During the course of one week: two different US states; two completely different groups of people. I was there, and I saw the same thing happen in both places and thought, “This needs to be talked about. WE need to talk about it.” So I’m writing, and blogging, and talking about the stuff we get afraid to talk about – because let’s face it, nobody wants to be the whistle-blowing whiner. (Oh alright, I’ll take the job this time. )
At the first event, I was with a fairly large group of people who had gotten together to do some Christian-ey stuff… and afterward, we headed to a restaurant together. The waitress pushed a bunch of tables together, creating not one, but two long tables. Most of the people in our group were in the 20’s to 30’s or even early 40’s range; most were stylish and attractively dressed. There were a few people though that didn’t fit the profile. There were several severely overweight women, there were a few people that could be considered elderly, and a few people that were somewhat socially awkward for whatever reason one might construe.
And it happened. I watched it happen – one thing that I am fairly certain should not ever happen in a group of people who are claiming to be following in the way of Jesus.
All of the young, vibrant, happy people sat with their friends. At one table. And the elderly, the broken and awkward, and yes, the extremely obese were left to sit at their own table.
I suppose we aren’t supposed to notice these things, much less discuss them. After all, elderly, obese, and other generic forms of socially awkward and/or excluded people really prefer each other’s company to that of vibrant, close-knit, fashionable and youthful people. Of this I am quite sure. Well, almost sure. Almost as much as I am sure that vibrant, youthful Christian people do not choose the company of the elderly, obese, and awkward ones over their more fashionable and interesting friends. Yes, sadly – of that much I *am* really sure.
Why is this? It is, after all, “normal.” Which is the very thing, that I think, Christians are not supposed to be. Well, I know Christians are not generally “normal” in their views on social issues if those issues are say, political. In that degree, many Christians are eagerly “not normal.” But what about the kind of “not normal” where we actively choose to build our social lives and social networks in completely confusing ways to the average human – deciding instead, in fact, to fully befriend someone who is obviously not a highly sought-after person in social circles [unfortunately even in our church groups] as our PREFERED way to live, prefered especially over just being cliquey teenagers in grown-up skin?
(Side note: of course, it is thought I think that there are no outcasts in our church groups, because after all, once we’ve found an outcast and they’ve prayed the prayer and started coming and doing the Sunday service thing with us, they’re no longer outcasts at all, right? And our job is just to get them into our church – but we all know we have too many friends to add someone… ‘else’ …to our busy lives. It’s not our job, we know that. Besides, these people are not like… us. They want to be in their own category, apart from us… don’t they? )
Well, anyway, that was one restaurant – two tables. But I have found that it is easy to smile and greet someone during worship. It’s easy to lay hands on them and pray – to even see their broken hearts and call them out and notice that they are lonely people – heck, to share ‘prophetically’ with them that they are lonely and that God wants to heal them of this – but then, when it comes time to go out to eat together, we all too often leave them sitting at their own table again. Alone. Just… like… the… ‘word of knowledge’… or word of comfort… or whatever it was that WE shared with them and told them it was time for them to be free from. We do this in plain view – and I can’t help but wonder, what happens when they are out of view? What happens when they are sitting alone, at home, and we are planning a get-together to go see a movie, or go shopping, or play a sport, or workout – whatever it is we do with our church friends when it’s our real life and not a church get together…does anyone invite the fat or old or weird people in the group to come do real stuff too? Do they ever get to be known as real people, enough to really know who they are and not just give them a ‘word’ about who they are – in our lives? I guess I have a hard time believing that they do, when they sit at their own table during our after-gathering meals. We only want to sit with the people we enjoy, the people we have real friendship with – and sadly, that’s never really going to be ‘those’ people. They have their life, and we have ours. Besides, at their own table, they are reaching out to the other outcasts, and that’s their calling, or something – something like that.
“It shall not be so among you.” Jesus pointed out some things about how social rules work outside His Kingdom, in everyday life – and He said, “It shall not be so among you.” I know in some places in the body of Christ, people want to learn how to do the amazing miraculous stuff that Jesus said His followers would do – “even greater works than these” is what He said His followers would do. But I have to wonder which is the greater miraculous feat His followers might learn how to execute: is it to heal the sick and raise the dead, or would it be to learn how to love people and bring all sorts of people who normally wouldn’t like each other together, just like Jesus Himself did?
But this was a tale of two tables – two times over. Because later in the week, I was at another restaurant, with another group of people. And once again, a waitress pushed tables together for the large group I found myself with. I had to use the restroom when we first arrived, so by the time I came out, almost everyone had seated themselves. And this time, there was one guy without a seat – looking over the long table where everyone had assembled. Did it have to be so obvious, as the table was filled with ‘on-fire’ young worshippers in their 20s and 30s again, that this man who had been worshipping with them, walking with a slow gait as he had recently had chemo and cancer in his 60s, was the one person standing there longingly looking for a seat among them? Someone tried to ‘help’ him (I guess) by recommending he sit at a nearby table just as I was walking in and saw that my fate also, a relative newcomer to the group, would also be to the exile table to sit with the lone older man. This story had a silver lining though – in that a young woman there named Rebecca instantly got up from the table and all her friends and said to me, “I’ll sit over there with you.” And she came and sat with us.
Rebecca’s actions were a spark of hope to me – to see a young follower of Jesus so eagerly and without any outward sign of remorse, eschew her peers and friends to sit with the old guy and the new [almost middle aged] woman, Her heart was a spark of glory and goodness the ‘people of God.’ But I also reflect that too often, to love those different than the mainstream, means going alone, and leaving one’s friends behind, and for Rebecca that day loving me and the other guy meant so doing. I am dimly hoping for the day, for the people, who will not have to make such sacrifices – because while such sacrifices are worthy and worthwhile to make, they should be unnecessary, and I do not believe they are a representation of the best the body of Christ could be. What I want to see is groups of friends learning to include, integrate, and love people outside their peer group together – so that the lonely outcast person doesn’t just sit with the one young sacrificial lamb who is torn between her friends and him or her, but so that the formerly socially unwanted person gets WELCOMED, integrated, brought into a circle where he or she truly becomes one with the circle. Where the whole gang wants to sit with the elderly ones, and learn from them, or the overweight ones, and look past their figure to their real mind and heart, or to the awkward ones, so they get to learn what normal relationships are like.
Because, I know that if we have two tables, there is one that Jesus is sitting at. If there’s an outcast table, He’s gonna be there – and one way or another, we’re all missing out. He’s missing the fellowship of the young and trendy, and we’re all missing Him in each other. I’d rather we all had Him, and the demonstration of His kingdom among ourselves, so that we can experience a joy that is more than ‘normal’ humanity – but is something truly from Above. Because after all, in the Kingdom, there really is only ONE table.