Friday, June 12, 2020

A Messy Table

Believe it or not, when you say something like, "If you want to have a real conversation about racism, you have to invite the racists," there's a lot of pushback. There's a lot of outcry. There are a lot of persons who don't want those who are "so backward, wrong, and hateful" at their table. And we could put any of yesterday's examples of the obstacles to real conversation here - we want to talk about racism, but we don't want to include those we call racist; we want to talk about policing, but we don't want to hear from the police; we want to talk about the Confederate flag, but we don't want to listen to the Southern Pride group; we want to have a discussion about masks, but only with other pro-mask individuals. 

In other words, most of us in the world want to speak, not dialogue. We want to lecture, not converse. We think the time for talking about it is over, and it's time to make some declarations. We can only make declarations if we are the only voice speaking. 

We don't want a table; we want a podium. 

Spoiler alert: the world has never been lectured into change. 

The thing about tables, real tables, is that they're messy. They're complicated. They aren't easy. They require us to be around individuals who are just as passionately wrong about something as we are passionately right about it (in our eyes). They require us to share a butter dish with those we wouldn't spit on if they were on fire. They require us to see more of someone than just an idea we disagree with, and that alone really muddies things. It's a whole lot easier if we can just think someone is a moron instead of realizing they are a dynamic human being who has ideas and experiences we can't even understand that have shaped the person we aren't interested in truly knowing. 

When we think about tables, we think naturally of Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper. And for the most part, when we think about what kind of table this was, we think it must have been mostly harmonious. These guys spent a lot of time together. They knew each other well. Judas Iscariot is, of course, the odd man out, but we get it. And this kind of idea makes us think that our tables should be harmonious places, too, and that we can just shame the one guy until he leaves and goes and hangs himself. He'll take care of his own wickedness if we just push him out far enough. That's the approach we take to those who disagree with us. We'll just shame them away from our table. We'll just out them, and they'll run away, tails tucked, and we'll never see them again. 

But even Jesus's table was more dynamic than this. 

James and John thought they were better than everyone else. They were even so bold as to suggest to Jesus that they should be sitting at His right and left hand when His kingdom comes. The other disciples knew about this bold statement, no doubt. They knew James and John thought they were better than everyone. They broke bread with them anyway. 

Thomas was a natural doubter. He was probably also obstinate. He wasn't going to change his mind unless he had a heavy weight of evidence right on his hands. Unless it made undeniable sense to him. He was going to stand there and argue with the others, tell them that their experience wasn't enough. He was probably one of those "Yes, but..." guys who was only willing to take into account his own experience, which was probably limited, but he, of course, didn't see it that way. His experience was authoritative for him, and it wasn't enough to think that someone else might have had a different experience. They broke bread with him anyway. 

Judas Iscariot was along for the ride. He wasn't a real friend, and he wasn't a real ally. He was against this whole Jesus thing, and he was about to show it. He was about to become a turncoat and team up with the enemy. They broke bread with him anyway. 

Peter was impetuous. He was always saying whatever popped into his head, without much of a filter. He was the disciple most likely to be interviewed on the news, saying something that would embarrass the rest of them or completely misrepresent who they were and what they were about. His fire far outpaced his understanding, and he had to be constantly reminded to slow down and focus and stop running away with things. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter grabbed a sword and started slashing. They broke bread with him anyway. 

Andrew was someone who just kept bringing others to the Jesus events, usually without any kind of screening. He wanted everyone there. He wanted to share this message with anybody who wanted to hear it. They broke bread with him anyway. Nathanael was sitting under a tree when he was called to come see Jesus; he wasn't doing much of anything, but he had heard some things about the Jewish Messiah, so he came to check it out. He was basically a joiner. He was the kind of guy who was bored and looking for something to do and heard a few things that made sense to him and ended up joining something bigger than he even imagined. They broke bread with him anyway. 

Around Jesus's table, you can find anyone you should find around your own table. You can find anyone who we're talking about in these current discussions. These weren't eleven guys who loved each other and agreed about everything and were just happy to have the chance to talk. They didn't come together and settle on one message and start shouting it from their lecterns. They were conversationalists, not lecturers - and they were this way because they practiced with each other, not being fooled into believing that these other men were just like them but knowing the heart of these other men and who they truly were. 

And that's something else. For everything these men were, for their experiences and personalities and quirks and challenges, the one thing they could trust in one another was the heart that each brought to the table. And that's what we need to start looking for in others. Not what their position is, but what their heart is. Is someone passionate about this? Are they invested in it? Even if we think they are wrong, are they engaged? We need engaged persons around our table, persons willing and ready to have the hard conversations - to listen at least as much as they speak, even more is better. And we need all of them.

We need the ones who think they are better than us. We need the "yes, but..." guys who will only be convinced by their own experience. We need the impetuous, passionate individuals who are prone to run away with things. We need the turncoats and the ones who seem to betray our whole point. We need those who open their arms too wide and bring everybody. We need those who were sitting on the sidelines and decided to jump in anyway. If we want to have a real conversation about these real issues, we need to break bread with them all. Even the ones we think don't have anything valuable to add. Even the ones we think don't have anything meaningful to say. 

If we ever want to change the world, we have to understand others just as much as we want them to understand us. And that starts around a real table, and a real table is messy. It's hard. 

But it's worth it. 

Just look at how thirteen guys around a real table already changed the world once. 

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