a thought in progress

We were talking this morning in a breakfast meeting about alternative communities – why the ongoing regular community stuff doesn’t seem to fit too easily into what we’re doing in this project, and why what we’re doing fits awkwardly into the church. this is where the conversation went… [it’s a thought in progress, bear that in mind!]

Most conversations about new forms of church or christian community are about rethinking the table at which the disciples sit. True confession: this project doesn’t emerge from any interest in that table, or even really in the disciples. i think the really interesting stuff of the gospels is the other stories – the tables Jesus went to where the disciples weren’t invited, or where they were so absent no-one thought to mention their presence – the afternoons at Mary and Martha’s, the nameless person’s house where Jesus met the syro-phonoecian woman, dinner at Levi’s house, dinner with Peter’s mother, the ‘water into wine’ wedding table. i think they’re the fun tables.

Interestingly, there’s not a lot of evidence in the gospels that the people around those tables wanted a seat at the disciples’ table – the main event, as such. Which makes it interesting, then, that most conversation about inclusion [and about new forms of Christian community] involves making sure there’s space for everyone at the disciples’ table – the presupposition being that there is only the one table around which everyone should sit. It gives those around the table an enormous amount of power. Perhaps that’s a myth perpetuated by them – because we have been taught to look at things from the disciples’ perspective we think there’s only one table – but the disciples were never as good as Jesus at recognising the other tables.

Perhaps another way of understanding inclusion and generosity is recognising that Jesus doesn’t sit at just one table, and that the disciples don’t host the other tables, or get to decide what happens there. Often they don’t even get invited. Those other tables are out of their control… and will mostly exist out of their line of vision.

If that’s the case, the ultimate act of inclusion for Christian communities is to encourage the possibility there might be other tables [fun tables, with good food – just as good as the church’s table] where God might just turn up, because the story of God is not about inclusion into the Church’s table, but inclusion into a story of life. Because as we know, you don’t have to be a disciple for god to seek you out, and just because you’re a disciple doesn’t mean you get the very best of who God is, and turning into a disciple isn’t the anticipated, or even desired, outcome of every encounter with the story of life…

Which is why we don’t believe that every act of worship, every sacred space should emanate from, or be directed back towards the church’s table. And why we have to look much broader than the disciples for our models of community.

All that, over fruit toast.

[update: i still can’t leave comments on the site! but keep chatting amongst yourselves… i’m reading them all… and i need to think more about it – especially Adam’s question about what the other spaces look like. Perhaps for me the question is who I am in the other spaces, because i’m not sure they can be spaces of our making… Or maybe they can be, but I’m really interested in sitting at the tables where we aren’t the hosts.]

13 Comments

  1. i agree with what you are saying here – as someone who has experienced quite deeply the hurt of not ever being ‘good enough’ to sit at the disciples’ table, i think the church has a massive amount of work to do to get over the idea that theirs is the only table there is, or that’s worth being at ! good thinking !!

  2. Great stuff – I’ve been thinking some similar thoughts of late. This is why I really believe we don’t need many more churches but instead we need churches that are not churches – sitting at other tables apart from the disciples table. Well said.

  3. Which is also why it’s good to have at least some alternative worship well away from churches. In peoples’ homes would seem ideal for a truly inclusive worship event. The church doesn’t “own” Christianity any more than you or I do. If that was the case, there wouldn’t be denominations and no need for alternative forms of worship.

  4. Drew Hanna

    Hi people! really love the comments and love the original thought Cheryl!

  5. Kel

    is the bread Helga’s?

    ~ ~ ~

    the other tables

    you have just put into words how we’re trying to live life at the moment
    sitting at the other tables
    and my new arts project job puts me at another table altogether

    and oh the tension of living in the space where one doesn’t sit comfortably at either table

    how does one reconcile that?

  6. What would be examples of the other tables for you?

    I have some answers to this question for myself, but I was wondering how this would look for you.

  7. Cheryl – you articulated what I have been thinking this past year. In fact, I just distanced myself from every parachurch group and no longer claim affiliation with a particular church for just this reason. Another point to ponder is that while one shouldn’t dine alone all the time, sometimes one needs a table set for one.

  8. BRUCE GRINDLAY

    Hi Cheryl, came across the reference on Jonny Baker’s blog. I’m taking some really BIG breaths! I’m going to have a day filled with ponderings. I deserve it. You make me think like I haven’t thought for ages. Thanks.

  9. Cheryl – sorry to see you can’t comment! I really appreciate the update you posted about being interested in the tables where we are not the hosts – this really has me thinking – thank you!

  10. It seems the last month or so I’ve been doing a fair amount of reflecting and writing on the ” table.” I really wonder if Jesus wanted us to institutionalize what happened in the upper room. We seemed to have ritualized it to the point that it has lost it’s sacredness. The table is a story weaved all through the fabric of the gospels. The table can be seen as a landscape in which life is lived. Humanity gathers around all kinds of tables of some sort. Whether it be a table with four legs, or woven mat…around we gather as family, or friends…food and conversation. This was the landscape into which Jesus revealed his redemptive imagination. Jesus dining with the religious establishment and the prostitute shows up to wash his feet with tears, inviting himself to Zacheus’s house for lunch…these tables were spaces where redemption could take place…if one had imagination.
    Jesus took two of the most common things in the lives of his friends, bread and wine. They would have likely eaten it at most meals. He revealed that in his hands all of life is grace, even the most common, the most mundane…it all, every moment was sacred. The table, the landscape around which we gather…filled with redemptive possibilities…if we dare dream, and fill ourselves with the redemptive imagination of Jesus.
    It isn’t the church’s table, it’s Jesus’ table…and all to often it is wide open, with out borders, and boundaries…and often found in spaces we have become blind to. Thanks Cheryl for stretching my imagination.

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