What Potluck Can Teach Us about Christ
- Kimberly L. Smith Make Way Partners
- 2014 12 Nov
The Tlingit Native Americans, indigenous to Alaska, practice a giving tradition known as “potlatch” in their native tongue. Potlatch means “to give,” and it is where our word “pot luck,” as in pot-luck dinners, comes from.
Tlingits believe – and practice – that to give is the greatest honor in life. Therefore, they work really hard to out-give each other, acquiring more honor as they grow poorer. A potlatch is an event of giving in which the host – usually the chief or other prominent leader – literally gives away every single possession he has, including his clothes.
It all starts with the host announcing he is throwing a potlatch, and he invites a set number of people to attend. Everyone who is invited will definitely come; however, the host has no idea of how many people to expect because every person who is invited is allowed to bring along as many people as they want, sometimes dozens.
When everyone shows up, the host is responsible to feed, house, clothe and entertain the guests for as long as the guests decide to stay. The host does not decide when the potlatch is over, the guests do. Sometimes the potlatch lasts a few days, sometimes a few months!
At the end of the potlatch, the host must give a gift to every person who attended. And, he must give away everything he owns, including even personal items and family heirlooms. He can retain nothing.
Once the potlatch is finished, the chief is the poorest person in his tribe and the most honored. Everyone in the community then takes responsibility to care for this most honorable man. He is utterly dependent upon the gifts and kindness of his tribe. The chief is now not only the most honorable man of his people, he is also the most humble.
If we will but look, we will find Christ emerging in and through all cultures, and this tradition is one of the most beautiful reflections of Christ that I can possibly imagine. Christ, The Chief of all heaven and earth, pouring himself out, making himself nothing. Oh! What honor is due him!
This year, as we gather at our Thanksgiving tables of plenty and pot-luck, let us consider just how honorable we desire to be.
“...a man there was, though some did count him mad, the more he cast away the more he had.” ― John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
Kimberly L. Smith is the president and co-founder of Make Way Partners, the only indigenously operated relief organization in [North] Sudan and South Sudan providing anti-trafficking efforts to the most vulnerable orphans and former slaves. Smith is also the author of the award-winning book Passport through Darkness, which chronicles much of her experience in Sudan. For more information on Kimberly L. Smith and Make Way Partners, please visit www.makewaypartners.org.
Publication date: November 12, 2014