The Tale of Two Tables


If I were to grade my hosting skills, I think a C+ is the best I could do. I love connecting with people and enjoy opening my home to friends and acquaintances. I look forward to cozy evenings filled with good conversation. I really do. It’s just all of the other stuff that goes along with hosting I just can’t deal with.

I know a person who would rate a 4.0 GPA in Advanced Hosting Skills. She is known for the dinner parties she holds. In fact, she recently won a hosting contest and her prize was a trip to England. She aced it. I mean, seriously, she checks all the boxes for hosting. She plans for weeks, if not months in advance. She chooses her menu, plans the décor, prepares her wardrobe. Everything is perfectly coordinated and flawless. The tables she sets for these occasions are pristine, white, crystal-covered works of art. The visual is honestly breathtaking.

That is not the table I set. And actually, those kinds of tables make me nervous. There are a lot of utensils, endless breaky things and everything is so dang clean and orderly I am afraid to move, speak or breathe. What if I knock over one of those glass pillars? What if I pick up the wrong utensil for the wrong course? What if, God forbid, I spill something on the carefully laundered, starched and ironed tablecloth?

While I can appreciate the beauty and order of tables like that, I know those are not my kind of tables. There was a time I thought they should be and I felt guilty that I didn’t possess the necessary skills and items to recreate that kind of table. But I realize now, not everyone can deal with that kind of table. And that’s okay.

My table is a plain wood surface, so it’s easy to clean, in case of a spill. The dishes are earthy, solid and hand crafted, each one different and unique. The décor is minimal. A few candles, maybe some cedar boughs for warmth and a cleansing scent. There would be a basket of warm bannock and a pot of hearty stew on the table, so everyone could help themselves. And there is always room for more. If we run out of space at the table, we just take our bowls into the living room and everyone can find a place on the couches, chairs and floor. There is always room; all are welcome.

This Tale of Two Tables is not just about how we choose to host dinner parties; it is a reflection of how I have come to understand faith, community and my Creator.

I grew up at a variation of the first table. It was orderly, clean and had pretty defined rules and etiquette. There was room at the table but there was also a dress code. All were welcomed in theory, but in practice it was kind of obvious that diversity wasn’t appreciated as it clashed with the décor and upset the other, long-term, guests.

I sat at this table for a lot of years but, as time passed, I became increasingly uncomfortable. I didn’t understand the “why” behind the etiquette at our table. I could not reconcile myself with what I saw at our table and what I imagined as all the possibilities of a table, in my heart.

There was an unspoken understanding that our table was the right way to set a table. But as I looked around at other tables around me, at other expressions of faith and community, I began to wonder if my table really was the only right way to set a table? I began to see beauty and mystery and faithfulness in table settings that seemed very different from my own.

During the past several years I have been exploring and challenging my own perceptions of what a faithful community looks like and if there is a right way to create community, after all. What I have come to know, in my own heart, is that Creator can be found at many, many tables. Creator can also be found sitting with those who have no tables. There are far fewer absolutes in setting a table than I once thought. The most important elements have nothing to do with what dishes we use or what décor we have.

What matters most is our willingness to accept our guests as they come. What really makes the difference at our table is our readiness to lean into stories and set aside our preconceived ideas of rightness for the sake of creating a loving, inclusive community.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”

These words have been inscribed on my heart from the first moment I read them. I pray my love for the dream of what my table could be, never overshadows my love for the people who fill the seats around my table. I pray my idea of what could be, never becomes more dear to me than the people who are. I pray my compulsion to follow my particular rules of etiquette never leads me away from those who most need The Bread I offer.

In this age of deconstruction, renovation or rebuilding of our faith, I pray we each stay tender to those who are looking for a seat at our table—or any table that will have them. I pray we are generous to those who host the tables around us, recognizing the strength in diversity of community. I pray we stay flexible in our rules and etiquette for the sake of the hungry. But mostly, I pray that Love will always, always be the tastiest offering we serve.