by Greg Russinger –
“Without supper, without love, without table companionship, justice can become a program that we do to other people.”—Murphy Davis, co-founder of the Open Door
I’ve just spent an hour talking with my brother in the local eatery. I find these “across the table” moments most meaningful since I live three hours away. The gift of 60 minutes not only deepens our friendship, but it slows us down so we can rewind and rekindle where we left off while risking the emotional investment of a real human relationship.
As I looked around the restaurant, I noticed that almost everyone was engaged in the same activity: Seated around a table enjoying a meal while tossing words back and forth causing human interaction and human recognition to flourish. As I gazed at this normal phenomena, I wondered how many around the world were joining with someone at a table, laughing, crying, telling a story, debriefing, eating, reflecting, planning, or praying. I wondered what their conversations were like; what were they eating; what did their table experience consist of; was their moment as pleasurable as mine; were the people around the table fighting back a deep sense of loneliness even though others were present; and lastly, I wondered how many were not seated because they were never welcome?
I quickly refocused so we could finish our time and reenter the hurried forces of city life.
The one thing I’m constantly reminded of from our time is how the table is essential for the quality of my life, how it shapes our collective human existence, and how radically it forms my faith and interrupts my soul.
In this season of Lent, we enter a 40-day period of plunging into sacred rhythms of listening to God and refocusing our lives through fasting. We relive the daily episodes of Jesus’ life as the cross looms silently, waking each of us to prepare for our personal and communal re-entry into the four holy days known as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter (Resurrection day).
It is during the first of the four days where we reanimate the significance found in the table. How I wish that our citywide invitations, promotional materials, websites, and ads placed in our newspaper, were focused on the Thursday (the table) as much as the Sunday (the cross).
Let us remember that the table came before the cross and the cross invites us back to the table. Both are life transforming symbols-—the cross our redemption, and the table our practice of human reconciliation and welcome. The cross calls to memory the sacrifice of Christ made for all and the table invites us to the beautiful mischief and messiness that this sacrificial love causes.
Can we imagine a neighborhood table where friends, strangers and enemies are welcome to encounter the towel and bowl, the bread and cup, servitude and forgiveness? A citywide Maundy Thursday experience comparable to the Easter Sunday gathering.
“And the Pharisees and their scribes
murmured against his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax
collectors and sinners?’”
“Hospitality is resistance”
In all four Gospels, the writers invite us to the table with Jesus. Skye Jethani, in his new book The Divine Commodity, writes, “It is there where we find Jesus moving beyond the external commodities and labels of people’s lives to engage their true identities. Jesus would affirm and welcome those who are completely lost morally, spiritually, and socially.” From the oppressed to the oppressor, the saint and the sinner, the betrayer and the faithful, all “found” them selves around the table with Jesus. What nerve. What mercy. What needed imitation.
John Chrysotom, one of the greatest early Christian preachers, spoke of this imitation when he draws our attention to the love of neighbor, “This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good… for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors.”
In contrast, Jethani states, “The church has abandoned the traditional language of loving strangers in favor of a new dialect. We call it seeker sensitive. This new mindset has taken the age-old Bedouin idea of hospitality (host first, ask questions later) and reversed it. Now the church tries to discover everything possible about its ‘target’ guests, and then host accordingly to predetermined expectations. Rather than focusing on loving the flesh and blood human being that is presented to us, we engineer an experience to be attractive to a hypothetical person predetermined by demographic research.”
Maybe the power of the table is found in how it offers us the opportunity to live from our own honest identity so that we might accept the true identities of others.
The table is the greatest leveler, keeping us equal. It doesn’t play favorites unless we choose to, something that Jesus didn’t celebrate. The table keeps us face to face, something that we have grown un-accustom to, uncomfortable with and fearful of. The overlooked, ignored, marginalized, and rejected stand on our street corners carrying their cardboard tracts; poverty stricken stories are told through our multiple screens asking you to “see”-—to see and not just look. When we practice the subversive table manners of Jesus it causes a dramatic resistance and defiance, a challenge to cultural and religious apathy that lives blindly to the “least of these.” Thus the table calls the least into the heart of community turning and enlarging the Great Commandment of Love.
Jean Vanier founder of L’Arche, says it best, “Sitting down at the table meant becoming friends with them, creating a family. It was a way of life absolutely opposed to the values of a competitive, hierarchical society in which the weak are pushed aside.”
“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors…. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” —Jesus
The table offers us a “kin-dom” perspective. A radically new perspective of seeing each other as God sees us in grace—and the treating of each other accordingly.
“By how much the brother may be least, so much the more does Christ come to thee through him”—John Chrysostom
Greg Russinger currently lives in Portland, Oregon with wife Michele and children Ashtin and Liam. He is lover of literature, film, ideas, and the beautiful struggle of human hospitality and welcome. He is the president and co-founder of JustOne (www.just4one.org), designer and curator of Soliton (www.solitonnetwork.org), a weekly/monthly scribbler at www.therussingerroad.com, speaker, co-author, and idea creator.
facebook: greg russinger
THE ALTAR – a table experiment
Later this year we are creating a social experiment within the city of
Portland, Ore. This experiment will consist of “one” long table down
multiple city blocks in the downtown area. We hope through this
experiment we will “alter” our neighborly perspectives that have
developed over time. We hope that exclusion, ego, judgment
and indifference melt into the street drainage system, while the
sweet and visible aroma of love blossoms into a physical movement
of divine welcome and embrace. This is a large “hope,” but a hope
that is reminiscent of the heavenly table that awaits us all.
Until we sit together…