I have heard for years that “we are what we eat.” I suspect this is so. And if it is, I wonder what else about eating might be true. Are we also how we eat, or where we eat?
Catholic theologian Massimo Salani certainly believes that. He has watched the explosive growth of fast food restaurants in Europe in a sort of stunned amazement. The pace of dining at fast food restaurants is somewhat at odds with the more relaxed approach Europeans traditionally enjoy.
Beyond that, however, Salani’s chief concern is that fast food restaurants work against community. Fast food dining focuses on the individual consumer, rushing to buy and eat, and then hurrying off to do something else. The fast food consumer has no time, or takes no time, to stop and break bread with a neighbor.
Breaking bread with neighbors has been for a long time the hallmark of Christian community. It goes back to the very beginning. Biblical scholars believe that sharing bread with outcasts and social misfits was one the main features of Jesus’ ministry. Sharing bread creates community by making everyone around the table kin.
Of course, Salani is smart enough to know that fast food restaurants don’t really destroy community. They succeed because individuals value fast food more than they do communal meals. Fast food did not create this reality, it exploits it.
Which brings us to Brentwood Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. Located in one of the fastest growing sections of Houston, Brentwood is a mega-church with over 7,000 members. These are busy people. They work hard, they play hard. Church has to be worked into the schedule along with all their other commitments.
In order to help the busy membership, the leaders of Brentwood decided to open a McDonalds restaurant in their church community center. According to a McDonalds spokesperson, the Brentwood site is the first restaurant to operate within a church.
“A lot of us have children,” said Derrick Cyprian, chairman of the deacon board at the church. “When we have different meetings and functions at the church, a lot of time you don’t get to stop and get something to eat. This will make it more convenient.”
It’s a strange development, don’t you think? Christianity began as a home-based religious movement. Now the faith boasts mega-churches that actually draw people out of their homes and into buildings called “family life centers,” or in Brentwood’s case, community life centers.
Christianity began as a movement of hope symbolized by the sharing of a simple fellowship meal of wine and bread. Now the faith has become a complex corporate-like affair, with such heavy demands on members that fast food must be provided so people can get to their meetings.
And here’s the real irony. The Christian faith began as a movement born out of the pain and suffering of the founder, Jesus of Nazareth. Now, in order to sustain its membership, churches must become purveyors of convenience. The cross has been replaced by the ubiquitous golden arches.
If we are what we eat, that means we are rushed, gobbled down, taste bland, and not very healthy. If we are where we eat, we are by ourselves, watching without touching other diners as we all hurry off to our next meeting.
It’s really sort of sad. The meal used to be the meeting.
James Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.