Who Is Welcome At Our Table?
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, images of family gatherings and tables filled with friends and relatives and my favorite foods come to my mind. Remember huge family gatherings as a child? Did you have to squeeze together at one table or perhaps sit at the “kids’ table?” What else besides food was shared at the table? Chances are good that many of us have seen room being made for a high chair or a wheelchair at our family table. We’ve seen an extra plate and chair brought out for a last minute guest. We’ve seen babies fed and perhaps help given to an elderly relative as well. We’ve complained about sitting next to someone who talks too much or who wiggles too much or who chews with open mouth. We’ve rejoiced at sitting next to a favorite aunt or uncle or a cousin who’s fun to be with. We’ve shared stories, food, and faith.
Although we may more commonly think of the table as a healing gathering place, it is also quite often the place of exclusion in our homes, our communities, our parishes and our world. The bishops point out that the poor and vulnerable in our midst, our brothers and sisters, often have no place, no voice, at our tables. Who is included and who is excluded at our various tables? Often both wisdom and ignorance are shared at our tables. How do our experiences at table form who we are? Who is welcome at our table? Who is left out? In November 2002, the United States bishops opened their pastoral reflection A Place at the Table: A Catholic Recommitment to Overcome Poverty and to Respect the Dignity of All God’s Children http://www.usccb.org/bishops/table.shtml with a few statements on the meaning of “table” in our lives.
“A table is where people come together for food. For many, there is not enough food, and, in some cases, no table at all.”
“A table is where people meet to make decisions—in neighborhoods, nations, and the global community. Many people have no place at the table. Their voices and needs are ignored or dismissed.”
“When we gather as Catholics to worship, we gather around a table to celebrate the Eucharist. It is at this altar of sacrifice that we hear the word of Christ and receive his Body and Blood.”
How do our table practices in our daily lives form our ways of welcoming or excluding people we encounter in our lives?
Invite your students to discuss the many reasons they may gather at their family tables.
Many families make it point to eat together, some may work on jigsaw puzzles or a craft project at the family table, and some have family meetings on a regular basis. In what other ways are tables used?
What shape is your family table? Who sits where? Who gives up their chair, sits on a broken chair or squeezes onto a bench with a sibling or parent if several guests come for dinner?
Who is welcome at the family table? As in the story of the loaves and fishes, have you ever had the experience of setting out an extra plate for an unexpected guest and “stretching” the food so there’s enough for all?
Is there a separate kids’ table at huge gatherings? How does the family make sure the kids feel part of the larger table? What age determines whether you are a ‘kid’ or an ‘adult?’
In our parishes, the altar is the table of the Lord where we all gather to celebrate. How do we make sure everyone feels welcomed? Do we greet all who enter? Is our meeting place easily accessible by all? Do we extend our hand to all at the sign of peace or only certain family members and friends?
Reflecting on all the tables of your life including home, church, and the school lunchroom, which Catholic social teaching values have you seen at work at the various tables in your life?
Or which have you seen ignored or ignored yourself?
Tables can become wastelands where we serve ignorance and anger or they can be places of healing and reconciliation where all are welcomed and served with love. Some questions to consider:
-Has human dignity always been respected and promoted? Do table manners impact the way we live out our respect for human dignity?
Do you always sit by the same person?
Do you welcome new people into your table group? Is each individual at your table listened to and always treated with respect?
Are there some people you’d rather not sit near?
What do you do about this?
-If you notice someone eating alone or a student new to your school, do you make room and invite them into your group?
-What does exclusion do to those being left out of the conversation? Is the human dignity of the one doing the excluding also impacted?
-Is everyone allowed to participate in the conversation at your table? Do you take the responsibility to invite others into the ‘inner circle’ at your table? Who is excluded and why?
-Have you witnessed aspects of solidarity? How do we live out “loving our neighbor” at the table?
Are we aware of who worked to grow and process our food?
In our shopping and eating habits, do we support corporations or institutions that uphold workers’ rights and boycott those who do not?
-Have you seen a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable either at the table or in actions resulting from table conversation
Are you aware that many are without food or even a table at which to gather?
-Do we show good stewardship by not wasting our foods, limiting paper products and by recycling our paper waste, glass and cans? Do we know the recycling policies of our communities?
-How do tables serve as meeting places in the world? Business meetings often take place around conference tables. Union and government leaders meet at tables. (Sometimes the shape of the table becomes an issue itself as in the Viet Nam peace talks in Paris when one side wanted a round table and the other a square shaped table!) Point out that the lessons we learn and those we teach through our own actions at the various tables in our lives have implications for the future of our world.
With Thanksgiving coming soon, many families will have the opportunity for multigenerational gatherings. Ask your students to gather family stories regarding table experiences. Did anyone ever experience exclusion at a table at work or school? Did anyone ever feel unwelcome at church? How did the experience impact them? Who helped them? Did anyone ever stand up for another person they saw being excluded? Or did anyone wish later that they had? As a family, how can we better reach out and welcome all to our table whether at home, in our parish, or in the larger community?
November 15 is Mix It Up at Lunch Day, part of a web project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. http://www.tolerance.org/teens/lunch.jsp The website offers the following reasons for instituting this day of action.
-70 % of students named the cafeteria as the school setting where social boundaries are most clearly drawn.
-40% of students admitted that they had rejected someone from another group.
The site offers a free booklet for starting projects in your school that challenge the walls standing between groups of people. These range from ways of inviting students to sit at different tables in the lunch room rather than in their usual table groups to starting small dialogue groups in the school.
The Center of Concerns offers a prayer ritual addressing tolerance and based on circles of inclusion. http://www.coc.org/pdfs/ej/tolerance.pdf Scroll down to the prayer.
Nov. 1 All Saints’ Day
Nov. 2 All Souls’ Day
Nov. 4 World Community Day
Nov. 8 Dorothy Day’s Birthday
Nov. 11 Veterans’ Day
U.S. Bishops “ A Place at the Table,” 2002
Nov. 15 Mix It Up at Lunch Day http://www.tolerance.org/teens/lunch.jsp
U.S. Bishops “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice”
Nov. 16 International Day for Tolerance
U.S. Bishops “Economic Justice for All,” 1986
Nov. 20 Universal Children’s Day http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/children_day/
Nov. 24 Thanksgiving
Nov. 25 Anniversary of Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance
and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief”
Nov. 26 Buy Nothing Day
Nov. 27 First Sunday in Advent
Peace and blessings, and may your family table and each of the tables of your life truly be a table of the Lord this Thanksgiving season and throughout the coming year.