We Stay at the Table
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
We stay at the table.
This is one of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship's core values. It may sound simple, but a little unpacking reveals some challenging depths to this little five word phrase.
What does it mean to stay at the table?
What table? Where is the table?
Why do I have to stay?
Imagine a giant table to which all are invited and all are included. Every single human being is welcome to commune, to eat and drink, to have deep, intriguing, helpful, challenging, beautiful, contentious, opinionated, unified, long or short conversations. Too often when conversations implode or get tough, we scoot our chairs back and get up. We leave. We get angry. We vilify. We walk away, often never to return. Why?
I believe it’s because somewhere along the line we were taught to find our tribe: those who agree with us. We band together with our tribe, defining "us" in terms of how we disagree with "them." This is especially prevalent when religion and especially God are involved. After all, isn’t there a right way and a w
rong way to believe? This is the story we have been told, and that makes it necessary to tell a different new-but-old story, one about staying at the table with those of other tribes.
Imagine again with me: When the conversation gets rough, instead of forgetting to listen while we devise our truthy reply, we instead seek to listen, to learn, to be curious. Rather than simply getting up and walking away we lean into the discomfort of differing opinions. Picture what it feels like to disagree while remaining, living into the ambiguity of conversations, of difference, of the beauty in thoughts, ideas, and viewpoints? Living, breathing human beings will have divergent opinions among diverse people; this is part of what it means to be human. Conflicting opinions are a given. Our challenge is not how to avoid them, but how to deal with them.
For me, staying at the table begins with the imagery of the communion table of the last supper.
Visualize the scene: Jesus is preparing to pour out his life as a sacrifice, to suffer all kinds of terrible unjust atrocities on behalf of those sitting around the table with him AND for his enemies.
What he’s about to go through is so difficult that he will soon sweat blood while imploring God to remove the cup of suffering.
But right now he’s with his friends, his people, at the table.
These are the good guys.
These are the hand-picked chosen ones (you don’t think God knew what was going to happen with Judas, Peter, Thomas… all of them? And yet they were hand-picked).
These are the people that are about to be entrusted with the Gospel.
One of these friends will betray him.
One will deny him.
One will doubt him.
All but one will run when the pressure mounts.
And even as they leave this sacred moment, they argue about who’s the greatest in the kingdom.
Welcome to the world of being human. We are them! They are us! Human beings to the core, and just like us, they have no clue that they are expressing their deepest egoic humanity. They are blind to their own capacity for betrayal, for grasping for power, for cynicism, for doubt, for falling into fear and running away when it gets tough.
Nonetheless, there's beauty in the fact that they didn’t stay like this. They learned. They matured. They discovered how to stay when it got tough, to live out the words that Jesus spoke to them for three years. They finally understood how to love, how to lead and how to live out what Jesus taught. They became skilled at how to stay at that table of different opinions even to the point of death. This is transformation at its most potent.
CCF’s document describing our core value of “Staying at the table” reads this way:
"We stay at the table because relationships are core to abundant life, demonstrated by perseverance through tension and differences."
That’s it in a nutshell. Staying at the table is important because we are relational beings at our center. We need to be in relationship with others. This need requires perseverance and patience under tension and conflict. It is beautiful while ugly. It is both sides of the same coin. It is hard, but when it is lived out it can be wonderfully easy and profoundly satisfying. Jesus knew this, and I wonder if that’s why he told us to “do this in remembrance of him.” Reminding us to remember his pain as he refused to leave the table that ended his life, to remember the agony of abandonment uttered in his scream for God from that table-cross.
If we are going to stay at the tables presented to us throughout our lives, it could require suffering like that, and sometimes, if we’re honest, it might feel even worse. Nevertheless, the potential beauty of the table is this: like the cross, our tables will have their moments of profound resurrection where difficult conversations and relational tension become gardens where God’s love and power flourishes.
Is it easy to stay at the table? Nope!
Is it sometimes frustratingly aggravating to stay at the table? Yep!
Do we sometimes have to move down the table a bit, change chairs, pause a conversation, and choose to love the person who provokes us by changing the rules of the game? Absolutely 100% YES!!
Staying at the table is work. Yet, if we’re going to live into God’s kingdom here on earth, if we intend to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and love others as we love ourselves, then this is our work.
Here are a few other voices to help us in our journey.
Phil 2:1-11- Jesus did not consider equality with God as something to grasp but emptied himself…
This is the work of self-emptying, letting go of our egos and trusting God in the midst of staying at the table when it’s exasperating and demanding.
Parker J. Palmer puts it like this,
"And what does Jesus do in the midst of all of this? Being fully human, he must have been tempted to get up and leave – just as you and I are when our romantic images of community [or relationship] fail. But Jesus does not leave. Instead, he keeps breaking the bread and passing the cup. Both here and in the rest of his story Jesus demonstrates his commitment to staying at the table."
If our mindsets remain where they began when we were children, myopic, self-centered, all about my comfort, my way, all about me, what I want, what I think, my being right, then we will be able to remain at only a few tables. Primarily those wherein we agree and where everyone looks the same, and there’s little opportunity for deep abiding transformation.
It’s important to note that staying at the table is not for the faint of heart. There is a cost, and the cost looks a lot like the communion elements. The elements of dying to self, of love, of forgiveness, of brokenness for another. It is the table-cross from which Jesus cried, “Father forgive them they know not what they do.”
It is the cost of the cross and dying to self.
Nelson Mandela puts it this way:
"In real life we deal, not with gods, but with ordinary humans
like ourselves: men and women who are full of contradictions,
who are stable and fickle, strong and weak, famous and infamous…" *
Brene Brown says it like this:
“We're going to need to intentionally be with people who are different than us. We're going to have to sign up, join, and take a seat at the table. We're going to have to learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain, and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.” **
I must finish with these words. Staying at the table does not mean you never leave an abusive or unhealthy relationship. It does not mean that you never leave a church, community, or any other table at which you find yourself. It does mean that we don't leave the table in our hearts. We move down the table, sometimes way down the table. We should set boundaries; we should say no to unhealthy relationships. We don’t hold ourselves hostage to unforgiveness in our own hearts that so easily crops up in demanding or traumatic moments. It means we do everything we can to get to a space in which we’re able to love and forgive… even if it's from far away. Transformation does not usually arise in our easy moments, it is more often formed in those perplexing and difficult spaces of trial and pain, producing a more authentic, more alive, and infinitely freer us.
May we take up the cross and remain at our communion tables of transformation.
*Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela: Conversations with Myself
**Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and The Courage to Stand Alone