Don’t go or don’t eat?

July 3, 2013 | Viewpoints
Phil Wagler |

The end of our kids’ sporting seasons brings about the obligatory team party. As a parent, such events feel a bit like a high school reunion. Most of us are generally the same age and in the same quirky cliques and divisions that existed about two decades ago. Some have remained friends since high school, while others of us are the new, the nerdy or the “religious” outsiders just hoping to survive the evening.

Our children now provide a common ground that didn’t exist among the wide halls and tortured egos of secondary school. Back then, we avoided each other, but now we’re forced to stand together talking about the mostly mundane while watching our offspring play together. It would be easier not to go, but it’s awkwardly exhilarating.

Another friend and I compared the contrast in these team party experiences. Her family attended their son’s team bash that went true West Coast when the parents were served “brownies.” Yes, those brownies! For the uninitiated, “those” means marijuana in the batter. Our friends had made a decision to be among their neighbours, but this added a new missional twist to the loving of those next door. “Don’t go or don’t eat.” Perhaps those are the options.

Meanwhile, we too joined one of our kid’s parties. I have the added burden of being a pastor at these events, which I loathe to freely broadcast, since it is about as much of a conversation starter as trying to chat about warts and hemorrhoids.

I try to simply be a dad and neighbour. I want to know people’s stories and have them know me as a person. Honestly, it was tempting not to go. There was so much going on and it had been a crazy day. Yet, for the kids, off we went with our pumpkin loaf to share. It was a fun night.

And then the most unexpected thing happened. Another dad I had barely talked with all season stood alongside me and asked which church I was at. I had never offered to him my pastoral credentials or held the John 3:16 sign behind home plate, and yet somehow he had discovered my secret identity.

What followed was a great conversation about his unbelief, his broken marriage, his openness to whatever spiritual journey his kids would choose, and the trials of being a cop in Vancouver’s tough East Side. It was a meandering dialogue between men who had moved well beyond high school.

It never would have happened if I had stayed home. It would have been another opportunity missed to know my neighbour and pull back the curtain ever so slightly on the lavish grace of God for one made in his image. All these little “patches of Godlight,” as C.S. Lewis calls them, would have remained under a bushel had I battened down the hatches because of the possibility of those brownies showing up.

And that made me wonder what was being served in Mark 2, as Jesus dined with “tax collectors and sinners” at Levi’s house. We don’t know what Jesus ate, but we do know that he ate with this unseemly crowd frowned upon by the Pharisees.

It doesn’t even seem a question to Jesus whether he should go or not, and perhaps it shouldn’t be a question for those who follow him either. What we eat when we’re there, well that might be a different story.

Phil Wagler ( is carefully inspecting his dessert and looking forward to the next year-end party in Surrey, B.C. He is author of Kingdom Culture and is leading a tour to Israel with TourMagination in February 2014; come along and find out what Jesus may have been eating.

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