“Learning to Feed” by Dallas Flippin
Every 10 years, you eat over 7,000 meals. Now I feel full. 7,000 meals is actually a conservative estimate assuming you eat about two meals a day. We eat so many meals that it’s natural you sometimes autopilot through a mealtime. Sometimes we autopilot through a fast-food meal or through a morning cereal. It just sort of happens. I’m fascinated by the times we pause for a meal. There are moments that stand out, like the first dinner cooked at home by newlyweds. Or the restaurant you ate at before a terrible bout with a stomach bug. Some meals are just memorable, especially the meals at the edges of our life.
Everyone consumes a final meal in their life, but not everyone knows which meal will be your last meal. There’s something ominous just about the phrase, your last meal. What would you choose for your last meal? It must be hard to decide.
If you were to visit the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill New York, you would encounter a strange art exhibit entitled Last Meal. Photographer Jackie Black’s exhibit is a series of photographs recreating the last meal requests of 23 individuals on death row in Texas between 1984 and 2001. Clydell Coleman asked for sausage, eggs, biscuits, and french fries. Jeffrey Allen Barney asked for a bowl of Frosted Flakes. Gerald Lee Mitchell asked for a bag of Jolly Ranchers. The exhibit includes a recreated photo of the last meal with accompanying information of the executed individual’s name, date of death, years of education, occupation, and last statement. Black believed that perhaps looking at a plate of food, someone’s last meal, might be a bridge to empathize with the experience.
Most of us won’t encounter that sort of last meal. Instead, those of us blessed with long life might instead encounter the last meal preparations of hospice, where we receive care and comfort as we complete our time on this earth. People say it’s a weird experience after a lifetime of doctors telling you to avoid sugars or reduce your salt intake to have medical professionals transition to encourage you to eat whatever brings you joy and comfort in those last moments.
Last meals are comfort food. They are a comfort in the face of pain and trials. Some of us really like our comfort food, even though we know it’s not our last meal. Every January a bunch of us make new resolutions that we’ll take our food more seriously again after a few too many holiday treats.
While last meals are about comfort, what are first meals about? If we move to the other edge of life, to its beginning, we encounter a very different experience with food. When we move from hospice to labor and delivery, we encounter mothers learning to feed babies for the first time. Learning to feed is work for both mother and child. Babies fall asleep; they don’t eat enough; they learn to bite; they decide they want to eat when you just want to sleep. Sometimes you have to find alternative methods to feed. It’s a lot. Feeding is not just about comfort, it’s about the possibility for new life to grow.
Many of us prefer living in a last meal paradigm. We want to be served comfort food. We want to pick the menu out and we don’t want to live with the consequences.
As nice as it is to get our favorite food and to be served, we are called to feed new life. Jesus’s resurrection is not meant as a comfort food just to make you feel good. Jesus’s resurrection leads to a great commission. We are called to go and make disciples. We are called to teach others and bring them to the table of God, to grow into who God has made them to be.
Too often we crave one more bite of comfort food instead of finding ways to feed others. Too often churches become primarily hospice homes instead of labor and delivery rooms.
I encourage you to find ways to feed others. Literally, helping someone have a meal is a great place to start. We’ve done that for a while as a community with our Blessing Box and with supporting the Immanuel Lutheran Food pantry. I’m so excited to see that opportunity blossom with the Café Connection. Beyond just the literal meals, we also have the opportunity to not make everything about ourselves, but to make everything about God, and what God can do for our neighbors. We have an opportunity to invite friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors to become new disciples.
One of the last meal photographs from Jackie Black that stood out to me was from Robert Anthony Madden. For Madden’s last meal, he asked that his last meal be donated to a homeless person. What a powerful image to take your last opportunity of special treatment and comfort and offer it to someone else in need. Could you make that sacrifice? Sadly, Madden’s generous request was denied. Some people and organizations are only in the business of comfort foods, not new life. May the Church always keep its eyes on the possibility for new life with our living God and may we always have the heart to share it.
This article appears in the October-November 2021 issue of the FBCJXN Magazine. If you’d like to sign up to receive a copy of our magazine in print or digitally, you can subscribe online.