Archive for Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Origins of the potluck

February 15, 2012

The little church on the corner had a potluck dinner for Valentine’s Day. It got me to wondering about pot luck. What was it anyway? You’d think as old as I am and as many years as I have been hanging around churches, I would have more experience with potluck dinners. I have not.

When I came home, I looked up potluck in the dictionary. I know that’s old school, but I still like my Random House dictionary that sits on a wooden pedestal in my writing room. I found: pot, lobster pot, chimney pot, pot shot, and pot latch — I found potlatch an interesting expression.

Potlatch is a ceremonial festival in which gifts are bestowed and property destroyed in a show of power; sounds like a birthday party for fifth graders. It’s actually an American Indian tradition of some sort.

“Pot licker” came next-a worthless person. Getting closer. “Pot luck.” A ha! “Food or meal that happens to be available without special preparation or purchase.” This definition does not fit at all. Or, “A meal for a large group in which participants bring a variety of food.” And there was a final definition of pot luck: “whatever is available or comes our way.” I like that definition.

I puzzled over the definition for a while. In some ways, it is just a ragtag group of people hanging out in a church basement having lunch. Why then, I wondered, does one come away from such a gathering not only feeling full and satisfied, but feeling something else as well?

I remembered something someone said in the ‘70s, in the days of protests, discontent and divisiveness; that is hard to go to war with someone, with whom you have broken bread. Many of us in those days were being schooled to be change agents, people who would legislate for social justice, who would champion equality, who would reach across lines that divided us; who would dedicate our lives toward a greater good, in whatever line of work we chose.

Many of us learned it was not to be an easy journey. Much of the lasting change that did occur, it seems to me, happened because people with differing views and philosophies broke bread together, visited each other’s homes, ate each other’s food, slept in each other’s houses; listened to each other’s ideas; garnered and gave respect in spite differing views.

Think how much more can be accomplished when people of like mind and spirit come together to lift a cup or break bread. It’s a communion of sorts, isn’t it? Communion: the sharing of thoughts and feelings; fellowship of one with another.

What if the world sat down tonight, put their feet under a common table, broke bread together; body and soul. Just a ragtag group of people working toward a greater good; the fellowship of humankind. Potlatch into Potluck.

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