Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hungry Years and Table Ministries

Last night we watched a bit of Riding the Rails, a PBS show, part of the American Experience series (learn more here). In the 1930's, more than 250,000 children and teens were living on the road in America, many of them hopping on trains and riding across the country. I remember learning about this aspect of the Great Depression somewhere along the way, but I tended to see it as a grand adventure. Last night's show reminded us of the dangers and the lack of comfort.

And the hunger. I forget how many people were so very, very hungry in the 1930's. I remember reading a fact about World War II that talked about how many recruits had to wait to be shipped off to war so that they could be nourished and so that their diseases of malnutrition could be treated.

My grandmother used to talk about my grandfather's habit of feeding tramps and hobos who came through their towns. He wouldn't give them money, but he'd make them a fried egg sandwich. My grandmother used to talk of this as if it was somewhat shameful, but I always thought it was cool. It was only later that I thought of my grandmother, with her small children in the house (and my uncle was quite sickly at times as a child), worrying about the hobos who congregated in the back yard.

When people ask me about what it means to be a Christian, I think of my grandfather, feeding the tramps and hobos. I think of my mother, who opened our holiday tables to seminarians and students who were far from home. I think of the ministry of Christ, which so often was no more complicated than inviting people to stay for dinner.

As I watched the television show last night, I got a cold shiver, remembering the cycles of the Great Depression, how it took a world war for the global economy to recover. I think of those hungry years, and wonder how many hungry years we've got ahead of us. I'm grateful to all the people who taught me to cook for a crowd on a tight budget. I want to always be able to invite people for dinner, even if all we're having are egg sandwiches.

No comments: