When I was growing up, I asked my parents to host the most bizarre birthday parties. My mom got super into it—in fact, once she transformed our entire first floor into an ocean with construction paper on the walls and fish hanging from the ceiling! As I got older, my parties migrated toward the dinner table. One year, I asked my dad to create a traditional Japanese meal using an open-faced grill and another I asked my mom to make Egyptian food for a dinner party featuring my dad decked out in a pharaoh costume. Culture has always been fascinating to me and it always seemed to make sense around the table.

There’s something about sharing a meal together, side by side, that bonds people together—confirming our mutual humanity and desire to belong. To be honest, in the last year I’ve become intimately acquainted with my own humanity, understanding I am a broken being with many needs. It was my need that prompted me seek out a space within the context of community, where I could come as I was and simply be. You know what I found? Needs are something we can all relate to. Needs are a part of being human.

As it turns out, our most basic human needs do not differ much across cultures, races, economic backgrounds, locations or values. Needs bring us together as we accept our finiteness and fragility. There is also something unifying about expressing them honestly. It reminds us to share in our humanity, to understand the equality these needs create.

Several months ago, I started hosting casual dinner gatherings (sans bizarre party themes) and looked for ways to bring people together to talk about race and culture, something our country has both historically and recently found itself so divided over. Many of us have become painfully aware of the decades of woundedness this divide has caused and there is no clear solution. Yet, in my opinion, the divide will only grow if we do not learn to step into the space of humility, repentance, understanding and, ultimately, our humanity. 

What if the table became a place for the conversation to begin? The table acts as an equalizer, inviting us to come with our needs and promising to nourish our bodies in some way. It’s a place for people from all backgrounds, races, economic statuses, and ages to come together and be fed. We bond because of our mutual need and satisfaction, regardless of what we do or look like on the outside.

Perhaps my tween self was on to something as I dragged my parents and friends into celebrating different cultures around a table with me. Maybe the table created a safety for these cultures to be expressed. Maybe the table made them accessible. It created an opportunity for needs to be satisfied, conversation to be had and experiences shared. The table served as a gentle reminder of our solidarity and shared humanity with the cultures we celebrated.

What does the table mean to you? And who can you invite to share in your need? Let’s begin by recognizing our deep connection to one another and positioning ourselves to be fed side by side. May our shared humanity guide us as we seek to cross divides in our communities, and may the table become a safe and equal playing field, even if for just a night. Can I invite you to join me in building bridges across the table?

About Tori

Tori is currently studying Race, Culture and Reconciliation at Fuller Seminary, and recently published a powerful work guide on building bridges and unconscious bias. Certified by the Cultural Intelligence Center, Tori hosts events on the topic of race and culture and offers coaching services as well. You can find her coffee shop hopping on the weekends, trying to read more than five books simultaneously or half-following a new recipe in the kitchen. Join her at torischaulis.com or on Instagram @tori_schaulis.

Photo by Evangeline Lee / Katie Brown atthelane.com (@gatheratthelane)

Tori Schaulis