Sit, Stay, Go - A Dilemma in Table Manners

The UMC has an open table when it comes to Communion. We take the theological stand that the communion table is one that belongs to Christ and putting restrictions on who can and cannot feast with Christ at table is not the place of the church. We understand that Jesus did not kick people out of the room when the Eucharist ("Last Supper") was instituted. We hold fast to the promise that when we come to the table we may very well be changed and that, in part, is the power of being at the table with God and others. 

Sitting, Staying and Going with Rev. Dr. Charles Boayue Jr. ( hear my interview with him here )

Sitting, Staying and Going with Rev. Dr. Charles Boayue Jr. (hear my interview with him here)

We understand that the communion table is a place where people are invited to sit, stay at, AND go from. We trust, have faith and place some hope in the repetition of sit, stay AND go. It may take time, much longer than we may even want to admit, but we continue the practice of sit, stay AND go. 

Within the church there are people who feel sit, stay AND go is not applicable for other tables. Rather, the position seems to be taken (on both left and right) that we need to sit, stay OR go from tables. Here are a couple of examples:

Some conservatives desire that the UMC should no longer sit and stay but rather go from the table of Religious Coalition For Reproductive Choice (RCRC). The UMC is a founding member of the RCRC and while the RCRC may not line up 100% with the UMC on a very difficult topic it is also the case that the members of the UMC are not all aligned with the official stance of the church on these same matters. The power of sit, stay and go was abandoned in favor of forcing a choice. The UMC chose to go. So the UMC is no longer going to the RCRC table.

Some progressives desire that the UMC should divest (an economic term meaning to "leave") from companies dealing in fossil fuels. There were votes that were taken but the UMC vote to stay at the table of companies dealing in such industry. Some of the rational that I heard was that these same companies are the ones leading the way on renewable energy source and that being a shareholder gives us vote and voice to influence these companies. The UMC chose to stay at this table.  

Choosing to only "go" from tables because the table does not align with our current values or we are not influencing the table any longer is missing a larger point. Table fellowship does not come with the expectation to change the minds of others at table but to be open to the reality that we may be the ones who are changed. It took Jesus courage to sit, stay AND go from the table with Judas and Peter. It takes courage to sit at, stay with AND go from a table that you feel like you cannot change. It takes courage to be continue the sit, stay AND go pattern because that cycle may influence/change you.

The courageous sit, stay AND go.

The proud sit, stay OR go.

My concern is that my denomination is divorcing our table theology from our table practice.

Prayer, why we may fear it

Tefilah is the Hebrew word English translates as "prayer". Recently it has been revealed to me by Rabbi Chava Bahle that this is a poor translation. In English, the word "to pray" means to beg or beseech. The problem is that tefilah does not mean that. Rather it means to 1) self-reflect and 2) taking a wide range of things and unifying them. 

The point being that prayer is a tool God uses to change us rather than a tool we use to change God.

leaves changing.jpg

Prayer is also the practice of being able to step back and reflect on how it is that contradictory things are actually unified in some way. Being able to "see" the unity in the midst of a broken world is very important. The genius and beauty of the Lord's Prayer is Jesus' ability to take a wide range of things (thankfulness, the greatest commandment, hope, dream, praise, etc.) and put them all together. Additionally the prayer takes things that seem contradictory and unites them, such as praying that heaven will come on earth. 

Prayer changes our hearts and helps us see. This is why those who pray know the power it has to change us. Perhaps that is why many of us do not pray - at some level we know it will change us and we fear that change. 

Did You Know Fear is an Acronym?

Rev. Rudy Rasmus shared that fear is what is at the core of the problem in the Church. This is not news to many of us. What was helpful to me, and perhaps to you as well, was a reminder that fear really might be seen as - False Evidence Appearing Real.

Who knew FEAR could be an acronym?* Maybe it is well know, but it is new to me.

What is the false evidence appearing real in your life? The Church seems to see the rapid of church attendance as equating to the death of Christianity. I would say this is FEAR. Christianity lives as long as Christ lives.

Some see the natural disasters and the rumors of war and the violence as proof that the world is going to hell. I would say this is FEAR. The world has always been headed toward a marriage with the heavens.

* I also am very aware that there is the other definition of fear that is emotion based. When I see a wall of water coming toward me to drown me the fear I feel is not false evidence appearing to be real. It is a real wave. Perhaps this is what makes fear so difficult of an emotion to deal with. It is difficult to see what is real and what is posing as real.

Is our biology contributing to Church segregation?

Invisibilia is a podcast that explores the "invisible" forces that affect life. In a recent episode the reporters explore "The Power of Categories" and second half of the episode talks about a retirement community. 

If you don't want to take time to listen to the episode, or at least the second half, here is the setup. 

Man from India (Iggy) sets up a retirement community (Shantiniketan) that feels more like his native country. Other retiring people from India are attracted to  being a part of a community where they are no longer an outsider. While the community does not turn non-India people away it is still a community that can feel rather exclusive. The original founder does not want his children to live in a community like this - too insular - but he also feels that people are like salmon and as we get closer to death we desire to return back to what is most comfortable or familiar. And according to Jeff Greenburn, a psychology professor at the University of Arizona, humans get just a little bit more racist as we move closer to death. Here is the transcript from this point:

GREENBERG: I am a professor of psychology at the University of Arizona.

MILLER: And for the last 30 years, he's been studying how we behave when death is on the mind.

GREENBERG: That realization that, someday, we're not going to exist.

MILLER: And Iggy is absolutely right. If you raise the specter of death in a person's mind, which you can do experimentally, by the way, by simply asking a question like...

GREENBERG: ...What do you think happens to you as you physically die and once you're dead?

MILLER: People like people in their own group way better than they do when they're not thinking about death.

GREENBERG: So we had them rate them on, you know, traits like, you know, honesty, kindness, intelligence.

MILLER: Christians like Christians better. Italians like Italians better. And Germans, who most of the time are actually pretty lukewarm on other Germans...

GREENBERG: I think it's still - it's lingering, you know, guilt.

MILLER: ...If you get them to contemplate their own mortality, suddenly they really like Germans.

GREENBERG: So if you interview Germans near funeral home, they're much more nationalistic.


MILLER: But it's not just that we like our own more. Its reverse imprint is also true. We like people outside of our group much, much less.

GREENBERG: People become more negative toward other cultures.

MILLER: So why? Why might we do this?

GREENBERG: Well, because death haunts us as it does. We have to do something about it.

MILLER: Greenberg thinks it's this strange way that we try to fend off death. His thinking goes that people who are not like you, who do not share your language or your values or your beliefs, well, in some very primal way, it's like they can't see you.

GREENBERG: And so to manage the terror that we're just these transient creatures...

MILLER: ...We shoo those people who make us disappear away.


MILLER: That is, when you dive deep into your own category, what you're actually getting is the illusion...

GREENBERG: ...That we're significant and we're enduringly significant.

And so if it is true that human individuals become more concerned with surrounding themselves with their own when they are thinking about their own death, is is also true that human institutions become more concerned with surrounding themselves with their own when the institution is thinking about it's death? Does the chatter of the "death of the Church" and the Church's inability to draw in new Christians create a feedback loop where the Church is only able (or willing) to drawn in others who look/act/feel like us?