Approaching the Table of Radical Grace

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F_Fiona

When I lived in Brussels, we used to celebrate American Thanksgiving every year, although neither my husband nor I are American. But one of my best friends was, and her tiny flat and countertop electric oven were too small for the people she wanted to invite and the turkey she wanted to cook.

So we did a deal (I thought it was a pretty good one): she would cook all the food; we would provide the venue. She always arrived hours in advance, a massive turkey purchased from a nearby army base. Sweet potatoes were topped with brown sugar, green beans were made into casserole.

Once darkness gathered outside the windows, our guests began to arrive. It was always such an international group—we were British, Belgian, Danish, Romanian, Dutch, French, Bosnian, Argentinean.

And so we gathered around our long table—the one my husband had impulse-purchased from an antique store in the Sablon district—and I looked down the length of it at the faces of friends who’d all come from far away and for myriad reasons, but who had ended up sharing this feast of thanksgiving together.

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We lived just down the road from a Refugee Centre in those days. We got to know their faces, taught English classes, and hosted social events to break up some of their daily monotony and worry. I heard the heartbreaking stories of Somalians, Chechynans, Eritreans, Iranians.

I held a newborn Afghani baby in my arms the day after she was born, while her tired relieved mother hugged her proud big sister and her Father told me about the time they were shot at as they tried to escape with their four-year-0old daughter across a remote mountain border.

We became friends with a young man who’d left his country years before, fleeing forced inscription into its deadly army. But he’d not found refuge, had been nomadic for so long, hiding and leaving place after place after place.

He came every week to the church group that met in our home. He was an atheist—that much he was very sure of—but still he came. He’d join in the pre-chatter, pour himself a drink, and then sit at the dining table watching us while we prayed and sang and wrestled with our questions.

One Sunday we were walking across the square near our home and I asked him, “Why do you keep coming when you are so sure you don’t share our beliefs and never will?”

He looked at me and answered, “I met Christians once when I first left my home country and they welcomed me as a friend. Now everywhere I go, I seek out the Christians. I know I can trust them.”

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Jesus once proclaimed to his followers, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 8:11, NIV)

It’s easy to read a passage like that and think we understand what that will look like. But the people gathered at this heavenly feast will be the unexpected ones, the outsiders, the refugees, the ones we label as “Other” (yes, even those of us who think we avoid labelling). And it will be beautiful in a way only a celebration of the lost-ones-found can ever be.

It’s an attractive vision, one I caught a glimpse of at those Thanksgiving feasts around our dining table, and in the faces I came to know so well on our street in Brussels.

But there is a challenge too. Jesus’ proclamation of welcome comes with a warning to those who assume they are already in: “Those who grew up ‘in the faith’ but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened.” (Matt 8:12, MSG)

It’s not about offering more hospitality. That’s where I thought this post was going—Remember this year to welcome the outsider. Make an extra portion of pumpkin pie. No. The truth is, when I think like that, then I’ve got it backwards—as if I have everything to offer and nothing to gain, everything to give and nothing to receive.

This feast is not about me making space for the Other. God has already beckoned them toward the seat of honor. This feast is not about charity. God doesn’t invite the foreigner, the disabled, the addict, the abused, because he wants to feel better about himself.

This feast is about God’s radical grace, the way that he calls us to profound Abundance, which is perfect justice. This feast is God’s commandment to Love.

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Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen
Fiona lives in London with her Danish husband and her two young children. She is determinedly seeking the sacred in the ordinary, learning to see that even the most mundane moments of her day can be spiritual if she wakes up to the Divine in those places. She is in training to become a Spiritual Director, and baking is her favourite spiritual practice. You can follow her through her blog at fionalynne.com.
Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen
Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen

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Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen
  • Fiona, your words bring a blurred image into focus.
    Yes, we are to welcome the stranger and open our hearts to those who believe differently (or not at all), but even when we do, it’s not about us.
    Happy Thanksgiving! I love the feast of cultures that you bring when you write.

    • fiona lynne

      “it’s not about us”. Exactly. I am far too quick to make it all about me… Happy Thanksgiving to you! x

  • ‘The truth is, when I think like that, then I’ve got it backwards—as if I have everything to offer and nothing to gain, everything to give and nothing to receive’. Wow Fiona I just love this powerful reminder – the feast where we are indiscriminately invited each to give and to receive. And I love the image of you all at that long table of Love in Brussels, abundance indeed. Thank you for this beautiful post! x

    • fiona lynne

      Our table is a little smaller now but still brings me so much joy to gather around it – pumpkin pie and all! 😉 Grateful for you x

  • HBurns

    “The feast is God’s commandment to love.” What a powerful and poignant expression you delivered to all of us today. Happy Thanksgiving Fiona xoxo

  • BAM!!!!

    • fiona lynne

      xx

  • Hannah Kallio

    Fiona, this is the same thought that that’s been stirring in me over the last few days:
    “when I think like that, then I’ve got it backwards—as if I have
    everything to offer and nothing to gain, everything to give and nothing
    to receive.”
    When I was living as a kind of missionary/refugee, one of the most striking thing was how everyone assumed I had nothing to offer just because I was displaced. That was the hardest part, harder than finding places to sleep. Thank you for teasing truth out of the cliches about hospitality.

    • fiona lynne

      Oh that must have been hard. I’m so sorry. And I know your experience is not unique. It’s too easy for the “giver” to pretend like they have nothing to receive – maybe because to admit that would reveal it to be an issue of justice and not just of charity??
      I worked with a volunteer NGO in Luxembourg and Brussels, and we always tried to find ways to work ALONGSIDE rather than FOR. So painting a women’s shelter with the ladies who lived there, inviting refugees to join in our projects at children’s homes or elderly people’s centres… it takes more creativity but I think the results can be so transforming.

      • Hannah Kallio

        It was very painful, especially since we had sacrificed so much so we could have something to give. We were there to serve. You’re so right about the distinction between justice and charity.

  • Nicole A. Joshua

    Thank you for the reminder that those of us who assume we’re at the table are to remember that we too are at that table because of grace, and not because we are the “insiders”. You are such an amazing writer, Fiona. I really value the wisdom and humility with which you craft your pieces.

    • fiona lynne

      I need this same reminder so often. I carry so much privilege, it is easy to pretend like I’ve “got it”, but then still act like the generous host. But moving into a part of London that feels like little Nigeria has revealed how deep the assumptions and discriminations are rooted in me, whether I like it or not. It’s uncomfortable to face, honestly, but I’m trying. So grateful for you and your wisdom too. Wish we were closer x

  • carameredith.com

    Oh Fiona, I love this. I love your outsider’s perspective, a perspective that is most obviously an insider’s view, since you sit at the table as well. Thank you for writing this!

    • fiona lynne

      I am so grateful for the experience of being an outsider these past years. I still held so much privilege but it has given me a different perspective than I might have had otherwise. Thanks for being here and commenting xxx

  • Megan Gahan

    I always adore your writing, but this post is something special. There is such wisdom in going deeper than the typical “embrace hospitality” route. I love the way you think. And the way you make me think. Thank you, my friend. Much love to you this Thanksgiving, and all those blessed enough to be around your table.

    • fiona lynne

      Oh Meg, this means a lot because this post felt like it had to be dragged out of my overtired mama-brain this month. But it’s a truth I’ve glimpsed and yet am still learning. Love to you x

  • Saskia Wishart

    There is a lot in here I can related to Fiona. I so appreciate hearing your heart for people but also how you flip the script – it is not charity – this is already their space. As we are involved in ‘doing’ things for those arriving in Amsterdam, making room for the outsider, I love this call to recognise they already have a seat here. It is not just about giving, we have something to learn and gain as well. What an honouring and uplifting perspective.

    • fiona lynne

      Yes, this is already their space! I wonder whether this is something our modern concept of borders has robbed us of – the vision of the earth belonging to us all, that we are one family, one people. xx

  • Jamie

    This is a gorgeous post. Thank you so much for your beautiful thoughts!

    • fiona lynne

      Thank you Jamie x

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