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Dining across culture war divides


Last week I did something I’ve been doing for many years, and that was to prepare a homemade feast for guests, several of whom see the world in a very different way than I do.

Among my five dinner guests on this particular evening were a lifelong Democrat mom from the Bay area of California; a dad who has suffered an excruciating loss; another man (whose heart is huge) who is married to a man; and an extremely brave woman who is married to a trans-identified female spouse. Also a dinner guest that evening was Lisa Selin Davis, whom I have heard humorously describe herself as a “liberal hairy-legged feminist atheist Jew from Brooklyn.”

As for me, I’m a socially conservative millennial man, originally from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, who has lived and worked in the Washington, DC-area since 2008, except for a three-year hiatus in northern California. I’m also a theologically orthodox evangelical Christian, and since the summer of 2016, I have been a journalist with The Christian Post

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While I’m full of opinions that one might expect from a typical conservative evangelical, I have all kinds of fraught feelings about politics nowadays and have for several years. I have even more complicated (and often dreadful) feelings about certain churches, theological tribes, and denominations. Many things that used to make sense to me years ago now no longer do, and being a journalist exposed to behind-the-scenes realities has caused my thinking to modulate in some unconventional, surprising directions, particularly given how I have seen some leaders manipulatively wield power within religious organizations for their own self-centered ends. But that’s a multi-layered conversation for another day.

The menu last week was on the fancier side because I wanted to do something special for these particular guests. I made Coq Au Vin over mashed potatoes along with a side salad of baby greens and arugula topped with toasted walnuts, shaved parmesan, pickled red onions, thin slices of Bosc pears, and drizzled with red wine vinaigrette. The Cabernet Sauvignon also flowed liberally. For dessert, pumpkin cobbler with vanilla ice cream was in order. 

These guests were all people I have gotten to know over the last few years through strange yet providential circumstances. I value each one of them, and I admire the breadth of the work they have done, much of which has come at great personal cost to them. Interestingly enough, despite being from all over the country, they all had some degree of connection to each other due to some mutually shared experiences. It made me smile to see all the political lefties in the room chatting up a storm with my three conservative philosopher housemates, all of whom are devout Catholics. After dessert concluded, I gave each of my guests a small gift that was individually tailored to them and was a reflection of the work they’ve done that I appreciated. It was a joyous occasion from beginning to end.

Why have I been doing this, you ask? And how do I do it in light of such deep and profound differences among us? It’s actually not that complicated. As my past and present housemates can attest, I’m an unabashed foodie, I have a knack for hospitality, and extending it is an expression of normal life. I may as well give away what I love. And who doesn’t love to eat? 

And it just so happens to dovetail with my faith. As a Christian, I’ve been given a ministry of reconciliation that is defined by “not counting the trespasses [of others] against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). I did nothing to deserve God's mercy or grace, and so in the same measure I’ve received it, I hope to extend it to everyone I meet, no matter who they are, what they do, or how they think—even if “God” makes no sense to them. And especially if they’ve been wounded by religion and there are, sadly, many such people who fit that description today.   

It’s not lost on me how polarized America is at present, and I’ve resolved to not contribute to that polarization, even as my faith simultaneously requires me to be bold and say things at times that some would deem divisive and polarizing. There is an inescapable tension here and I will not pretend as though it’s easy because it’s not. Indeed, I have had to make peace with the fact that many in the secular West will always regard me as a peculiar, religiously backward dinosaur. Being misunderstood is unpleasant, but I have learned to accept it. 

The words of two philosophers come to mind as I ponder the current state of affairs and why I try, however imperfectly, to conduct myself as I do in these socially chaotic times. 

In his 1910 book, What’s Wrong With the World, G.K. Chesterton wrote: “All true friendliness begins with fire and food and drink and the recognition of rain or frost.” 

He further observed that “every human soul has in a sense to enact for itself the gigantic humility of the Incarnation. Every man must descend into the flesh to meet mankind.”

Several years before Chesterton penned those words, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said: “I might believe in the Redeemer if his followers looked more redeemed.” 

I have no idea how redeemed I look in the minds of Nietzschean-like observers of Christians today and maybe I shouldn’t even care. Depending on who you ask, Nietzsche was either an obnoxious gadfly with an ideological ax to grind or a voice worth considering in light of his uncomfortably on-target criticisms of the professing believers of his era. I lean toward the latter view even as I’d readily dispute his infamous line, “God is dead.”

In my line of work though, I’ve seen behind the Religious Right curtain enough—not referring to the many great pastors and churches out there, mind you—to understand why many revile those who believe as I do. I, too, am disgusted by much of what I’ve seen and the hypocrisy, abusive narcissism, and relational dysfunction in much of the Church is a stench to me. If all of that represents God (I maintain it doesn’t), then maybe Nietzsche was right. 

But maybe Chesterton was onto something that provides an antidote for what ails the nation as we head into what is sure to be a tumultuous season. If in enacting the gigantic humility of the Incarnation we can descend into the flesh to meet mankind, preconceived and misguided notions about who other people are might break down. We don’t have a fireplace at our house, but food and drink sure do cultivate friendliness.

My lefty dinner guests who were chowing down on Coq Au Vin and pumpkin cobbler around my table the other night recounted how they have seen behind the Woke Left curtain and they detest it in the same way I loathe the rot in my sphere. The parallels were uncanny. 

Not to sound too Pollyanna here, but maybe we aren’t so different after all.


This essay originally appeared on the BROADview substack, the newsletter of Lisa Selin Davis, and has been slightly modified for publication on CP Voices. 

Brandon Showalter has a bachelor's degree from Bridgewater College in Virginia and a master's degree from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Listen to Showalter's Generation Indoctrination podcast at The Christian Post and edifi app Send news tips to: Follow on Facebook: BrandonMarkShowalter Follow on Twitter: @BrandonMShow

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