For my Kentucky Kitchen Table Project, I had the opportunity to travel to a home in Bowling Green, Kentucky that I had never been to before. The host was a very friendly man, named Nate, who was very open to sharing personal stories and what it means to live in society today. Nate is a retired school teacher and is currently preaching at a local Christian church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. His wife Nancy has passed away but he is very close with his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren, whom he visits quite regularly in Florida. He is very outgoing and not afraid at all to tell embarrassing stories about himself or tell of many experiences he has faced. Also seated at the dinner table were two of my classmates from Citizen and Self. Zachary, a sophomore at Western Kentucky University, is from Louisville, Kentucky and is majoring in English. He told of his experiences as a swimmer in Louisville, Kentucky and his new involvement with Greek life on campus. Cate is a freshman at Western Kentucky University who is also majoring in English. She told of her experiences as a volleyball player in high school and of her job working at a local barbeque restaurant in her hometown: Glasgow, Kentucky. However, she is not involved with a Greek organization on campus.
When we first arrived at Nate’s house, we sat down at his dinner table and began getting to know one another better. We each described our adjustments to living on campus, and shared our backgrounds with one another. Nate talked about his experiences as a college student at Western Kentucky University and also at University of Kentucky and told us many stories about him and his wife. He also talked about how close he is with his neighbors and how they have a Fourth of July party every year full of fun and fireworks. Zach also discussed his closeness with his neighbors and how his parents host a neighborhood Bible study. I talked about how my neighborhood road is named after my last name because everyone who used to live there was related.
We then went and filled our plates with the delicious food that each person had contributed to the table. Nate cooked a full course meal including chicken, spaghetti, salad, rolls, green beans, and corn. Zachary, Cate, and I were responsible for bringing the deserts which consisted of chocolate chip cookies, rice crispy treats, and chocolate cupcakes. Nate said that he loves to cook and used to cook all the time when his wife Nancy was living, but it is so difficult now to cook for only one. Since Bowling Green, Kentucky is home to a wide variety of restaurants, Nate states that he likes to eat out a lot. We then directed the conversation to community and citizenship, and we began asking many questions that helped guide the discussion. We first asked him what citizenship meant to him. He said that citizenship means protecting, voting, paying taxes, and following laws. He also mentioned how he recognized that although there is a separation between church and state, he wishes that everyone would act morally by caring for one another. He believes that people have to be taught to care. Coming from a teacher’s standpoint, he used to see kids all the time who had feelings but did not see the responsibility to act on those feelings and care for others. His idea of citizenship and the act of caring for one another showed that his religious or spiritual identity, Christianity, related to how he thinks we should treat other people. He thinks that no matter what religious affiliation you are associated with, whether it be Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam, a person is expected to care. Nate shared his story of how he first became a preacher at the church he attends. He said he originally began on the minister supply list, a list including fill-in preachers when the main preacher is sick or in the hospital. However, his main preacher was fired and Nate was called to take his place. Willingly, he decided to do so and has been there ever since. He has been preaching for ten years. As we were on the subject of religion and its role in democracy, we went around the dinner table and shared our denominations. We are all Christians but I am a member of a Church of Christ, Cate attends a Baptist church, Zachary is non-denominational, and Nate preaches at a Christian church: Disciples of Christ.
Another topic that we discussed was the social issue that Nate holds closest to his heart. He said that working with the LGBTQ community has meant more to him than anything. His experience as a school teacher showed him that many who sexually identify as this were picked on and ridiculed. He said that his room was a safe space for them to go to and that they knew that. He said that many of them would come in his room during lunchtime and eat with him, that way they would not be bullied.
Lastly, we talked of the presidential election and the uproar it has caused on social media and in society. I told Nate about the discussion we had in our Citizen and Self class about the election and although some agreed with the decision made, and others opposed it, the students were still very respectful of others feelings. Nate told us that the reason why everyone was able to accept the differences in the room was because we had built relationships with one another and arguing over the election would hinder or hurt those relationships. He talked about the importance of connections and finding common ground. His advice for people running for office in our country is to learn to love your opposition. Although disagreements will occur, it is essential to love and respect the person that you are disagreeing with. Whenever we refuse to love and respect those we are disagreeing with, we have lost our humanity.
By doing this project, I learned a lot about other people’s views of our world today and how important it is to discuss with others the most prominent affairs affecting our country. Essentially, living well together involves understanding where others are coming from and being open-minded to other perspectives. It is not only about sharing your beliefs but it is about really listening and understanding others also. While sitting at the dinner table, it was very interesting to hear Nate’s take on the world. Nate is a man who lives in the same city as me, but I would have never had the opportunity to meet with him if it was not for connections and this project. Although I was very nervous when coming into the situation, I am glad that I went as I now see it as a great activity that really ties into the whole basis of the Citizen and Self class: understanding how we live and work well with others. I would definitely recommend this project to other students because although every individual at the kitchen table came from diverse backgrounds, we each brought something new to the table and was able to talk through our differences.