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Christian Living

Entertainment

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Well-known entertainer Mark Lowry and author/songwriter Andrew Greer are quickly becoming the Odd Couple of the Christian media world.  Felix and Oscar they are not but their differences are distinct.  Lowry is the veteran singer/comedian, best known for his longtime tenure in the Gaither Vocal Band, while Greer, a millennial, has penned songs for Jaci Velasquez and Seth & Nirva.  Together, they are hosting a new Internet-based reality series called Dinner Conversations.

In Dinner Conversations, the unlikely duo literally sits around a dinner table to a feast of the choicest meats, vegetables, and dinner rolls to discuss the issues of the day with guests like Chonda Pierce, Nicole C. Mullen, and Russ Taff.  The end result is a wealth of tasty topics to digest including blended families, rebounding from the death of a spouse, and the point of grace.

I recently spoke with Lowry and Greer to figure out whether sitting around the dinner table is the best way to have a conversation, how conversation can serve as a form of communion, and whether there will be any food fights on the show.

Mark, you have had a long and successful career in Christian music and comedy.  Why a reality based show set around a dinner table at this point in your life?

Mark: Well, about a year ago at this time, I was thinking I might slow down.  I even used the word “retire,” and then I changed it to “retread” because it sounds better than “retire.” I thought, I’m going to slow down but I still want to reach people.  And I found out I can reach more people by going live on Facebook than I can on tour.  I mean it’s worldwide instantly. It’s like I have the CBN network in the palm of my hands. You know what I’m saying?

I had done an interview with (co-host) Andrew Greer. He interviewed me for CCM magazine, and I loved his questions. I thought he was smart, he was a millennial, he would bring another perspective to the table than mine which I think I need to hear and people my age need to see that perspective. So I called him and asked if he would be interested in starting a podcast.  I was thinking, I’ll be in my La-Z-Boy, you be at your house, we’ll do a podcast on our iPhones, because I’m retiring, right? I don’t want to spend any money. I just want to reach people. So he took the bull by the horns and turned it into a PBS special every week. It really is a first class program. I love conversation and I love eating. Those are two of my favorite things. So, we came up with Dinner Conversations, because people seem to let their guard down when they’re eating. And I didn’t want to just talk about our guest’s next release. We don’t care about their next release. I want to know how did Sandi Patty put a blended family together after going through a divorce, and her husband went through a divorce. They blended eight kids. Well, that’s a whole topic for one show. You know, we are talking about things that matter, things that are real.

Since you have mentioned show concepts, for someone who doesn’t have any idea what Dinner Conversations is about, how would you describe it to them?

Andrew: I would describe it as a conversation. The show is a conversation. It is built around a topic to inspire conversation. We do this at a meal around a table; because for us we believe communion begins with good conversations, and good conversations also begins where? Around the table. Growing up, that’s where some of my first conversations about God, relationships, and life took place. They always seemed to take place around food, the table, and with my family. We wanted to invite people back to that space, so we could talk about some things that aren’t always easy to bring up or talk about, whether that’s addiction, or blended families, or whatever it is. We’re not a crazy face-to-face culture anymore where we actually talk, that I hear what someone else is saying, and they hear what I’m saying; and in that we may learn some of these things about whatever it is we’re talking about.  We may learn some new things about ourselves, and eventually learn some new things about God.

Do you think sitting around the dinner table is the best way to have a conversation, or are there other means that are just as effective?

Mark: Oh, yeah. You don’t have to eat, but eating is so much fun, and I love it so much because I was full-grown before I found out gluttony was a sin. I was raised Baptist. All we were allowed to do is eat and go to church.  I just find the best conversations happen around the dinner table if you let them.

Andrew: For me, it depends on who the people are. There are some people I could have very unproductive conversations with no matter what the format is.  I think if two people are “coming to the table,” wanting to talk, wanting to commune through language, then I think you could do that with the Internet now or on the phone.   I think the dinner table has historically been significant in it’s an anchor in our day where we stop and we sit down, and with those who we are closest to and who we often care the most about. We share a meal, and I really think we enact communion. So I think it’s a bit symbolic, because you can set the table in many different ways.

Digging into the show a bit, is there any one thing you are trying to accomplish in each episode or are these literally organic conversations that sort of go where they go?

Andrew: I’m an agenda person, so I definitely want each one to go somewhere. Mark is more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of guy, so he’s going to be the ladder. It’s going to go where it’s going to go. I think there has to be room for both. That’s like a real conversation, right? I may meet you today and have two things on my brain I wanted to tell you, but I may never even get to them. For the sake of the viewer, we have themes. The themes help anchor the conversation, but I must confess, these shows have gone all kinds of different places. These conversations evolve and they morph, but we let the topic at hand flow. We go into the conversation knowing an idea of what we might want to talk about, I think letting that be the focal point we come back to. Of course, these conversations are not live. They are edited and the beauty of editing is not to eliminate things; it’s too highlight things, and to make better use of a viewer’s time.

Mark: For example, we knew with Sandi Patty that she wanted to talk about blended families. But there is no script, there is no here’s the first question, here’s the second. It’s a conversation and it could go anywhere, and why not let it? If our viewers don’t like it, turn it off. It’s free to subscribe and free to unsubscribe. It costs the viewer nothing. I feel no obligation to do anything but sit there and talk. And if I’m going to be there it’s going to be interesting or I’m going to get up and leave. Life’s too short to be bored.

What I really need to know is whether there will be any food fights?  I was privileged to watch an episode that featured comedienne Chonda Pierce.  While viewing, I actually thought that perhaps Mark and Chonda might launch a dinner roll at some point but it didn’t happen.

(laughter)

Andrew: Well, mostly Mark kept kicking her under the table. What I would love, as much as a food fight, is to dig in on some episode to a point where we’re not that comfortable. We have mostly been with people we know well and love, but I think we’d like to have some of that tension; so maybe it won’t be a real food fight, but it might be very symbolic of a food fight, because that is also true of conversation. It doesn’t always end in hugs, and, “I’m listening to you but I don’t get you,” or, “I’m listening to you and I don’t like what you said.” But we’ll have to see on the food fights. Maybe when someone serves Jell-O.

After people have watched Dinner Conversations what is your greatest hope for them?  What would you like them to get out of the experience?

Andrew: I would like people to be able to step back and actually listen just a touch longer, let that person finish their sentence before I formulate my response, and as a result maybe find a lot more space and grace around topics that are not easy in our culture, around politics, around things that seem to be more divisive than usual in our culture, and that maybe we would then go deeper.

Mark: I want viewers to realize these are topics we can talk about, that we are all dealing with these things, even Christians deal with these things.  Everybody’s got something in there. Everybody has a cross to bear, and we’re all broken; and we’ve all got scars and the quicker we admit that and show them the better.  You don’t help anybody by showing your trophies; you help them by showing your scars, and that’s what I want to help people learn to be comfortable with, that you’re not alone, and the more we hide the more we all are hiding, and then we think no one’s dealing with anything. You should be safe to share your burdens and not feel like everybody’s going to go talking about you behind your back.  I think this is biggest problem I’ve seen in the Church through the years, just plain all out and out gossip.  But most importantly, my calling in life is to find ways of convincing people, or persuading people, because only the Holy Spirit can truly convince you, that a man rose from the dead.

Watch a preview trailer for Dinner Conversations: 

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