Open Table

Open Table

Written by Matthew Frantz


What is one of the few things that everyone must do?

We must all eat! This is a matter of survival, and we can all understand the importance of meals. There is no argument about our need to eat; it is just a means of life to have food. This dependence on food has the beautiful opportunity to unite all people because it provides an avenue to sit down and connect with our most basic needs. Our need for sustenance drives us towards community. Throughout history, meals were most successful in community and they provided an opportunity to share with neighbors. What better time to think about communal meals than during the holiday season, when we all sit down with loved ones and share meals together in order to catch up and grow closer with one another. Meal sharing goes well beyond just food; we share our lives over meals as we sit down and rest.

Meals are crucial to community because they allow everyone to contribute to the common good and they provide an opportunity for everyone to share the stories of their lives over a few hours of being still. By sharing meals, everyone joins a collection and new bonds are formed between people. Barriers break down and people who would not generally convene can sit across the table and talk about life together. Meals are one of the best means of hospitality because they provide a response to one of our most basic needs. There are few more hospitable requests than to invite someone over for dinner to share in your work and time. So go out and share meals! Take some time to sit down, eat, and remove yourself from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season!

The Table

When I think of table, an image that comes to mind is from childhood. With four brothers and two sisters, our table was always full. It had10 chairs around it so at meal times there was usually one empty seat, but not always. Often one of us would bring a friend home so the chair was filled. When needed, we could add more chairs and seat a dozen. Our home was open to others including a man from Guatemala, a family from Indonesia, and a homeless Vietnam vet who was passing through. We sponsored a family from Vietnam after Saigon fell and they lived with us for six months. Even though their religion and customs were different, and their food was definitely not Midwestern meat and potatoes, they were family. I can’t count the number of people who sat at our table. The diversity was something to marvel at. The atheist Vietnam vet, the Buddhist family from Vietnam, college students from California and Florida, and so many others I don’t remember.

I am grateful to my parents for the lessons learned. The person we didn’t know was a stranger only for a short time for once they joined us at the table, they became friends even if for just a brief moment in time. This doesn’t mean that my parents always agreed with the other person but they were still welcomed. I grew up realizing that people from Mexico, Guatemala, Vietnam, and other parts of the United States were different than we were, as well as with an awareness that their differences didn’t make them worse than us. One of my passions today is that we can see the world around us in a similar fashion to the table I grew up with where family was important and welcoming the stranger was too. For my family it was never one or the other, but both at the same time. Each time I serve communion and we share the liturgy saying that “we will feast at his heavenly banquet”, I picture a big table filled with all kinds of people and it is similar to what I grew up around. My prayer is that our society can learn to embrace that which is different instead of seeing it as a threat needing to be removed. I would also remind us that any differences we have are human-made and that at God’s table, all are welcomed. As a child, I knew I had a seat at our table. As a child of God, you also have a seat at the table with Jesus.

Rev. Jim Jones grew up in central Oklahoma and serves as the pastor at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Stillwater and is adjunct instructor at Northern Oklahoma College- Stillwater.

An Open Letter To My Nineteen-Year-Old Self

Last month I celebrated my 38th birthday. So, I suppose from one
perspective I’ve been 19 twice. Being 19 the first time was hard
enough. That guy made some decisions he really shouldn’t have. He made
some good ones, too.

I was wondering what it would look like for my 38-year-old self to sit
down and have coffee with my 19-year-old self. Here are some thoughts I’d
want to share with him.

There is just the right amount of time.
A college student once explained to me there were three things in the
world—school work, a social life, and sleep—and as a student you had
to pick two out of those three. I call B.S. on that idea. You have the
same 24 hours a day as every other human being on the planet has had
since time began. Don’t buy into the lie that there’s not enough time.

The trick to learn is discerning what really matters. Learn to tell
the difference between the “big rocks” and everything else. Get a
daily planner and start writing everything down. Don’t compromise your
“big rocks.”  Plan ahead. Think about what kind of person you want to
be when you’re 25, when you’re 30, when you’re 50.

Read the Bible and pray every day.
Make time for this. Even when you don’t feel like it. This is a “big
rock.” These things feed your soul. And your soul lasts a lot longer
than your GPA or happy hour.

Do these things with other people as frequently as possible. It’s not
enough to pray and read the Bible by yourself. You are hard-wired for 
community. Even if you’re an introvert. Being with God is best when
it’s done with others.

Belong to people.
This is really what being part of a local church means. Don’t just go
to church. Belong to people. Belong to people who don’t look like you.
You need some older people in your life. And believe it or not, they
need you in theirs.

Break up with her/him.
The odds are stacked that your relationships with the same gender are
going to last far longer than those of the opposite. Invest your time
accordingly.

More often than not, when we say the words “I love you,” what we’re
really saying is, “I love me, and I want to use you.” I’m devastated
remembering the times I’ve said the former and really meant the
latter, as well as the times I thought I heard the former but was
really being told the latter.

Be good to your mom.
Maybe she hides it well, maybe she doesn’t, but she’s freaking out
right now. The dynamic of your relationship is evolving, and when your
mom sees you, she still sees her little 5-year-old who wants to
cuddle. So don’t be a jerk. This is 10x if you’re the oldest kid in
your family. Call her regularly. Tell her what’s going in your life.
She’s still your biggest fan.

Figure out what you’re good at and how to talk to people about it.
Get good at two different things. Combine them. You know how to code?
You know the world of social work? Now you can build websites for
non-profits. Know what you’re good at and get comfortable telling
other people how awesome you are at it. Then people will give you
money. This is called a job and a career, and this strategy is 
infinitely more effective than a degree and a resume.

Figure out how to be more curious about everything.
Never stop learning. You brain is a muscle, so exercise it. Make it a
habit to write down 10 ideas every day. They can be absurd. They can
be practical. Just exercise your “idea muscle.”

Ask questions about everything. Be curious about the world. About
other cultures. About other people. About God. About yourself. Wonder
how things work.

And then, when you’re 38, you should have a whole catalogue of good
stories to tell a 19 year old.

By Peter White. Peter is a spiritual director and blogs at The Sabbath Life. He’s an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church, serving at Restore Hope Ministries. He lives in Tulsa with his wife and two toddlers.