A place at the table…

I spent Labor Day weekend with a wonderful group of people at the GALA annual retreat…and the theme was “A Place at the Table.”

I was also responsible for our closing Communion/sending forth service…and one of the hymns we sang was one by Shirley Erena Murray that has become a theme song for this group of people who have so often been marginalized by those who claim to follow Jesus.

For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead.

And God will delight
when we are creators of justice
and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight
when we are creators of justice,
justice and joy.

For woman and man, a place at the table,
revising the roles, deciding the share,
with wisdom and grace dividing the power,
for woman and man, a system that’s fair.

For young and for old, a place at the table,
a voice to be heard, a part in the song,
the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled,
for young and for old, the right to belong.

For just and unjust, a place at the table,
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live.

For everyone born, a place at the table,
to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free.

It’s a wonderful song to sing–but also a challenging one! In fact, right after I got back from the retreat, I saw a discussion about some of these words that became difficult because of some of those challenges.

It’s fairly easy to welcome men, women, and children to our table. It’s not so easy to be willing to give up some of what we have so that others can have enough to live–clean water, bread, shelter…

It’s especially difficult when we talk about those who deal justly and unjustly…when there are both abusers and abused ones asking for a place at our table. How do we give folks a chance for redemption while being sensitive to those who have been deeply hurt, whether that hurt is caused by physical, sexual, emotional or mental abuse? How do we create a table of justice and joy, compassion and peace?

The first time we sang this song in our congregation, I was aware that there was an individual who had been abused for whom this might be difficult, so I went to talk to the individual. The response was one of appreciation for the heads up…and now that has become a favorite song for this person.

However, as I have listened to other discussions, I have become aware that there are other individuals dealing with similar situations. I cannot always go to them because sometimes that means letting them know that someone else is aware of their past when they may not be ready to share it. And sometimes I may not know who in the congregation is dealing with these issues, but I want to be sensitive to them.

Yet there are also abusers who need to know that there is a place for them as well.

How can we be sensitive to the needs of all of them?

I think that sometimes it’s simply acknowledging that this is difficult…and that it’s okay. It’s important to have folks who are willing to be present with those who need someone to stand with them…to walk with them. We need to get to know each other better so that we create safe places where we can share our deep needs and fears.

Is any of this going to be easy? No.

Are we going to make mistakes? Yes…

But we have to keep trying.

Everyone deserves a place at God’s table…everyone deserves a safe place…and as a follower of Jesus, I am called to be uncomfortable…to work with others to create a place of justice, joy, compassion, peace…and safety.

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