Who Is Welcome At Your Table?

I want to love as God has called me to love: those on the margins, those who are victimized, those with whom I disagree. Lent Week 6, Day 38

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Who sits at your table? With whom do you share meals?

Yesterday was Maundy Thursday. It marks the day Jesus ate his last meal with his disciples. I think it is interesting to consider who was at the table that night. Judas, the betrayer. Peter, the denier. Thomas, the doubter. John, the one given charge to care for Mary. And the rest, who deserted and hid.

So who do you invite to sit at your table?

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Who do I make room for at my table?

People like John, who are always present. It is easy to eat with those we love and agree with. There may be moments of disagreement or moments of frustration, but those are easier to overlook when we are in close, loving relationship with someone. I like to get together with like-minded people. It is comfortable. It is reassuring. It is encouraging.

And I think it is necessary, at times.

However, it is also necessary that I invite people to the table who challenge me.

People like Thomas, who doubt. People who are filled with despair because they look at the world around them and they feel they can no longer trust in anyone or anything. Lately, I have been finding myself to be like Thomas. And I hope people will invite me to their tables because I need to be with those who can see what I cannot see. I long for the day that what I am searching for will appear right before my eyes, but Jesus says, “Blessed are those who believe and have not seen.” I hope my table has room for Thomas.

People like Peter, who deny. There are some who have grown up their entire lives with a different faith than mine. They do not believe Jesus is Lord. They may accept him as a good teacher or a historical figure, but not divine in any way. Likewise, there are those who have shared a similar faith with me but have turned their backs on it. When faced with pressures from society, they deny ever knowing him. Their words and their behaviors become something entirely different. That saddens me. To be honest, it frustrates and, at times, even angers me. And I need to invite those people to my table. I need to hear from them. I need to know their journey; their struggle. I hope my table has room for Peter.

People like the “other disciples.” We are often tempted to be quiet. We are often tempted to keep our ideas to ourselves. We are often tempted to not rock the boat. We are often tempted to hide our faith, or at least the parts of our faith that would make us stand out in the world. We run. We hide. We don’t speak up. We are afraid. I keep using the pronoun “we” because when I say “you” or “they” I sit in judgment and pretend I am better than. I forget that I am, at times, guilty of the same behavior. I am angry with Christians who are not speaking up. But I am one of the Christians. I hope my table has room for all of us.

People like Judas, who betrayed. This is the hard one. This isn’t about someone who did something minor. This is about someone who just made a mistake. This is about inviting someone to the table who intentionally handed Jesus over to be arrested. Whether it was from purely selfish motives or he was trying to incite a violent revolt, he still did the deed that led to Jesus’ persecution and death. He betrayed everything Jesus stood for. He betrayed Jesus himself. And let’s wake up and be honest: many people in the world feel betrayed by Christians right now. There are some who have said and done some atrocious things. There are some who have aligned themselves with the power structures of this world and placed allegiance to the Kingdom to a secondary importance. They have betrayed Jesus. I hope my table has room for Judas.

I struggle with this. I need to make room for the people I disagree with; for the people I am angry with; for the people who disappoint me. I need to learn how to speak my mind in such a way that I am bold yet gracious. I need to stand up for people on the margins without pushing others out there to replace them. I need to be like Jesus in my words and deeds.

I need to make room for the people I do not want to invite: for the doubter, the denier, the deserter, and the traitor. Jesus had room for all of them. Jesus even washed their feet.

 

When You Fail At Lent

Doesn’t it suck to fail?

And I am not necessarily talking about the big, dramatic failures of life. I just mean those times when you had your sights set on an attainable goal and something happened to prevent you from achieving it.

Lent does this to me a lot. I enter into a 40 day period of fasting. I struggle for the first few days but then get into a new rhythm and find that my life does indeed go on without whatever it is I am giving up.

But then something happens: a bad day, an uncomfortable interaction with another person, a tragedy. Or sometimes, my coffee is cold or I slept poorly the night before. Whatever it is, something happens that knocks me down from the new routine I am living and I find myself back to where I was before Lent began.

And that happened this year. I have been discouraged for a long time now. Primarily, the root of my discouragement has been the ways Christians have allowed politics to determine our rhetoric and behavior. In a church that is called to be above the fray of the contemporary worldly systems, too many of us allow our lives to be directed by whomever is in power.

And this happens if we voted for the winners or losers.

So I entered Lent this year with two purposes: to replace my focus where it needs to and to write about my journey every day (except Sundays).

Regarding focus: I struggled at first. I wanted so badly to convince people that I was right and they needed to agree with me. I wanted other people to have the same realizations and revelations I have had. But I slowly became cognizant of the fact that my desire came from within me; not from within my relationship with Jesus.

And I started to calm down. I was viewing people and opinions differently. I still believed firmly in what I thought was right. I was still calling and emailing and advocating for positions and policies that I believe are beneficial to all people. But my relationships became more important. I didn’t figure out how all of that worked, but there was definitely a shift.

Regarding writing every day: I was doing all right. I had a schedule for each of the 40 days. I had, if not an outline, at least an idea for what each post would address. There were a few difficult days at first, but I quickly got into a routine. I was ready for each day’s post. I was looking forward to writing more.

And then something happened. Actually two things: we took a trip over Spring Break and that broke my new routine. Once I missed one day of writing, I struggled to get back into the groove.

And the constant, daily barrage of partisan politics and dishonest rhetoric overwhelmed me. “What is even the point?” is a question I began asking multiple times a day.

And now, I have missed an entire week of posts. By number, this one should be 31 and it should have been posted yesterday. The last one I wrote was number 25 and it was posted 5 days late. An entire week’s worth of posts have not been written. I feel as discouraged today as I did on March 1, Ash Wednesday.

I have failed on my Lenten journey. And yet….

The season is not over. There is still time to journey. And the culmination of this particular part of the journey is Resurrection Sunday—the day we celebrate the victory over all our failures; not because we win, but because the battle was won for us!

And that is never where the journey was supposed to end. Even the glory of the resurrection was only a marker point in the continuing journey until Jesus returns and this earth is made right. My “failure” at writing 40 posts in 47 days is not the end of my journey. It is just a reminder that the journey I am on is tough and long and hard and I cannot make it on my own.

Perhaps you have struggled in your Lenten fast this season. Maybe the food you intended to put down you picked back up. Maybe the behavior you were taking a break from snuck up on you and you have been giving up. Maybe the lure of social media was too strong to actually stay off of it for six weeks.

I am not here to tell you that all that is okay, but I am going to tell you that all of that is a reminder of why we are on this journey in the first place: we need a Savior and we are not it.

So what will I do? I will add post 31 on day 32. I will allow the post-less days from last week remain post-less. I will jump back into my journey and into my writing and I will share it with whoever wants to read it. This week, I am going to focus my posts on loving all people: those on the margins and those I disagree with. We are called to love God and love others. Let’s focus on how we can love others.

And I will encourage you to either continue or to re-start. Because the journey is not over yet.

To See. And Then To Move

This post should have come last Wednesday. But it didn’t.

In part because I am weary. I am tired. I am at a loss.

I recognize problems in the world and I want to fix them. I want to step in and do something. Yet I am so overwhelmed that I often freeze. I often feel burnt out, even though I have never really done anything.

I can easily name the problems in the world. I can point to the racism that is prevalent in many systems and structures. I can talk about the poverty and the negative implications of wealth disparity. I can see the effects of homelessness in the communities around where I live. And I want to work to fight against all of that…and more.

But there is just so much. And I am just one person. And all these things are going to continue long after I am gone, right? So what, really, can I do?

This next block of posts will deal with the continuation of my Lenten journey. As I continue learning how to break away from putting my faith and focus on power structures of this world and placing it where it needs to be—on God—I need to examine the practical applications.

I am called to open my eyes to the people right in front of me. Especially the people right in front of me who do not have the voice and privilege that I have. I need to open my eyes to the people who are hurting. I need to open my eyes to the people who are different.

I have learned through the course of my journey that my weariness due to being overwhelmed with the problems of the world does not compare with the pain of the people are actually experiencing the problems of the world.

Having a heart of compassion is necessary in order to live in this world. We must see and be moved by the pain and suffering around us. But we need to take steps beyond just feeling. We need to move and act.

Lord, open my eyes that I might see. Give me compassion. Give my courage. Give me endurance.

Give me a good, swift kick in the pants.

When Love Transcends Opinion

I want to hold myself and my church accountable regarding my/our love of people. Lent Week 4, Day 24

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This past Sunday, it was revealed from the pulpit that I am a liberal.

No one seemed surprised by this.

But the whole story is a great lesson in holding one another accountable in regards to love. There was a sermon several weeks ago that called all of us to remember that the people we worship with are more important than the political parties we affiliate with. Our preacher, Jonathan, went so far as to say that there are people in the sanctuary we need to apologize to; because we have despised our sisters and brothers based on matters that are less important than following the will of Jesus.

After hearing this sermon, I kept pondering what it meant practically. How would I go about working on these relationships? How would I learn to take my focus off of temporal things and put it back on eternal things?

And then I was caught by surprise. My friend, Loren, came up to me and apologized. I had no idea he had anything to apologize for. But he told me he had allowed my social media posts to upset him. He was allowing my opinions and ideas to be a barrier in our relationship. And I had no idea.

So he apologized to me. And then he affirmed me. He thanked me for the lessons I was teaching him. In spite of me holding opinions that frustrated him, he decided to look past those to see the better parts of me.

I was grateful. But I was also convicted. Am I willing to do the same thing? Am I willing to admit that I am allowing other people’s opinions to form a barrier in our relationship? Am I willing to apologize? Am I willing to see through the words to find the better parts of the person?

This is hard for me. Because I want so badly to be superior to those who have different opinions. But is that truly to best thing to do?

Receiving an apology (especially one you do not know you are owed) is a humbling experience. Offering an apology is a vulnerable experience.

Maybe if we focused more on humility and vulnerability, our overall ability to love and serve will grow.

Me And Jesus: A Lesson In Seeing

I want to hold myself and my church accountable regarding my/our love of people. Lent Week 4, Day 23

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Jesus saw a woman at the well and spoke with her.

Jesus saw a man with leprosy and touched him.

Jesus saw a thieving tax collector and went to his house.

Jesus saw sick people and healed them.

Jesus saw poor people and noticed them.

Jesus saw foreigners and commended their faith.

Jesus saw guilty people and forgave them.

Jesus saw victimized people and fought for them.

I see a person of color and cross the street.

I see a multiple-times-divorced woman and shake my head.

I see a (fill in the political party of your choice) and assume the worst.

I see a homeless person and hope they don’t see me.

I see guilty people and talk about them to others.

I see victimized people and ask what choices they made that led them to their victimization.

I want to love God and love others. I want to be able to focus on people and not ideology. I want to follow the example of Jesus. This means I cannot look at people as if they are the worst part of themselves. I must look at people as if they are the children of God. Jesus did. And he saw people. I often do not. And I see problems.

If I am truly going to love, I need to change how I see.