A place at the table?

A few days ago I had an exchange with a friend that made me do some thinking.

One of my favorite new hymns has the words “For everyone born, a place at the table…” This exchange made me think about how I’ve responded–and how/do if I make others feel that there is a place at the table for them.

Over the last year the political situation in the United States has been very difficult and divisive, and it has caused my friend to feel that there has not been a place at the table for those who have disagreed politically. She has felt uncomfortable at times…felt judged and not welcome.

I deeply regret that.

When I sing “For everyone born, a place at the table,” the hymn talks about male/female, young/old, the just/unjust… Do I also mean that there’s a place for those whose political opinions differ from mine?

I would hope so.

My friend has some deep and valid concerns. They are not necessarily ones I agree with–but as I have listened to her talk, I understand them better.

And I think that’s part of the secret of finding a place for the table for everyone. While I think it’s essential to find ways to protect those who are vulnerable, I also believe that we have to be willing to listen to each other…even–perhaps especially when–it’s uncomfortable.

Only through listening can we find ways to work together to solve problems. And then…

…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!

 

Compassion…to suffer with…

Sometimes there are almost no words to say. But I have to try.

Yesterday I was shocked and appalled at the current administration’s budget. But I was even more appalled to hear the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, describe it as “compassionate.” Compassionate?!?

This proposed budget includes a huge increase in defense spending–with corresponding cuts to (1) climate change research, (2) foreign aid, (3) public broadcasting, (4) national institutes of health, (5) meals on wheels, and (6) after-school programs…among others. The reasons? They don’t believe in the science that has been widely accepted around the world–and, in the case of Meals on Wheels and after-school programs, they don’t see any demonstrable benefits from them.

Really?

First of all, for many of the kids (and families) who depend on the after-school programs, they provide a safe place, food, and a place where they can get help with schoolwork. Those aren’t demonstrable benefits?

And Meals on Wheels provides nutritional meals for folks who may be on the border of having to choose between food and other necessities…folks who may not be able to get out…as well as providing a way for someone to check up on them to ensure they haven’t fallen (or worse). Those aren’t demonstrable benefits?

I said yesterday that I believe that the GOP and I use different dictionaries to find the definition of compassion. The dictionaries I use indicate that the word comes from the mid-14th century, from Latin words that mean “to suffer with.” I do not see much suffering with those who are poor…hungry…in need.

And I am reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 25:

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited….

Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.

 

“What is truth?”

It’s Lent…a time when those who follow Jesus take time to prepare for the journey to the cross and through into Easter Sunday.

For whatever reason, part of the conversation between Jesus and Pilate has been on my mind lately. It takes place after Jesus has been arrested…taken to the high priest for questioning and then sent to Pilate. There is a brief conversation between the two about whether Jesus is a king or not (as Pilate understands kingship). Jesus says he is a witness to the truth–that anyone who cares for truth would recognize his voice. And then Pilate asks the question: “What is truth?”

Is that a serious question? a rhetorical one? a cynical one? The story doesn’t say. Pilate just immediately moves back to the crowd…tells them he didn’t find any reason to put Jesus to death…and ultimately caves when the crowd accuses him of not kowtowing enough to Rome.

But it’s an important question. What is truth?

Today there are lots of ways that “truth” is being defined. But I think that the truth that stood in front of Pilate was truth then and is truth for us now. And that truth can at least partially be described this way:

  • All people are of worth! It doesn’t matter what their political status is…their wealth…their religion…their background…their lifestyle. Jesus mingled with everyone.
  • We show God’s love by the way we treat others. Again, it doesn’t matter about political status…wealth…religion…background…lifestyle. Do we treat them like we would want to be treated ourselves? If we don’t, then we’re not truly showing God’s love.
  • There are always more questions than answers. Sometimes the questions are uncomfortable–Jesus put people on the spot. And sometimes the answers are uncomfortable. But if we’re not willing to ask those questions–and listen to the answers–then we are like Pilate. We ask the question…but don’t really want to know the answer.
  • Truth is demanding. It calls us out of our comfort zones.

If I’m honest, there are times in my own life when I’m like Pilate. I ask the question–but then walk away from the answer. But how do we remember Pilate today? Not how I’d like to be remembered!

I’d much rather try to live like Jesus, who has influenced our world for 2000 or so years. Yes, I know there are many groups/people who claim to be like Jesus–but I want to be like the one standing before Pilate as “truth with flesh on.” It’s not going to be comfortable…or easy…and I’m not always going to succeed. But it’s the Jesus people need to see…in order to know they are of worth and are loved.

…of one heart and mind…

There’s a phrase in the scriptures of my faith tradition that I’ve always loved: “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”

The words could be interpreted a number of different ways–and have been in the various faith groups that call these words scripture. Even in my own, understanding them has been a growing process.

I like the words because of what they say about community.

“Zion” is another name for the kingdom of God as lived out on earth–the kind of community that I believe the early followers of Jesus experienced.

The challenge is found in the words “were of one heart and one mind.” Sometimes that’s been interpreted to mean that the members of the community all believed the same things. But I don’t think that’s what it means at all. In fact, I don’t really have any interest in living in a community where everyone believes the exact same thing…lives in lockstep, as it were. I like diversity!

So what do I think those words mean? As I’ve been thinking about it recently, I think it can be interpreted in light of what Jesus called the two great commandments–to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If that is our focus, then we will be of one heart and one mind, even if the way in which we express and live out those beliefs vary.

If we do that, then we would be living in righteousness–living rightly…in accordance with high ethical principles.

And if we do all of that, then there would not be any poor among us, because we would be willing to share with each other. We wouldn’t be so worried about accumulating “stuff.”

Is this way of living even possible? I believe so–but it asks us to be vulnerable to each other…to be willing to live in understanding that none of us has all knowledge or all truth…to learn to see each other through the eyes of the One who created us…

Is this way of living possible? I believe it is–and not only possible, but absolutely essential.