One of the more gratifying things I (Ben) have done lately was walk around Over-The-Rhine last Saturday with four seventh graders from my youth group. We were inviting everyone to a party. The occasion was something called Go Grub, dreamt up by Boca chef David Falk. Falk has been planning for a couple years now to throw a block party with some of his chef friends around town and — instead of charging big bucks and targeting the city’s elite — making it free and inviting everyone. That’s what took shape on Saturday at Washington Park. Falk and thirteen other chefs fed several thousands, many volunteers for the Go Cincinnati service projects that day, and just as many Over-The-Rhine residents or homeless. That’s what my job with the seventh graders was: to round up everyone, rich and poor, young and old, homeowners and homeless, meat-eaters and vegetarians. You might think it’d be hard for 13-year-olds from the suburbs to strike up a conversation with a man sitting on the corner of Vine and 15th, but never underestimate an ice breaker like, “Do you like pulled pork? There are a thousand pounds of it over at Washington Park.”
Part of the inspiration behind Falk’s vision was a story that Jesus tells in Luke 14, The Parable of the Great Banquet. A man throws a party and invites many guests, all of whom come up with excuses for why they can’t attend. The man gets steamed and, as Eugene Peterson translates it, says, “Quickly, get out into the city streets and alleys. Collect all who look like they need a square meal, all the misfits and homeless and wretched you can lay your hands on, and bring them here.” That’s what Washington Park looked like Saturday around one o’clock. The tab for the 1000 pounds of pulled pork (as well as the 300 pounds of collared greens and macaroni and cheese, plus hot dogs and drinks) was around $50,000. Falk raised $5000 of it himself by shaving his beard. (Gillette ponied up.) The chefs worked for free.
It’s easy to forget that an awful lot of parties happen in the Bible. Banquets, feasts, weddings, last suppers. More than a few parables turn on a celebration. We’re not just talking stuffy church potluck here. We’re talking break-out-the-wine, slay-the-fatted-calf, round-up-the-homeless, pack-every-seat, lampshades-on-the-head kind of celebrating. Or, as was the case Saturday, break-out-the-eight-foot-rims-on-Race-Street-and-hold-a-dunk-contest, strike-up-a-conversation-with-a-stranger, dance-to-“Jody’s-Got-Your-Girl-And-Gone”-from-the-gazebo-loudspeakers, eat-your-heart-out kind of celebrating. You can only say so much to a teenager about what “thy kingdom come” actually means; it’s not until they catch a glimpse of it that it really starts to sink in.