School has started. Sports are in full gear. Vacations are over. Our Fall work schedules are gaining steam. The word that we pretend to hate, yet determines the significance of our identity as if we had no control over it, “busy” will be the mantra shouted across our country as the most pontificated adjective of our life. All of this “busy” will be followed at the expense of family and community. Most of our families and friendships will not get the best of us, they will get what’s left over. Yet at a soul level we all crave deep community.
I’m convinced that the most important element in a human's life is relationship. One of my old psychology professors would say, “in life the only thing that is real, is relationship, everything else is just furniture in the room; furniture that can and should be moved around to accommodate, support, and deepen those relationships.” As Christians, we believe in the ludicrous doctrine called “Trinity”, and at the very foundation of that doctrine is non-hierarchical, self-sacrificing relationship. Even the doctrine, Image of God, is built on the foundation of “we” or “us” - let “us” make “them”, not “let ‘me’ make ‘him’ or 'her'”, meaning we are never more the image of God, than we are when we are an “us” in deep non-hierarchical, self-sacrificing relationship. To drive this point home, Franciscan Richard Rohr says, “rather than saying, in the beginning, was God; I prefer to say, in the beginning, was THE relationship.”
In a world where we are constantly being pulled out into the outer regions of individualism and self-autonomy, we need a new center of gravity to bring us back to the “us-ness” of our identity. We need a fixed point in our lives that creates a centrifugal force pulling us back to each other. A fixed entity that beacons us back to family and community, and calls us louder than any other voice in our lives. For my family, that sacred icon of the “Us” has always been the table. For you, the icon may be the fire pit, or the bar in your kitchen, or the fireplace, but for this article, I will refer to it as the table.
My semiotics professor said, “If we were to make the table the most sacred object of furniture in our home, in every church, in every community, our world would quickly become a better place. The table is the place where identity is born, and the place where the story of our lives is retold, remembered, and relived.” Families and communities are defined by the stories they come from and generate. When I tell my kids, “we are Hansnes, I’m not simply relaying a fact about their last name, I’m reminding them of their identity, and the story they are part of, a story that comes before them, a story they are writing, and a story that will continue beyond them. This is one of the most exciting parts of forming new friendships - two different people, or families or communities come together, with two different stories and begin to tell a new story together. Why in the world would we sacrifice that opportunity on the altar of “busy”?
This can only be done when we intentionally create times away from the busy-ness of our day to day lives, and center around - without phone, tablet, computer, or television - the table. It is at the table where stories are passed from one person to another, from one group to another, from one generation to the next. It is at the table where two stories become one. It is at the table where the identity of stranger, is traded for the identity of friend. It is at the table where the former outsider is shown that they belong.
Something spiritual happens when friends and family grill and cook slowly together, enjoy good beer or wine, laugh and talk, and eat together. Sixty years ago the average dinner time was about ninety minutes, today it’s less than twelve minutes. While some pride themselves in this new found efficiency it is an efficiency that has had dramatic negative social consequence.
When Obama was president, he took a lot of heat for “further dividing the country”; our current president has become the new target for the same mantra. I think this is just another way for us to throw off responsibility so we can hide in the “safety” of isolationism. If we want to see healing in our nation and live lives of deep fulfillment, we need to return to the table, and open it up to the stranger, to our friends, and model the Trinity to the world around us. So this fall, turn off your devices. Invite some old friends over. Make some new friends. Gather around the table.