“… as we enter into this season of holidays and feasting, my hope is that we’d not just dream about them, but actually work at setting wild, crazy, beautiful, eclectic tables of all shapes and sizes where there’s room for everyone.
How many of you have had the experience of having to sit at the rickety card table set up in the overflow space for the special holiday meal? It’s for the people who can’t fit at the “nice table,” like the kids or late-comers to the party. I know some people prefer to sit there, so this metaphor might be a stretch, but when I think about life on the margins and downward mobility, this is an image that often comes to mind.
To me, the rickety card table set up during thanksgiving dinner represents getting “the scraps,” a sometimes subtle, sometimes direct message that says, “We’re glad you came, but there’s really no room for you to sit with us.”
In my current life situation, I am not marginalized in many ways. I am married, white and have a graduate school education, health insurance & a host of other privileges. But when it comes to being a female lead pastor from an evangelical world, I know the feeling of sitting at the card table in the family room while a whole bunch of men are eating at the fancy table. It’s a very inadequate feeling. And while over the past few years I have come to accept its realities and lean on the wonderful love and acceptance I do have (and now, honestly, I’m having way more fun sitting at the card table) it still feels sad to me–the subtle segregation, the power differentials–especially in the kingdom of God.
Many people I know are used to sitting at the card table. They’ve always lived on the margins socioeconomically, practically, spiritually and in all kinds of other ways. They’ve never been invited to the big table, ever. They are used to eating scraps and being satisfied with anything they can get.
In the kingdom of God, the table is supposed to be big, and I do mean big. Our tables should have room for everyone–the fringers, the lonely, the doubters, the certain, the poor, the rich, the educated, the uneducated, men, women, gay, straight, black, white, brown, young, old, liberal, conservative and everything in between. When there’s not enough room at the current one, we’re supposed to get up and find some leaves and pull up as many chairs as we need.
And I don’t think the big fancy one is supposed to be the centerpiece. In fact, I think what’s supposed to happen is everyone who’s been used to the fancy table needs to get up and go sit around the card table and listen to the conversations there. To eat on a plastic plate for a while and use a paper napkin. To listen, learn and find that even though we seem so different, in the end we’re all really longing for the same things–to love and be loved, to give and to receive.
Maybe, over time, what will happen is those two tables–and all the other kinds that seem to segregate and separate us–will somehow be muddled up and combined, chairs shifted around, the china mixed with the plasticware and all the neat and tidy decorations can become not so neat and tidy anymore.
We have much to learn about how deep the grooves are in the culture we live in, not just in the world, but also in the church. Since the beginning of time we have been divided and segregated. Power has been held in the hands of people who have not done well at distributing it. Dignity has been stripped, voices silenced, pain minimized and poverty perpetuated. The only way out, in my opinion, is through brave and wild steps taken in Jesus’ love–in actions not words–to shift the dynamics of the table and diffuse power in new ways.
This will take humility and courage for all of us.
It will take prayer, asking God to show us where we fit into the change.
Do we need to make more room at our tables? Do we need to be the ones to throw new parties with new people who need to begin to know each other despite their differences? Do we need to bravely pull up a chair and participate in conversations we’re not used to having? Do we need to be the ones who scooch the different tables together and start passing out food?
A life of downward mobility means that we can’t keep sitting at fancy tables while our friends are at rickety card tables. We’ve got to figure out ways to be together, eat together, learn together, laugh together, build the kingdom of God together.
So, that’s my hope as we enter into this season of holidays and feasting: that we’d not just dream about them, but actually work at setting wild, crazy, beautiful, eclectic tables of all shapes and sizes where there’s room for everyone. That the people sitting there are humble, spiritually poor and ready for some really good food–the kind that only tastes good when it’s shared together.
Image credit: Chairs2, by Peter Gustafson