Open Table

 

“Thank you for this article,” read the early evening email of October 20th. “I also now have Hope in my heart.” 

A trove of encouraging notes fill my inbox.  After each reflection I’ve sent over the past 6 months, a reply from Deb Walker often arrived within a few hours or days—thanking me for writing, explaining how she was now thinking a little different about a topic or how she’d forwarded the piece to a friend. Her words often encouraged me to turn off Netflix, get off the couch, power up my laptop and write a new reflection. Amazing what a little encouragement can do.

Sadly, those notes ended this week.

Unexpectedly Deb passed away a few days ago, much to the shock of Bill, her husband of 46 years, and the beautiful family they’ve faithfully nurtured together. Death is always difficult.  Losing a spouse, parent, friend abruptly is disorienting. No time for last words, hugs or goodbyes. Her last email to me was never answered. That’s a regret I’ll live with. 
 

 

If Deb life’s embodied one theme it was abundant encouragement and extravagant hospitality. I received both, frequently. In a society too busy to sit and eat together, Deb and Bill instituted a memorable ritual years ago.  Every Monday night—emphasis on EVERY—the front door of their Hickory Lane home was left ajar and an open dinner table awaited any wanderer. No RSVPs needed. No Google calendar to confirm if it was happening. No phone call necessary to invite the Texan uncle unexpectedly swinging through town. No cancellation polices. No basket on the table for a donation. Just show up ...with appetite. Monday night: 6pm. Eat, fellowship, have your soul graced by the radical gift of food and inclusive table fellowship. 

Sometimes 8 guests straggled through the door, other times 14 arrived together, sometimes 30 wafted in and out over the 2 hour window. A widow next door. An executive in town for business. A graduate student needing a break from peanut butter and crackers. A coworker recently divorced and lonely. A first time visitor to church. Eclectic and unpredictable.  At times quiet and intimate, often chaotic and noisy. Food simple, tasty and plentiful. A birthday? Cake and ice cream magically appeared. A special occasion, a unique dish stealthily added between the Costco baked chickens and vegetable medley.

This was Monday nights at the Walker homestead—an old-fashioned open table.  In a world of Uber Eats and Lean Cuisine, a regular communal dinner seems like a historical artifact of a bygone era. Not on Hickory Lane. No surprise that the center of gravity was....Deb Walker dishing out hugs, kisses, greetings and a buffet of great food. A reminder that Christian faith is often best experienced around a dinner table of people arriving as strangers, departing as friends. 

Deb’s passing called an old book off my library shelf this past week: Loving Across Our Differences by Gerald Sittser—a wonderful book about how groups of people can build community by moving beyond things that divide us.  Sittser elevates the “commands of mutuality” we find in the New Testament. “One another commands,” he calls them. “Greet one another.” “Forbear one another.” “Encourage one another.” “Serve one another.” “Comfort one another.”  “Bear one another’s burdens.” “Stir up one another.” “Prayer for one another.” “Love one another.” There’s more. You can find them. Simple in concept, difficult in execution. Nobody understood their significance better than Deb.

If the foundational element of Christian behavior is love, says Sittser, how then do we practically love?  Great question. Sittser’s answer: practice the “commands of mutuality.”  The totality of love is encompassed in them all.

I still desperately want to hit the reply button and thank Deb for her last encouraging email. But I keep hearing her voice in my head. She’d first demonstrate a little “graceful forbearance” towards me and then, in her genteelSouthern drawl say, “Honey, where I am now I’ve got all the encouragement I need! You go find someone who really needs that message and give’m a little of that love.” 

Thanks Deb, that’s what I’ll try to do. 

Bruce Main
Founder & President
UrbanPromise

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