On Being Human at the Table for Everyone

grace at the table for everyone

Photo Credit: 27147 via Compfight cc

The Table (Seating)

We stand in the doorway to a round room with walls lost in the shadows. Dim-warm light comes from a source unseen, illuminating the center of the room. Dust motes float languidly through the light with no place to go.

And in the middle of the room—in the middle of the caress of light—a table. Round. Roughly hewn. Solid. Inviting.

The air sizzles and cracks with the sound of cooking food. Aromas waft in from doors unseen and the smell makes the mouth flood.

A crowd of people stands in the doorway and lines the walls, at the edges of the light.

And then the mad rush begins. Because the table invites, and everyone is desperate for a seat and space looks limited. The mass begins to shove and scramble as people claw for a spot at the table.

The big, round table begins to fill as people claim seats. Eyes are desperate and searching as the mass collides upon the center—everyone afraid to be left out of this game of musical chairs.

And the table fills with people.

And fills.

And fills.

And everyone is getting seated and it’s magic and eyes get wide and wonder at the mystery, and the table expands without growing and everyone has a place.

The guests settle in and the food appears and the food is everything promised by the aroma and more. The food is Grace and it is endless and there is always enough to go around and the reality of it all begins to descend upon the jostling crowd:

At the table of life—at the Table for Everyone—the seats are limitless and no one is excluded and the food is Grace and breaking bread there is like coming home and coming together.

When Everyone Unsubscribed

Several weeks ago, I published a post about honoring the dignity and humanity in everyone, including people with different sexual orientations. And within minutes of the mailing, I received an avalanche of people unsubscribing from the mailing list. For the first time ever, a slew of readers told me directly in comments and by email they were unsubscribing because they were disappointed at the questionable and undesirable content.

The next day, due to a glitch in the delivery system, the email went out again. The response made the previous day’s reaction seem benign. Readers were concerned I was prescribing a belief, advocating for a political platform, or morally undermining our culture.

I wasn’t.

I was inviting everyone to the table.

Because I think we are desperate for spaces in this world where we can begin to put down all of our competitive identities—including sexual, racial, ethnic, religious, political, economic—and encounter each other with grace, as members of a human community who have more in common than in conflict.

I think we are desperately in need of a Table for Everyone.

The Table (Eating)

The table is full, yet there is elbow space for everyone and always space for more. The food has descended before each person and everyone gets the same amount because bottomless Grace is immeasurable. And the meal begins.

Except, for some people, it doesn’t.

For some people, arms are crossed. Scared and protective? Angry and aggressive? Both? They never expected a Table like this. They are wondering who put together the guest list, and who invited these people? These people who are wrong, who need to be corrected.

They try to be tolerant for a while, but eventually arms uncross as they push themselves away from the table. They get up. They walk away into the shadows.

Do the people at the Table revel in their departure? No. Because at the Table for Everyone, a loss is felt and people call out, begging them to return and to stay and to join. Some may return. Many won’t.

Meanwhile, there’s a second group of people at the table who aren’t eating. They’re like giddy schoolchildren. They’d dreamed of a Table for Everyone, but in the midst of their shame, they had decided “Everyone” didn’t include them. They aren’t hungry, because they are being fed simply by their belonging. They are too grateful to eat. All they want to do is call their friends—their companions in shame—and to spread the good news.

To let everyone know the Table is full but there is always room for more and everyone is invited.

Everyone else is eating. Talking is sporadic and it comes in murmurs and giggles. Because when you are consuming Grace—and it is consuming you—you’re mouth is too full to talk about who belongs and who doesn’t. You just sit. Together. And partake.

When I Apologized

Several weeks ago, after the second email went out, I sent out a third email, apologizing for the duplicate messages. I asked for grace in my messiness. And Dear Reader, you gave it to me. You sent me a bunch of emails thanking me for writing and giving it away. Dear Reader, you told me I had a place at your table and you fed me with grace, and for that I am deeply grateful.

And it made me realize, we are in relationship across the miles, aren’t we?

Despite the vastness of cyberspace and the actual geography separating us, on this increasingly interconnected globe, we are all in relationship. We are a mass of messy, broken humanity with a diversity of beliefs and histories and backgrounds. Yet when we truly encounter each other, when we let each other in, those distinctions begin to bleed away and the space between us shrinks and we get to be fully human together.

So, here in this space, I want to build a Table for Everyone—a big, round, rough-hewn table with a place for everybody.

I will keep writing about grace.

I will invite everyone.

I will hope you join me.

And I will hope we can partake together in the Grace raining down upon us—the Grace that is filling the Table for Everyone like an endless feast for all of humanity.

———

Comments: You can share your thoughts or reactions at the bottom of this post.                

Free eBook: My eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, is available free to new blog subscribers. If you are not yet a subscriber, you can click here to subscribe, and your confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook. Or, the book is also now available for Kindle and Nook

Preview: Next Wednesday’s post is tentatively entitled, “How a Chocolate Chip Bagel Almost Destroyed My Marriage.”

Disclaimer: This post is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Just Thinkin’

    The language of Grace is the language of life. Keep talking, I have a strong feeling the listeners will gather and gather and gather.

  • anonymouslyunknown

    Yesterday, I stumbled across your post “A Daddy’s Letter to His Little Girl about Her Future Husband” on another blog and followed it here. Your letter touched my heart, having found it at just the right time. This morning, after reading it again, I decided to read some of your other posts and this one was the first. Again, my heart is moved and I thank you for including me at the table.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m so glad you came back and we just happened to have the table set for you this morning! : ) Thanks for letting me know, I’m grateful.

  • Margaret Copeland

    Thank you for doing this important work and for putting yourself into your work even though it means putting yourself out there. Thank you for continuing a conversation when some decided to leave abruptly. The beauty and the stuff of life happens in that room of grace. Thank you for reminding us that there is always room to pull up another chair.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank your for this, Margaret.

  • Jennifer Newell

    Kelly,
    Some will stay and some will go. I think what is wonderful here is that we are all very different and yet we are all faced with the same messiness in our lives. We are all struggling to be the best people we can and to love our families embracing their messiness. Life is a long journey and we can either choose to see our fellow man as a beautifully wonderfully made individual with gifts and purposes or we can condemn, judge and shame them because they are not like us. I think we should love them with the Grace and compassion that God shows us. I think it is that Grace and compassion that you have been trying to convey to everyone. Keep the Faith, I know you have a lot more to say and I will be here to listen. The most beautiful thing is we don’t have to all agree all the time, but we do need to be respectful when we disagree. So glad to have you to remind us that there is more room at the table.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks for this, Jenn. It reminds me of something I heard someone say recently: there is a big difference between uniformity and unity; when you have one, you don’t need the other.

  • Dmarie

    I enjoy being at the table with you! Your blog has made a tremendous impact on my life! Thank you for speaking the words that many find hard to speak! Your writing is a true inspiration!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you for saying so, Dmarie!

  • Julia

    I am still at the table : )

    • drkellyflanagan

      We are glad you’re here, Julia!

  • Brenda R

    Kelly,
    I am sorry that you experienced rejection but am happy that you are still willing to set the table for us weekly. Your writing is inspiring, challenging and provocative and I loved the piece you reference. I am tired of the angry, vitriolic diatribes of both sides of this debate. It is time to focus on what unites us rather than what divides. Keep it up!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Brenda. It’s funny, I was sitting in my office after the original post and wondering if I had made a mistake in posting it, when this vision popped into my head. It was my answer: when something is hard, it doesn’t necessarily make it a mistake! Thanks for your encouragement.

  • Meghan

    At first, when I read this, I couldn’t remember the post about people with different sexual orientations, but then I looked at the list of recent posts and realized it must have been the smartphone one. It was so innocuous to me – I am always surprised when people walk away from the Table in a huff over something that barely registers for me as possibly “controversial.” I’m not sure why it surprises me, because my whole family does this regularly.

    I for one am very grateful for your blog. It’s one of only three that I get delivered to my email, and I am regularly delighted and shocked all over again in your writing to discover the Grace that I am so very grateful for. I’m the one at the table who can’t eat because I’m too busy cry-giggling at my immense good fortune for having been included at all, and looking around for my friends so we can all cry-giggle together. Thanks for what you do.

    • drkellyflanagan

      “Cry-giggle” may be my new favorite word. It’s how I will be thinking of that second group of non-eaters from now on. : )

  • Sarah

    Beautiful piece. Reminds me of one of my favorite bible passages Revelation 3:20: Listen! I am standing at
    the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to
    you and eat with you, and you with me. It’s a beautiful calling to welcome people at the table. And I will join you in it.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m glad you are joining us, Sarah! Thank you for this.

  • Morielle

    This is some very powerful writing. A very nice illustration to a simple principle that has baffled us rather befuddled humans for centuries: God’s grace not only cries out loudly and clearly to offer itself up for EVERY SOUL, but weeps, groans and bleeds for each one of them to listen. Ah, how I long for every soul to gorge themselves on grace. May this blog bring more and more to the table to enjoy!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Morielle!

  • Cherrie Dudash

    As well as I know that some people react this way to the news that we are all human regardless of race, creed, color or sexual orientation, I am still amazed by the number of them that are so close minded that they would react in such a fashion. Race does not make the person, creed does not make the person, sexual orientation does not make the person. Character makes the person and those that left indignantly have just showed their characters. How sad.

    Dr. Kelly,
    I am so grateful everytime I find one of your posts in my mailbox because I know that my eyes will be opened to yet again another flaw in my character and I use that to work on my way of thinking or feeling. It’s really too bad when some can’t see you or your posts for the generous spirit in which they are presented.

    I thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
    Cherrie Dudash

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Cherrie. It helps me to receive some of the pushback to remember that there was a day when I might have been the one pushing back. Probably days when I still do it and don’t even realize it! : )

  • Leah

    So sad that some left the table without even taking the time to meet and get to know those that were different from them. I am still here. Everyone is perfect, imperfect, human and worth loving. Mazel tov and joy in being you. Thank you. I truly enjoy your writing and thoughts. Leah

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Leah. Glad you are still here with us!

  • Sue O’Donnell

    If you are all things to all people, you are nothing to no one. Sometimes Grace requires is to let go of someone – with love, until they find their way back.
    Thank you for your writing and your voice.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Wow, I need to hear that, Sue, probably every time I sit down to write. I’ll be remembering it. Thank you.

  • Jennifer Rahner

    I love your blog and I’m glad to be at the table. I’m eating, but I’m also inviting all of my friends to join me here!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Jennifer.

  • Catharine Phillips

    Well said, my friend. I am put in mind of John McCutcheon*s Calling All the Children Home. Here it is on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IILxEhkxhdI
    Blessings on your head.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Ha! Wow. Will someone let John McCutcheon know I never heard that song before. I swear. People ask me where I get my ideas, and I always say, I’m just repeating things other people have said, but in my own voice. This is proof. : )

      • Catharine Phillips

        Sychronicity, I believe. Thought you might appreciate another take on the Table… which of course also synchronizes with all being invited to the wedding banquet. All. Thanks again! Blessings.

  • Carrie

    I used to be close minded. Until I found myself face down in the mud. There was a group of people who loved me unconditionally, respected me, accepted me in all my anger, hurt and despair. Now that I have truly received grace, I can’t imagine being close minded again. Perhaps some of those who left the table will find themselves needing and receiving grace in the future. Perhaps then, they will know how to give it. Thanks for sticking with it, Brother. Yes, we are in relationship.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Our stories aren’t so different, Carrie. Years ago, I pushed myself away from the table plenty of times. It’s one of the reasons I feel so strongly that everyone is welcome back. : )

  • Craig

    Well said Kelly. Inspired and challenging words. I love your blog and I am so thankful to receive it.

  • MofE

    I appreciate this. I belong to a faith tradition that is, shall we say, traditional, and not exactly permissive toward homosexuality (although, thankfully, I’ve never had to sit through a sermon about how “those people” are destroying blah de blah), and I just have a terrible time making sense of it all sometimes. When people speak about sexual identity in terms of moral black-and-white, I guess they’re just trying to maintain a standard. But I know — and I can’t un-know — that what gay people hear in that standard is, “Your existence is a mistake.” No matter how many ways religious folks qualify and clarify and emphasize the difference between temptations and actions, the people they’re trying to help (?) will always identify *themselves* with what is being condemned as disgusting and sinful. I can’t empathize with that sense of shame and find the will to cause it. I just can’t do it. So I hug gay people, and I don’t have anything to say about their gay-ness. (And it turns out that exactly zero times a day someone asks me who I think they should have sex with.)

  • Tricia Steeves

    Interesting, and sad, that such a post could cause such people to leave in masses and be so disparaging…yet it is this very sort of message that would cause me to join and “come to your table”. As a new reader, I am enjoying your style immensely. Blog on!

    • drkellyflanagan

      We’re glad to have you at the table with us, Tricia! Between mouthfuls of grace, don’t hesitate to tell us what you think. : )

  • Sans

    After reading this post, I remember that spiritual healer and psychologist Doreen Virtue said:

    “Climb steadily upon the path of your life purpose. Don’t be discouraged by other people’s fears or negative statements.Their negativity means that your life purpose is VERY needed, to bring positive energy to them and to the world.”

    Your posts are life-changing and very inspiring. Thank you for sharing the positive energy Dr. Kelly. Keep blogging! 🙂

    • drkellyflanagan

      Wow. Thank you for this, Sans. Thank you.

  • edith

    Thank you Dr. Kelly,

    The truth will set us all free, eventually and keep giving it to us. We are all made by the same God and judgement belongs only to our creator. We are all loved and yes there is room for all of us. ALL OF US, irrespective of ….

  • Sarah

    I am extremely grateful for each of your posts, and especially the post about respecting the dignity of all persons. I think that having respect for other people is something that should transcend religion, race, or any other social barrier. My God loves every single one of his children no matter what, and I have enjoyed reading about your take on such matters. Pray for those that cannot understand.

  • drkellyflanagan

    I’m running out of time to respond to everyone’s comments, which is really a blessing! The response to this post has been rich and deeply encouraging. I’m so glad each and everyone of you is at the table here. Let’s keep eating, and serving each other, big helpings of grace!

  • Trish

    I started reading your articles from your The Most Important thing to look for in a life partner” and even though I didn’t agree 100% with your article about those with different sexual orientations, I still have to admit that I learned quite from it. I’m a peace-loving person, doctor. I hate conflicts, tensions, and I pale when I have to be a part of heated confrontations. Like you, I want everyone in the table of life. Keep writing about grace and kindness. They are often two siblings that are taken advantage of, so I believe these two deserve a little more credit.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Trish! I’ll keep writing, and I’m glad you’re at the Table with us!

  • Adele

    Not so long ago I intentionally began to visit an LGBTQ-friendly church, just to see what it was like. Their byline: “Whoever you are, and wherever you are on your journey with God, everyone is welcome here at God’s table.” By making the place safe and welcoming for “them”, they made it safe for me – even without knowing a thing about me. I felt myself relax into that kind of grace. To expand. To touch life again. Your writing has that same quality, and it shines through beautifully in this post. Thank you for inviting and holding open this kind of place on your blog. Because even some of those people who had a place at the table for a long time already need to know that everyone really means everyone, and that posturing and pretending only dulls the appetite for the grace-feast. I’m a new and deeply appreciative reader, and what you say right here is why.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Adele. This is beautifully stated and I’m so glad your joining the conversation here!

  • Amber

    Your evolved words of wisdom and willingness to openly share your truth…well, you are an inspiration. Thank you! PLEASE keep writing and teaching through your beautiful words…