“Musical Plates” May 1991

May 1991

My entire family gathered together for dinner last month—my parents, brother and two sisters and myself and our respective spouses and children. It is a rare enough occasion since one of my sisters and her family live in England. It had been more than four years since we were all together in one room.

It was during this dinner that I noticed my brother-in-law and his two sons trading plates. It was obvious what was going on. They had each ordered something different and they all wanted a chance to sample what the others had ordered. “Musical plates” was the way my brother-in-law explained it.

The analogy to the children’s game was obvious. I smiled and went back to my dinner.

But I was struck by one fallacy in the analogy. In the game musical chairs, there is always one fewer chair than players. Then, of course, when the music stops there is a mad rush to get a chair, and the one who is left chairless is cut, another chair is removed, and the next round begins.

But at my family gathering, there were enough plates to go around. When the music stopped, there was still food in front of each person. If we were really going to play musical plates, we would have had to remove one of the dinners from the table, and the one without a plate when the music stopped would go hungry.

Unfortunately, we live in a world that is all too willing to play musical plates, and we play it for keeps.

The game is played on a world-wide scale with grapes from Chili, chocolate from Africa, and pineapples from Mexico. And when the music stops, most of the food ends up on our plates.

I like the game better the way my family played it, with lots of sharing and nobody getting up from the table hungry. If we must live in a world that insists on playing musical plates, can’t we change the rules?

(Reprinted from pages 5-6, Rheto-Rick-ally Speaking: Celebrating 30 Years of Service by Project Understanding, by Rick Pearson. Rev. Pearson, pastor at North Oxnard United Methodist Church, was Executive Director of Project Understanding for 20 years, 1990-2010.)