The timing of the release of Chris Seay's A PLACE AT THE TABLE could hardly be more appropriate. As the subtitle implies, the book calls on Christians to devote 40 days to identifying with the poor by following a diet similar to that of people who live in the poorest areas of the world. With the 40 days of Lent beginning this year on February 22nd, readers have an opportunity to become acquainted with this alternative method of fasting and still have time to adjust their hearts, their minds, and their grocery lists before Lent begins.
"A PLACE AT THE TABLE is well worth reading, and '40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor' sounds like it's well worth attempting. The book can easily be used by either an individual or a group."
Seay sets the table by contrasting the typical American lifestyle of consumption with the deprivation many people in the developing world experience every day, invoking the words of Jesus, Isaiah, Paul, "The Shepherd of Hermes," St. Augustine and St. Benedict to underscore the immoral nature of that contrast. "What the world needs right now," Seay writes, "is for the industrialized world to take less and share more...we should take 40 days and participate in this kingdom experiment of taking only what we need and sharing the rest." In essence, that means devoting those days to eating a downsized, routine diet similar to that of the poor (such as rice and beans every day) and giving of your abundance to food cupboards or other ministries to the poor.
Seay devotes the next three chapters to explaining this "kingdom experiment" by exploring the story of the grumbling Israelites who weren't satisfied with God's provision, offering practical advice and a refreshing new perspective on what fasting is and isn't, and reminding Christians of the biblical rhythm of fasting and feasting. In particular, the chapter titled "Tools: Practical Steps for Fasting as a Sacred Journey" is like the FAQ section of a good website; if you have a question about the "how" and "when" of fasting, the answer is probably right there.
Following the fourth chapter are 40 daily readings for the 40 days of the fast, all written during Seay's Lenten fasting experiment in 2011. Throughout, the author is vulnerable and honest about his weaknesses and failures, but that creates a solidarity with his readers, who will likely face their own weaknesses and failures during their 40-day fast. He ends each reading with a prayer and a brief, touching story of a child or an adult in need from some of the poorest places on earth, along with suggestions for ways to pray for the person.
One of the many pleasures of this book is its use of THE VOICE, a Bible translation from Seay's Ecclesia Bible Society that allows the beauty and the imagery of the Scriptures to shine through its words. (Some will call THE VOICE a paraphrase rather than a translation; that's an argument to be had elsewhere.) There's something about seeing God repeatedly referred to as "the Eternal" or "the Eternal One" in overly familiar biblical passages that jolts you out of your "been there, read that" stupor; you'll probably experience that kind of jolt as you read many of the passages quoted in the book.
A PLACE AT THE TABLE is well worth reading, and "40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor" sounds like it's well worth attempting. The book can easily be used by either an individual or a group.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on January 17, 2012