"Basically, I think we're all nutters, but somehow it works."
Feast of Fellowship in the Spirit of U2
March 21, 2017
What happens when you mix biblical themes with a gourmet meal? The inventive and provocative Theo’s Feast. Couple that with the music of U2? A (culinary) musical journey like no other.
I had the pleasure of attending a U2-themed feast last weekend in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. Gary Stevenson, a Christian Chaplain at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Burnaby, B.C., who founded Theo’s Feast, was kind enough to give me the inside scoop on the past, present and future of these events — both in person and in an interview conducted via email before I departed.
It all started with a salmon barbecue in Stevenson’s backyard. He was tending to his fish when he sensed the Holy Spirit wanted him to write a cookbook. Although the impression was strong, he didn’t act on it immediately, but kept feeling a “nudge” during his devotions to make good on it. He turned to prayer and asked God for clarity around the idea. Revealed to him was how food is used to communicate metaphors through scriptures in the Bible.
He began experimenting with dishes that communicated some of these metaphors via visual presentation and flavor. After about a year, he had a collection of dishes he felt represented the main messages of the Bible. Though not a trained chef, Stevenson does consider himself a culinary artist and passionate foodie. He tested the concept with a few of his SFU colleagues, which led to a student request for a group meal. They created proper invitations and sold out all 40 seats (with over a dozen more on the waiting list). That was three years ago this month, and since then Stevenson, along with his team of volunteers, has hosted events in Vancouver, Toronto, Orlando and Cannon Beach, Oregon for over 400 guests. Developing Theo’s Feast is now the focus of his ministry.
Stevenson named the concept “Theo’s Feast” because of the word theophany, which is defined as “the physical manifestation of God tangible to the human senses.” Stevenson’s hope is that dinner guests will experience a theophany during the feast.
I asked Stevenson via email how the U2 theme came about, and he responded, “The original idea for a U2 Feast was birthed from a conversation with a friend who encouraged me to invite U2 to a Feast while they were in Vancouver. I thought, ‘How would I ever get their attention and invite them for dinner?’ I then looked at a number of U2 songs and discerned that I could likely make over 20 dishes inspired by U2 songs.”
He went on to say, “I hope my guests will gain new insights from the significant spiritual truths woven through much of U2’s music. As chaplain/pastor, part of my role and calling is to help people discover and discern spiritual truth. I believe U2 is a gold mine for spiritual truth and am just now starting to see how God is using them to communicate his truth through their lyrical metaphors and activism (whether they realize it or not). I honestly hope I can help our dinner guests gain a new understanding of some of these truths.”
As a guest I was able to experience the meal firsthand, armed only with the menu, a blog post written a few months back by my colleague, and the information you’ve read so far in this article. What follows are my observations and revelations from the evening.
We Ate the Food, We Drank the Wine
Well, I’ll confess it wasn’t wine, but upon arrival at Power to Change, we were greeted with a warm welcome and a glass of delicious strawberry-basil punch. As everyone arrived we introduced ourselves and began sharing our favorite U2 stories. I felt right at home, because within 10 minutes I was admitting my dislike of Pop as another guest, who I immediately felt a kinship with, vehemently defended it. We found common ground with Achtung Baby.
We discussed our first shows, our favorite albums and got collectively excited about the upcoming tour. I could have been at any U2 fan gathering on the planet; the only difference here was that we all happened to be of similar faiths. In this case, the theme served as a natural icebreaker.
The presentation began with an enthusiastic introduction from Stevenson, who shared that the idea behind the first dish, was inspired by “Cedarwood Road.” He’d prepared a savory Dublin Coddle made with sausage imported from Ireland to emulate the type of food the teenage members of U2 may have eaten when they were forming the band. Something one of their parents may have prepared.
Photo Credit: Chingtai Wong, YogaPanda Photography
As napkins unfolded and utensils clanked against the dishes, our journey began.
In addition to hearing the music and an intro from our host at the beginning of each course, we were provided with printed lyrics meant to spark conversation surrounding the Bible references and the connection to the food. We were encouraged to talk in between each showcase.
Photo credit: Chingtai Wong, YogaPanda Photography
Admittedly, sometimes the presentation got more attention than the biblical reference. “Lucifer’s Hands,” for example, was a fantastic interpretation done through spicy chicken wings, which were served over dry ice and hot water to give the appearance of smoke. A few of us even filmed those dishes arriving. The lightbulbs we sipped “Lemon” tonic through also illuminated our tables with smiles and giggles.
Photo Credit: Chingtai Wong, YogaPanda Photography
But that’s not to say that there wasn’t deep conversation.
One of my favorite elements of the evening was when the volunteers dropped a set of printed questions at our table meant to encourage more personal fellowship. We were challenged to share how our faith was (or wasn’t) shaped, what we would change about the world if we could and whether or not we had any supernatural experiences in our past. I was moved by how sincere and heartfelt the responses were from this table of strangers. We shared tough times in our lives that changed us, our belief in what we can do as normal citizens to create positive results in the broader community, and the natural doubt that sometimes plagues even the most faithful of believers.
It’s a rare gathering when you feel comfortable enough to both laugh and cry openly with people you’ve just met. Though we all led different lives — and even realized through our chat that some of us were on extremely opposite sides of the political fence — every discussion was met with respect and reverence for whomever was speaking. This created an organic safe space to exchange ideas and discover different viewpoints. Voices were not raised and eyes were not rolled. We could agree or disagree and still break bread together peacefully.
One moment we’d react in silence while pondering one of the questions; the next we’d be laughing together as we attempted to decode how the chef carbonated grapes (he did, and it was amazing). I can honestly say I’ve never had a meal like it before.
Our live musician for the evening, Shawn Lyons, formerly of the band Schriek, shared his personal faith testimonial before offering a beautiful medley of songs to close the evening.
The night flew by and before we knew it we were full — both of food and food for thought.
As someone who prefers to keep her spiritual life more private than public, I can honestly say that made no difference in this setting. It was assumed that attendees were Christian or at least interested enough in Christianity to explore the themes of the meal, but there were no pop quizzes or judgments regarding anyone’s level of faith or commitment to God. There was a sense of community in the air though we came from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different countries (at least in my case) and different ethnic cultures. It was music, food and faith fusing for the finest of reasons.
The Theo’s Feast crew will host another U2-themed meal in Vancouver the week of the Joshua Tree Tour 2017 show. They’re also hoping to create Feasts around Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Alice In Wonderland and Charlie & The Chocolate Factory themes. Check their calendar for exact dates and times, or contact them if you’re interested in hosting a Feast.