November 21, 2013

On [pulling up] A Seat at Your Table.

Those who find themselves oppressed by society, be it women, minorities, etc., often discuss how unfair it is that they often are not offered a seat at "the table." 

We spend energy and words and God-breathed oxygen struggling for our voices to be heard and grasping for a seat at the table: whether that is an Afghani woman asking for a seat at the peace table, Sheryl Sandberg calling for more seats for women at the power table, or Sarah Bessey declaring she is done fighting for a seat at the theology table.

Maybe instead of focusing solely on those seats that may or may not exist, we take an honest look at who we are inviting to our own table. Maybe rather than demanding a place at another’s table (or attempting to destroy the table altogether), we open our own tables and declare, “pull up a chair,” to those least expecting an invitation.

Our friends know they are welcome and our allies feel safe dining with us, but can our enemies expect a healthy meal from our hands? Are outcasts free to approach our bounty without fear of being turned away or worse, ignored?

Our table might not be the biggest, the most powerful, or the most influential. The chairs might not match, and we might have to pull the leaf out of the dusty attic. Even so, there are some who don’t have any table at all. Why not find room for more at ours?

My preacherman husband and I are walking (okay, slowly trudging and sometimes crawling, or maybe even clawing) through the book of Matthew with our youth group—which is in and of itself a fun and unlikely story. 

Our youth group is largely made up of the best kinds of kids: non-church kids. They are still figuring out just who Jesus is and they haven’t been shamed into being perfect for the sake of others’ opinions. This means their answers are always honest, usually raw, and sometimes startling. They are completely willing to verbalize, “but I don’t want to do that,” when we read about how Jesus desires that we love our enemies.

I asked them, quite literally, who was sitting at their tables during lunch time at school. No matter what clique they identify with, there was inevitably a type of person they did not want at their table. Some disdained “popular kids,” while others only wanted to sit with other athletes. They all talked about “that table in the corner near the janitor’s closet” that was either awesome or awful to find yourself consuming chicken nuggets at—all dependent upon their experience.

We read the story in Matthew 9 where the Pharisees question Jesus’ choice of dining companions. He wasn’t eating with the people others expected him to eat with—instead of other religious leaders, he was eating with “tax-collectors and sinners.” Because, the Pharisees knew, just as our teenagers in our youth group know full well, when you eat with others, you are associating with them. You are saying, “These are my people.

So my challenge to our youth—to invite someone to their table who would never expect an invite—is my challenge to you and to myself. Are we only eating with those that others would expect us to eat with? Are we willing to invite people without a table to our own?

We might not always find ourselves invited to the tables we long to influence. In the meantime, let’s pull up a chair for the table-less among us.

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