Gems and Junk: Nora Gallagher's The Sacred Meal

Just finished Nora Gallagher’s The Sacred Meal. I have friends who LOVE it; so, I plan on stepping carefully.

As backstory, I should say that I am a huge fan of communion. My love affair with it started about five years ago when I read F. Lagard Smith’s Radical Restoration and then John Mark Hicks’s Come to the Table. I’m big on the Sunday meal being a shared celebration, on it’s anticipating the Heavenly feast to come, on Christ’s presence being manifested in our community. (I do not like the heads down, individual way we traditionally observe it.)

Anyway, I love meditating on the Lord’s Supper because it is meaning-packed. You can talk about it for hours and never say the same thing. Because Gallagher’s such a great writer, I looked forward to her insights.

And some of them were excellent.

I love this: “Holy Communion was a web, a web of people who were being stitched together. And tomorrow we would need to be stitched together again.”

I like this, too: “It forces ‘them’ to be with ‘us’ and us to be with them.”

And this: “We need concrete things that tie the ordinary to the extraordinary, like long lines that tether a hot air balloon to the ground, to bring the kingdom of heaven near to us. The hope is that these rituals will not diminish the holy nor make it mundane but are set aside to keep it close.”

So many times, I read a sentence, reread it, and circled it. Beautiful.

The problem with beautiful writing is that sometimes it can make untrue things sound true. That’s my biggest beef with this book. Sometimes I think Gallagher’s theology is bad. She mixes “amen” sentences (phrases oft-repeated and guaranteed to get an emotional, positive reaction) with sketchy, ill-supported thoughts of her own. So that her reader doesn’t notice the not-so-true stuff because he’s busy amen-ing. I think that’s deceptive, and it makes me feel uncomfortable.

For example, in the chapter called “Soup Kitchen” Gallagher talks about what Jesus came to do. She says this, paraphrasing Shelby Spong (bear with the long quote):

"Did Jesus come to give us religion, to give us the right way to worship? No.

Well then, did Jesus come to teach us how to follow the law, be righteous, be ethical? No.

Did Jesus come to teach us the truth, the one truth against which all other claims can be measured, all heresies decried? To give us orthodoxy?

No. Jesus came to give us life, and life abundant.

Here’s the bottom line: if Jesus didn’t come to teach us a system of beliefs, the one true path, or the right way to worship, then what did he come to teach us? Perhaps he came to teach us how to live.”

Okay, so there are some things in the above paragraph I agree with and some things that I don’t. But did you notice how Gallagher coaxed you into thinking you agreed with her? That what she was saying was mainline and irrefutable? That bothers me.

It bothers me, too, that in talking about how Jesus came to bring us life, Gallagher could completely ignore truths that are in the very same Bible verse she’s citing. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Does that sound like “the one true path” to you? It does to me.

So, while Gallagher is a great writer and a creative thinker, she’s not very tied to Biblical truth—and I think she might actually own up to that if asked. I’m not saying you shouldn’t read her. I’m just saying the reading can be tricky.

Take the gems leave the junk.