By Charlene Brown

Welcome at the Picnic Table

When summer arrives, I jump into my favorite warm-weather activities: time by the pool, reading outside, and most importantly, shared meals and cookouts with friends and family.

Growing up in an African American household, cookouts were something to look forward to. I love when family and friends gather around the table or grill, enjoying good food, good music, and much laughter. But—though the food and music are glorious—I look more forward to the opportunity these gatherings provide for me to learn and practice hospitality.

All are welcome.

Multiple times a summer, my dad would invite friends and neighbors to come over for a cookout. He would open all the windows, fire up the grill with hot dogs and hamburgers, and turn up Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire in anticipation of the shindig. All were invited. Whether friend or neighbor, whether you brought something to share or simply forgot, everyone was welcome to join the festivities and good food.

My dad gave me a glimpse of what hospitality looks like. But as I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve realized that Jesus was the hospitality champ. He was constantly inviting folks to join the party, come over for dinner, or join him at someone else’s dinner table. He invited those who had been following him and those who had just heard of him to come, eat, and be with him. Hospitality wasn’t just an event; it was a way of living.

There is no rush.

During our family cookouts, what I wanted to do most was to turn on the TV and catch a movie. I would anxiously wonder when the party was going to be over.

But now I’ve come to appreciate the way my family values lingering. At our cookouts, as well as at gatherings Black friends of mine have held, there is no rush—time together is time well spent, so people are free to stay as long as they want. The cookout may start at 2 p.m., but there is no telling when it might end. It could go until 4 p.m. or 10 p.m. As long as we are enjoying each other’s presence, the party continues.

In our broader American culture, where we’re often taught the value of efficacy and quickness, it is easy to forget what it’s like to slow down and enjoy community. When we gather with others, we’re often quick to move to the next thing. But Jesus spent quite a bit of time relaxing with and eating with people. Cookouts give me the opportunity to follow his lead in this.

We are all part of a story.

Around the picnic table in my yard, as we enjoyed roasted corn, collards, and sweet potato pie, old stories were told and new stories were created. Some dishes had a lot of history, having been passed on from generation to generation, while other recipes were new finds, discovered the day before online.

Gathering with people to share a meal can often remind us of our history, but it also helps us discover what we have in common with our neighbors and newly made friends. Through our conversation and the sharing of our stories, we are reminded that we are part of a larger story.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hospitality is not only about the invitation, or opening the doors to your home, dorm, or large-group meeting. It’s also about welcoming people, being with them, and learning their stories.

I hope this summer holds cookouts for you—time spent with family and friends, eating, practicing hospitality, getting to know people, and maybe a game of Spades or the Electric Slide. I suspect that, as you celebrate together, you’ll notice Jesus in your midst.

Charlene Brown serves as the campus staff for OneWay InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (a BCM chapter) at the University of Virginia. She is an unapologetic nineties music aficionado and Twitter enthusiast (@RevLadyCharChar).

Check out InterVarsity’s 4 favorite camp recipes for your next cookout!

Or find out more about African American foods and traditions in this Urbana video.

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