by David Morstad
There is something about a table. The place where people gather. People who are invited, expected, and welcomed. The people at the table belong there. If they were absent, they would be missed.
In faith communities of every tradition, people gather at tables. Literal or symbolic, social or sacred, the table occupies a distinct place in our understanding of the Holy. Tables are not classrooms or theaters. At a table, we face one another. We serve others and are served by them in mutuality. There is an expectation of interaction, shared stories, listening, engagement, nourishment and, at the end, the tacit assurance that we will gather at this table again.
Tension at our tables
It is a polite understatement to say that people with disabilities have often wrestled with their relationship to faith communities and their place at the table.
In 2008, a 13-year-old boy was banned from his church for outbursts related to his autism. When his family announced their intentions to attend anyway, the parish priest filed a restraining order against them.
On the website of the Beth Yeshua HaMashiach congregation in Houston, Texas, the Messianic Jewish congregation proclaims, “Praise G-d, we won the law suit! Texas Civil Rights project represented our opposition… [and] Adonai allowed us to be very victorious.” What is the cause of this great celebration? In 2012, they banned a woman from the church because she complained about the inaccessibility of the restrooms. The District Court in Harris County initially ruled that the church had indeed discriminated against her, but in March of this year, the appellate court reversed that decision.
More than buildings and behavior
Beyond the issues of acceptance and accessibility, though, often lies a deeper tension. Many have simply wrestled with the proclamation of scripture itself. Depending on the chapter and verse, we may read that disability is the result of sin, a sign of God’s disfavor, or the intentional act of God to humble or punish a person. Blindness alone is a common metaphor for everything from disobedience to outright stupidity. Is it any wonder that, in the absence of a more careful and mature understanding, people with disabilities could be left unimpressed with what our table has to offer.
It may be helpful to take a closer look at some of the history, culture, and practices at the crossroads of faith and disability. There is much for us to talk about. Perhaps we can have that discussion at a table. A larger table.
One thought on “Gathering at the Table”
Although this topic isn’t really covered, I immediately thought of how children would view the necessity of having a table or what kind of table they would be drawn to without insistence. I also thought of the struggle it takes to get the children to the table. (perhaps because of their temporary ego centrism at an early age) I think it points out that welcoming people to the table is a value taught to children at a young age and what the world would be like if we didn’t insist that they conform to that value. Would the idea of gathering at the table fade in a few generations? This lead me to the thought if we are insisting on table behavior conformity to children who else do we insist conformity upon. If we let children do as they wish at the table, would the adults be able to enjoy the meal and have a meaningful interaction? It seems so much of family values and family learning happen at the table that perhaps it is more of a classroom than one would think. That is how I returned to the article and became curious to explore further ideas of faith, conformity and tables.