing mutual encounters between people, places, and God that make present the home for which we were created and which awaits us at the end of all things. So, at one level, the title is a simple pun, pointing to the way that the way home is through the stomach. But it also is meant to tap into something more profound: that deep desire in each of us to belong somewhere, to be safe, to be loved and at peace. All that and more, I think, are what we long for when we long for “home.”
We often think of home in the traditional sense. In your book, what are other ways we can think of home?
The pandemic has both centered and distorted “home” for us in all sorts of ways. For many, especially the early days of the pandemic meant that we were home all the time. Home became our place of work, our children’s schools. For “essential workers,” of course, home was still somewhere you left and to which you returned. But for all of us, home had to be a place of refuge. Home was where we kept all the dangers of the world out. Until, of course, it wasn’t. A family member got sick. The danger outside came inside. And all of the sudden the illusion of home as a fortress dissolved. But that only further drove many of us to try to make our “homes” fortresses.
So “home” became everything to us, where we spent so much time and pinned so many of our hopes. But, at the same time, the idea of home was impoverished as it became refuge only. Because while home should be a place of refuge, it ought also be a place of hospitality. And that second, crucially important function was essentially shut down—for years. In many ways, for many of us, we still haven’t recaptured that function of home as a place of hospitality, of welcome, of open doors and invitations to the table.
But it’s not just the pandemic. For certain classes in the United States, “home” has been trending in the direction of “fortress” for decades. Going back as far as the post-WWII suburban dream, the American Dream has been in danger of imagining “home” as a fortress, a place where the residents within are “at home” precisely because they are kept safe from those outside the home. This is a dangerous idea if it is not balanced with other pictures of home.
You write the Gospel of Luke teaches us about hospitality, food, and visions of flourishing life. Can you offer examples?
In contrast to images of home as “fortress,” the Gospel of Luke time and again invites us to think of home primarily as a place of welcome. And more often than not, meals are the moments where we see this happen. In the gospels, meals are enactments of home at its best.
That begins with Jesus’ meals with so many in his world—from Zacchaeus the tax collector to Simon the Pharisee. Jesus dines with rich and poor, those who know themselves as “sinners” and those whom imagine themselves as “saints.”
And Jesus gives a ton of advice in Luke’s Gospel about how to throw a good dinner party. He says almost nothing about what should be on the table (food, drink), but has a ton to say about who should be around the table. He draws our attention to the possibility of meals functioning as mutually nourishing encounters, as opportunities for us to be at home with one another.
In the end, all of those day-to-day invitations, are foretastes of a banquet that is to come—the Banquet of the Kingdom of God in which the entirety of God’s creation finds itself at home in becoming the home of God. Luke argues that our hunger for home ultimately aims at this banquet where we are at home with one another, with the fields, lakes, and wilds from which our food comes, and with the Good who created it all and invites us to be at home with one another. This means that every meal in the here and now has the potential to be more than merely a meal; it can be a dress rehearsal for the banquet to come.
In the book you ask: How do we become at home in this world where so many hunger for food, for companionship, or for the presence of God? That’s a good question. How can we?
In one sense, the gospels insist that we ought not be at rest—ought not be satisfied with—a world in which so many are hungry in any number of ways. If we’re living with our eyes open, we ought not be at ease in a world like ours. The world we know is not a welcoming home for all. Many do not have homes. Many have homes that are not the sorts of homes for which we hunger—homes that are not safe, for example. Many have had to flee their homes. There is danger in becoming too “at home” with and within a world like this.
And yet whatever dis-ease we feel with respect to our broken world is itself evidence of our hunger for a world in which all are at home with one another and with the God who draws us together. And so, our restlessness ought to drive us to feed the hungry, to welcome the homeless poor into our homes (Isaiah 58:7). As challenging—and as worthy!—as it might be to build social institutions that feed the hungry and house the unhoused, the vision the gospels offer is one that goes further: to strive to be at home with one another. To host and to be hosted. (Jesus had no home, so he was always being hosted, giving up the position of power that comes with hosting.) It’s a challenging vision, no doubt. But I’m encouraged that, if we allow Jesus to expand our imagination, our meals can become moments in which we live into new ways of being at home with one another.
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