A few months ago, I stumbled across a book that piqued my interest (no surprise here, as books are my weakness and my current collection already fills all of our shelves and have of a storage unit). I had never heard of the author, but the topic matched most of my current passions and struggles. Once I started reading the book, I realized I didn’t want to read it alone. I wanted to be able to talk about it with others. So I had an idea to “put it out there” for others to read the same book, and then come together over a meal to talk about it. But I didn’t just want to talk. I wanted our bread breaking and discussion to lead to action.
The book is titled A Bigger Table and it was written by John Pavlovitz, a North Carolina pastor who also has a blog called “Stuff That Needs to be Said”. In his book, Pavlovitz addresses the question I have been wrestling with for years. How do we (I), as Christians, get out of our Christianese bubbles and meet people where they are, love people where they are, and share our lives and tables with all people from all walks of life without judgement or agenda? What does it look like for people to build relationships with people, rather than getting stuck in the hamster wheel of doctrine and theology?
I put a request out on Facebook to see if anyone would be interested in reading, eating, and talking about this with me. Then I created an event based on interest. My original plan involved hosting people in the outdoor area of our apartment complex and cooking a meal to be shared, but then I found out we aren’t actually allowed to invite more than two people to the beautiful amenities for which we pay each month. Silly. But whatever.
So Tim and I went to my favorite Cuban restaurant this past Saturday evening and waited to see who would show up. I mean, people RSVP’d on Facebook, but we all know what that means. Nothing. Personally, I ignore most Facebook invitations completely. Many people reply “yes” with great intentions but forget or life gets in the way. I have attempted many gatherings in the past where no one actually showed up and I was left with a table full of food, lonely and hurt, so this was a particularly vulnerable risk for me. I was thrilled when 8 friends showed up to dine and discuss!
The best part was that none of these friends had ever met each other, they only knew me (and, in some cases, Tim). These friends all attend different churches and have very different stories and backgrounds. They all have one thing in common, though. They want the local church to do a better job of being a safe and loving place for all people, and they – like me – have no idea how to make that happen.
As people got to know each other and we all dug into our mojo chickens, plantains, Cuban sandwiches, and beans with rice, I awkwardly started the conversation we had gathered to have. What did everyone think of this book, and what do we want to do about it? I sort of word-vomitted out about several questions in a run-on sentence which somehow lead us each to sharing a little about ourselves. We had all come to faith in different ways and at different times. We had all experienced feeling like “an outsider”, even in our own churches and communities. We all have friends who have been hurt by the church. And we all wanted to see things change.
Early on in the conversation, a very smart friend suggested that this conversation needed to last much longer than one meal, and he was right. As we kept talking, we realized that we had left the content of the book and entered into sharing our own experiences. We recognized that we can’t put all of the pressure on a large organization, such as a church, to foster honest relationships across dividing lines.
We all came to the same conclusion that each of us is, in fact, an agent of change. We also decided we needed more meals and conversations to figure out how, exactly, to be agents of change in our spheres of influence.
I loved our quirky little gathering, but I came this this conclusion: we need more meals, more conversations, and more people at the table who also want to get better at building relationships. We need to be doing this all the time. And we need a much bigger table.
So what are we going to do about it? Well, I hope to gather us all together again. And I hope our little group grows. And I hope our conversations turn to action and action turns to relationships and relationships cause a wave of change in our communities which are currently so incredibly divided.
I don’t have any answers, but I have a passion for bringing people together and asking hard questions and friends who are willing to do the same.
Hopefully the next table will be bigger, fuller, and abundant in life-changing words that turn into heart-changing actions. Do you want to join us? Reach out on Facebook, Instagram, email, with an owl, or maybe even snail mail. We would love to pull up a chair at the table for you.