Reading Reflection:

Abraham Kuyper, Richard J. Mouw (Eerdmans, 2011) One of  Abraham Kuyper’s most popular teachings is a helpful model of how different institutions, or “spheres”,  such as family, church, school, business, and the arts each have their own rights and nuances in governmental authority. Each cultural sphere is under God’s sovereign rule. Therefore, the church shouldn’t have governmental control over other spheres such as politics or economics, and visa versa. In this introduction to Kuyperian thought, Mouw has a chapter titled “When Spheres Shrink.” He recognizes there are times when spheres can become weak and thus cause a problem. I liked the issue he raises as an example of how the family sphere has degenerated:
I became convinced of the importance of the family meal as a kind of training ground of civility… At a presentation I once attended, sponsored by people who provide food services for college campuses, a person said that young people today don’t know how to “dine”; instead they “graze.” They don’t sit at a table with other people for any length of time. In a college eating area, they go from the salad bar to the hot meal counter, and then pick up a frozen yogurt cone as they leave. And this pattern of eating begins in their homes. If family members eat together at all, it is often with the TV set on. In the old-style family meal, children learned manners. They cultivated patience—by being forced to sit at a table for forty minutes with people they found irritating. This prepared them for citizenship” (120-121).
Mouw believes that family kinship bonds train us to be mature citizens to all our neighbors. He goes on to suggest ways that other spheres can contribute to compensate for sphere shrinkages such as the above mentioned. I don’t really want to get into all that with this reflection. I want to think more about the family meal. I think Mouw is on to something there for sure. Those are some of my best consistent memories as a kid. One thing that I am especially thankful for and try to emulate from my childhood is that a meal was always prepared for the family to dine together. Sure, it doesn’t always have to be prepared by mom or dad, but the fast food or pop-it-in-the-microwave dinners seem less about “supping” and more about consuming.  I’m not one for formal dinner manners. We eat with our elbows on the table, and cut up a bit. But it is a time for the family to come together and discuss our day. Suppertime can also be a great opportunity for teaching and learning. And there is definitely some civility training involved as the children often take the joking too far, or get irritated with one another. One of them may want to skip out early to play or go straight to dessert. There are many parenting moments at the dinner table. Much is involved in preparing these meals--the menu, the shopping, the cooking, and the atmosphere. Then there is the business of getting everyone to the table, and making sure their hands are clean. Doesn’t it make your loved ones feel valued to know that this time is prepared for them daily? I’m trying to demonstrate that family dinner is time well spent and I think my kids appreciate that. Family dinners are a wonderful reminder against the autonomous individualism that much of our culture promotes. And isn’t the Lord preparing a feast for us on that great day of his return? Christianity is not an individualistic faith. All of the wonderful biblical language of a meal with the Lord fascinates me. As the family dinnertime may be a suitable preparation for our children’s civility in the world, so too I believe that the worship service gathers us to taste a bit of that heavenly meal, preparing us for the consummated marriage supper with our Lord Jesus Christ (Rev. 19:9). I pray that we that we treasure this special time of receiving the ordinary means of grace that God serves us through his ministers every Sunday. And I look forward to the best feast ever with my entire Christian family. Our great Lord is preparing a blessed meal for his family. Meanwhile, he is preparing his family for heavenly citizenship. I hope to see you at the table.