By Todd Outcalt
Anyone acquainted with my eating habits knows I appreciate a good donut now and then. That is why I enjoyed reading Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut, by IUPUI anthropology professor Paul R. Mullins. In fact, this was one of those books I nearly powdered and sugared as I was reading it.
My enjoyment of this book was further heightened by the numerous connections that the good professor proffered forth in regard to fellowship and food. In fact, he dedicates a good portion of the book to exploring the widespread use of donuts in Christian circles - a fact that has often both defined and challenged the community of the church. Do we, for instance, promote the use of the donut because it is so popular, or do we eschew the donut because of its high-fat and carb composition? It really doesn't help us to ask, "What would Jesus eat?"
Like Mullins, I have long observed the special connection that donuts have in church fellowship. I've worshiped in many congregations over the years, led workshops and retreats, and about the only commonality one can find in churches of various passions and persuasions is the widespread use of the donut, and maybe, coffee.
Although the donut likely originated with the Dutch, it is a food that is so distinctly American (having gained enormous popularity on the front lines of World War I) that many countries have come to regard the intrusion of donut franchises as something akin to a national disaster.
However, regardless of its origins or composition, the donut seems like it is here to stay - at least as far as the church is concerned. Our congregations buy them by the boxes, set them out on Sunday mornings, and discover this is where "real" church conversations take place. With donut in hand, this is where people discover the communion of saints, where people learn of the hurts and pains and needs of the church family, and where pastors often counsel, direct and interact with the people. At least this is what I experience every time I pick up a donut in church.
I must confess I am elated because a Dunkin' Donuts has opened up near my house (just a mere 200 yards from my front door. I've stepped it off several times now). But I also must confess that I have picked up the pace of my aerobic exercise, have spent more mornings each week in the gym, so that I can burn more calories to support my habit.
But, perhaps, there are worse vices in life. I hope so. Every time I go to church now, someone is offering me a donut along with the question: "Hey, would you have time to talk?" The donut offers a great excuse to step aside for a few minutes and commune. Maybe that is what Jesus had in mind all along.