If you follow me on social media, you’ve probably noticed I’m on quite the documentary kick. A friend recently prompted me to check one out about Los Angeles called “City of Gold.” To most viewers, it’s simply about a local renowned Pultizer Prize-winning food critic, Jonathan Gold, who puts hole-in-the-wall restaurants on the map. But for me, it meant so much more than that.
The film follows Gold’s culinary critiquing journey from restaurant to restaurant throughout different neighborhoods in L.A. But before ever showing up to a new hot spot, he dedicates his time and deliberate attention towards learning about the history of the people and their food in a way that honors their culture and respects its cuisine. Through his research, he develops a contagious affection for those behind the food, and seduces us all through his brilliant telling of the experience.
Though the full documentary is fascinating and thoroughly entertaining, it’s the last 10 minutes that utterly broke me. It ends with Gold at a local bookstore reading from an essay he wrote a week after the 1992 Los Angeles riots. He describes living in a very diverse area of L.A. where Guatemalan women, Philippino teens, and Salvadorian workers were just some of the unique groups of people passing through until they could find permanent residence elsewhere. But some, like his Korean landlords, called this place home.
“We are all citizens of the world. We are all strangers, together,” Gold said.
And he ends with this emotional confession:
“The landlords keep to themselves.
And so do I.
I often wish they would invite me over for dinner.”
Jonathan Gold longed to know his neighbor in a way most intimate and telling for him… at the table.
So what? Why did this ruin me?
A couple of reasons.
You see, our first trip to California (April 2015) we were seeking direction or any possible sign, even acknowledgement, from the Lord about whether or not to plant a church on west coast, and if so, where? Along our journey down the coast from Los Angeles to San Diego, we met with a few people who had recently relocated from the east coast. We quickly noted a common longing from all of them… a profound yearning for Christian community.
Each described their east-to-west coast experience as being lost in a seemingly endless sea of people. There was a standard expectation to downsize living space and the accumulation of possessions. However, no one had prepared for the implications their relocation would have relationally. It was strange to hear such lonely narratives by friends who weren’t homesick for a place, but rather a state of belonging… of being seen and known.
These conversations have stuck with me since, because there are people who long to know their neighbor, like Gold, and be immersed in their life… to welcome the other into their home and maybe even get lost in conversation over good food around the table.
Around the table.
This is the first name I suggested to Teddy as a real possibility for the church. Because nearly every conversation about it includes our unwavering desire for her to be centered around the table, an open table. And how we long to eat together at it, both The Lord’s Supper and April Hunt’s magnificent dishes.
I bet if you take a minute to think of some of your favorite moments in life, it will involve being gathered around a table… maybe when you were a kid eating your since deceased grandmother’s signature macaroni and cheese dish. Or playing games with friends and family until wee hours of the morning. Or maybe that first date with your now spouse where you talked for hours long after the check was paid.
The table isn’t constructed to merely hold plates and cups, but an object specifically built to congregate people, positioning us to be able to look in each other’s eyes and close enough that we may reach out to touch each other’s hands. It is a place where people gather to know and be known.
Right now, in addition to not having a church name, we do not have a building. We’ll first begin by welcoming people into our home and gathering around a dinner table. I sometimes dream about who may come and sit, and I wonder what I will learn from them. One thing I’ve witnessed from my 10 years at Renovatus, is that the church is shaped by the people who come and not by the vision of one individual. I hope the people who come will not only be a part of shaping the church, but will welcome me and my family into them in a way that forms and sanctifies us. I long to be in Long Beach, and most for this very reason, to find myself among those that call it home.