“All are welcome to come to the table.”
It’s a phrase that is echoed in church a lot. The Table. We talk a lot about this Table. It means the Space. Fellowship. Relationship. Having a spot at the Table means having a voice and being fully accepted in. This Table is where decisions are made, where we can eat and be satisfied, where we can learn and grow and be at peace. The Table is the Church. It is taking communion. Being invited to lunch after service. Being welcomed to the Table and being affirmed at the Table, I have found, are two different things. Some people may sit at the Table but not speak at it. Some may sit at the Table and not eat from it. Historically, these people have been minorities; they are not the same skin color, they are of different sexual orientation, they have different beliefs; they have been Othered in some way and the Church has said they cannot have a seat. They cannot eat.
Lately, I’ve been trying to find my seat at the Table. But it feels to me that I got the invite but when I show up, there is no place mat for me. It looks like all the seats are full. Full to the brim. When I try to ask where my seat is, no one will make eye contact. Somehow, this almost feels worse than not having been invited. It’s like they invited me just to show me who else got to be here. Everyone sitting down is the Good Christian. The Woman With The Quiet And Gentle Spirit. There are the White Men With Theology Degrees. There are the Women With Children. The Women in Relationships. The Godly Men. The People With The Servants Heart. And at the edge of the Table peering in, is Me.
I think that maybe I read my invitation wrong. Maybe I was never welcome here at all. Maybe it was meant for someone else. I think they sent it to me too early; it was for me, but for the version of Me that I used to be. Like, “We put you on the guest list before you started talking about your problems with traditional eschatology. Before you opened your mouth about affirming gay people. Before you started talking about sex so much. Before you started cussing.” It’s like they wanted the Nice Faith; the one without So Many Opinions. The one who was Gentle. The one who Cried Quietly. I feel like people liked me more when I hid my depression and my anxiety and before I reposted so many political articles. Before I showed how angry I was. I feel like people liked me when I was Lying, but not so much now that I refuse to dilute myself.
I’m trying to sit at the Adult Table with the Men With Theology Degrees and tell them I know a thing or two. They talk over me because I am a Woman and I should Be Quiet. They have opinions with big words and egos. They tell me to Go Home. But I don’t want to go home, I want to be here at the Table with everyone else. I want to share my story and my perspective. Sometimes I’m even foolish enough to believe I have something of value to add. Sometimes I think maybe the Table would be better if one of the voices wasn’t a Man With A Theology Degree. But they take one look at me and realize I’m an Emotional Woman and think I cry too much to think critically about God. As hurt as I am by their rejection, I can’t silence the voice inside me that wants to speak whether they hear me or not.
So I walk over to the other side of the Table and find the People In Relationships. I’m one of them! Maybe I can speak wisdom here. At this part of the Table they are holding hands but with just enough distance in between them to not make anyone else uncomfortable. I want to see if my boyfriend and I will be welcome here. But they look away. They don’t want to hear about how I’m going to be the breadwinner in my future; that I have asked my boyfriend if he would be okay with being a Stay At Home Dad so I can have a Career. They don’t like that he doesn’t go to Church. They don’t like that I spend the night at his house. When I look around I realize that we do not look like the other couples at the Table. The ones there Read the Bible and Pray Together while my boyfriend and I will get into heated discussions about religion. They go to date nights to the movies and my boyfriend and I have a favorite bar where we have fallen in love. I want to say “Look what I have learned by being in love!” They don’t want to hear Me. My Love doesn’t look the same as Their Love. They think that means the Bible does’t honor My love.
In a last ditch effort, I walk over to the Children’s Ministry People and hope I can be of assistance here. I am the second oldest of nine; I love kids. I like to think I’m a good aunt to my niece. I love the small children at my new church and think they love me back. I think I have valuable experience. But there are Rules. So Many Rules. I can’t tell them that I have Doubts. I can’t tell them I affirm gay relationships. Don’t let the high schoolers cuss in small group. Be civil. Don’t share your Political Views. Don’t post pictures with Alcohol on social media and be a Bad Influence. Don’t bring up Controversy because Parents Won’t Like It. I can’t keep up.
I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want a seat the the Table if I have to fight for it or demand it. I don’t want to talk unless my voice is truly valued or listen to. I don’t want to be here anymore! I am Tired and Angry. I’m Drained. I don’t want to constantly feel the need to defend my existence here. Like I always need to show my invitation to say “I was on the guest list! Check!” I feel like I’m constantly combing the Bible and policies and using logic and reason and trying to find more innovative ways to make people accept me and I don’t want to do it anymore. If I need to pull out one more bible verse that proves I have the right to speak, I will throw up. If I need to reference one more popular theologian in order to justify a belief I have, I will faint. I just want to scream JESUS INVITED ME HERE FOR FUCK’S SAKE CAN YOU JUST PULL UP A DAMN CHAIR.
As exhausting as it is, I’m not quite ready to give up yet either. Because for once, I have stopped to look around me. There are a lot of other people attempting to find a Chair at the Table. A lot of people who have been here a lot longer than I have. They are worn out and exhausted. They just want a drink. They just want to rest. We are all tired of the gatekeeping and the rules. We just want a place to sit and eat and be with one another. We won’t stop until we get our seat.
So here I am. I’m bringing my Whole Self to the Table and I brought my own damn Chair. I’m inserting it right in between the White Men With Theology Degrees and by the People In Relationships and the People In Ministry and I’m not shutting up or being kicked out because I have every right to be here. Same as everyone else. Call me unworthy. Call me annoying. Call me a heretic. Selfish. Stupid. Call me whatever names you can think of but Jesus did not say “it is finished” just for people to make it seem like I still needed to Clean Up before coming to the Table. My mess was good enough for Jesus; if it isn’t enough for you, well, take it up with him.
I am trying to bring myself and others to the Table. Sometimes its exhausting and I want to give up and go home. But I’ve always been stubborn. I have things to say and I’m not leaving until they are said and listened to. I am sitting at the Table and I am not going to water myself down for it either. I’m coming here and putting my elbows on the Table. I refuse to listen to lies that tell me I don’t belong or that I’m unworthy. That I’m too messy. Too sinful. I will not be quiet. I am done trying to earn a space at the Table that I was already invited to. Not everyone sitting around me has to like me; I understand, I am not everyone’s cup of tea. But they do have to respect my existence. They do have to honor all those I bring to the Table with me. They are not leaving either.
I am finally okay with who I am and I can finally accept that all of me is affirmed by God. Hell, maybe I was invited to the Table because who I am in necessary at the Table. Maybe they could use a bit less Male Theology and a little bit more Emotional Woman Theory. Either way, I’m pulling up my seat and getting comfortable. I’m staying here and I am speaking. If you don’t want to be around me, then maybe you’re the one who should go home.