Sunday, December 16, 2012

Book Review: Keeping the Feast

It is with great relief that I report completely loving Keeping the Feast: Metaphors for the Meal by Milton Brasher-Cunningham.  At first glance the book seems flippant--a lightweight paperback clocking in at 120 pages, broken down into vignette-like chapters and interspersed with recipes and poetry. But like any good cook, Milton* is an expert in balance and nuance, and as he blends story with insight and faith with food he neither moves too hastily nor dwells too long on an idea before moving along. (There is, perhaps, credit due to editorial here--it might have been tempting to push for a more solid book length by sacrificing this struck balance. They chose wisely.) He also strikes a casual, heartfelt tone, being clear and convincing without coming off as pushy. "The metaphors that follow are invitations to supper, if you will," he writes in closing the introduction. "I intend them as poetry more than prescription: jumping off places for further conversation. Hopefully, over dinner" (5). This is carried throughout the book--I don't feel shoved in any particular direction, I only want to lend the book to several friends and then invite them over for dinner to talk about it.

Now, full disclosure, if I was ever going to love a book it would be one that ties together faith and food, and views them through the lens of community and hospitality. It's even well copyedited. Milton brings universality to what would otherwise be a narrow focus, tying in his experiences in family and professional kitchens and addressing the continued importance of sharing a meal (Communion, as well as less ritualistic means) as personal ministry.

One of Milton's strongest points--or possibly his overarching point amidst the story and poetry--is his highlight on the idea of ritual, emphasizing importance and purpose. He effectively draws the point that if something is repeated as habit, it loses meaning, but if something is remembered and chosen and reshaped as we change, its meaning grows in power and effect over our lives. "We keep repeating any number of little sayings and actions that remind us of the promises we are committed to keeping, transforming daily doings into something sacred... Where habits grow like kudzu, rituals have to be cultivated and nourished" (11). He dwells on, rather than dismisses, the symbolic importance of ritual, and carries that through in his investigation into the Eucharist.

Milton hits on a point I've heard before, though I don't recall the specifics: that when Jesus called his disciples to "do this in remembrance of me" (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-19), he perhaps meant the gathering together and sharing of a (lowercase) meal as much as the symbolic and specific Passover/Eucharist ceremony. Milton frequently referenced this by hyphenating "re-member" in his point that cultivating community is hard work in a world that tries to pull us apart, and part of our call as Christ followers is to bring each other back together, personally and corporately--to member ourselves again among our brothers and sisters. "When we gather together at the table whether in the Upper Room or an evening meal, sharing food is an act of solidarity, a chance to find and share comfort. Life, whether in Palestine or Pittsburgh, is a dismembering proposition" (103-104).

Perhaps my only complaint for the book is an academic fine point--there are a few places where a Scriptural reference is lacking. A story is summarized or Jesus is paraphrased, but no direct reference is made. There is such care taken elsewhere in the book in citing sources that I think this is purposeful choice rather than oversight, but there were a few times where a direct citation would have been helpful.

Milton has written a beautiful book, inviting us to the table of conversation and encouraging us to open our tables to those around us. He draws a picture of a legacy of community that anyone would long to be a part of: where brokenness is understood and commiserated with; where joys are joined and celebrated; where there is always plenty for everyone and leftovers besides.

* I can't call Milton by his last name--I feel too much like we're friends.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.


  1. Good review of what sounds like a really good book; on Communion, Milton appears to distill what some of us academics have been saying for quite a while. But remind me, as one newer than thou to Speakeasy: don't you have to add the ethical boilerplate from them on each review?