In this lesson, students plan and host a meal for a diverse group of guests at which faith and politics are discussed and debrief afterwards to promote experience-based reflection on hospitality and differences.
- Students will plan and lead a meal designed to foster empathetic conversations across differences.
- Students will evaluate the effects of approaching potentially contentious conversations through intentional hospitality.
Why a meal? The model developed by the Make America Dinner Again project aims to develop empathy across partisan lines through table fellowship and conversation. In the spirit of the house analogy brought forward earlier in this lesson sequence and the overall emphasis on hospitality, the aim here is to challenge students not just intellectually, but experientially, to consider how they can be hospitable to those who may think differently than them. Hosting the stranger or the enemy for a meal is one way to continue to practice the way of Jesus. This meal aims to bring together people who don’t all think the same about various topics and to practice being hospitable to guests and their ideas throughout the meal.
In an act of hospitality, we also suggest that you give planning of and control over the meal to the students by allowing them to develop committees, report to one another, and use assigned blocks of time in the classroom to liaise with others to plan the major components of the meal.
This is a lesson where we focus specifically on engaging students in practices where they can develop hospitable dispositions. As you prepare this lessons you may find it helpful to read the Insights material on hospitality and teaching.
Preparing the Activities
The specific resources needed for this learning experience will vary depending on the student planning process but will include access to a space in which to host the meal, a way of funding or providing food, communications to guests and parents, and copies of the Post-Meal Reflection handout.
Teaching the Activities
Frame the meal project by noting that talking about hospitality will not help us very far in terms of living well with others in the public square if we cannot also learn to practice hospitality. Point out that students have already had an opportunity to interview one person and practice hospitality toward that person’s ideas and story. Now we will move on to the greater challenge of bringing a group together into a space where ideas are traditionally swapped and challenged: the dinner table.
Explain that the goal is to plan a meal and invite a group of people to it who might be expected to have significantly different experiences and perspectives. At the meal we will host a conversation about faith and politics, keeping in mind our focus on hospitality as an approach to differences. Remind students that the people they interviewed for a previous lesson already provide a pool of possible invitees. Students will plan and host the meal, and the aim is for each student to have one guest at the meal. Students will also facilitate conversation at the table and reflect afterwards on how the interactions went.
We suggest allowing students to form committees to work on each of the following aspects of preparation, with regular opportunities for each committee to report back to and receive feedback from the others. We also suggest setting aside class time in increments across a few weeks alongside the continuing teaching of other topics rather than compressing the planning process into one or two class periods. We recommend communicating early with parents about both the process and the educational goals of the meal.
Ask students to work on the following aspects of planning:
Guests: Who should be invited to this meal?
Beginning with the list of contacts from lesson 3 and adding to it as needed, who might be good candidates for this meal? What avenues of connection to community members could be pursued? (e.g., service-learning projects, speakers who have visited the school, etc.). How can a guest list be planned that will include diverse experiences and perspectives? Who might not expect to be invited but should be welcomed into the conversation? What information should be included in invitations to possible guests? Should there be written invitations?
Location: Where should the meal happen?
Would hosting the meal at school, with various table groups hosted all at once, be the most inclusive? Would it be better for small groups of students to plan meals to host in their own homes? Is a local church an option? What kind of space would be best for conversation? Should the tables be circular or rectangular? How many people should be at a table? Do we want to decorate the tables?
Food: What will we eat together?
What kinds of foods might exclude some or include everyone? What will be cost effective yet accessible to most people? What will be healthy? What will be practical? What style of eating might help people to interact? Do you want the class to make the food or will you order it? Will the class pay for the food or the group and teacher seek some outside help? (A church? A fund raiser?)
Conversation: What will we talk about?
What questions could students feed into the conversation to help guide conversation? What kinds of questions might lead participants to engage with real differences without being unnecessarily inflammatory? How can we avoid loaded questions, or questions that imply criticism of one person or group before the conversation gets underway? How can we choose questions that allow everyone to participate despite differences in experience and expertise? Should you begin with a list of questions and move through them or let the conversation evolve and look for chances to introduce fresh topics? What skills will hosts need to help the conversation be hospitable in nature? Should the teacher be present?
Examples of useful questions could include:
- How do you live out your faith in politics?
- Where do you find guidance for how faith and politics work together?
- How do you respond to political conflict within your church?
- What do you think are some key issues that are causing tension in your community?
- What are some of your fears for your community?
- What are some of your hopes for your community?
After the meal has happened, ask students to complete the Post-Meal Reflection sheet and use this as a basis for class discussion to debrief the experience. Questions that you could discuss with students during the debrief could include:
- How does talking about issues at a meal table go differently than discussing them over social media?
- What difference does it make to the conversation when you plan for it with hospitality as a conscious intention?
- How could a meal like this serve as a strategy for addressing difficult civic questions in a community?
- What are the risks and benefits of engaging in this kind of hospitality?
Tolerance, Hospitality, and Government
In this lesson, students examine positive and negative treatments of the role of government in the Bible and relate them to a case study of government response to contentious diversity.