Always Room for More
Amanda Opelt not only inherited a dining room table from her great-grandfather, but she has also embraced a rich family history of always making room for one more. What does it mean for us to consider opening our tables—and more importantly our lives—to those who might be beyond our personal borders?
A few years ago, I inherited a dining room table from my great-grandfather’s old farm house on Roan Mountain. I’m not sure when or where the table was made, or how old it is. It’s worn down, bowed in the middle with scuffs and scratches on the surface.
It had been sitting in the empty farm house for years when my aunt suggested to my husband, Tim and I that we load it into the back of our SUV and drive it to Boone. Fitting the table and four chairs into our Honda CRV was like completing a jigsaw puzzle. But we did it.
Once it was home, we cleaned it up and re-upholstered the chairs. It’s not always big enough to accommodate the company. And the surface always feels a little sticky from years of sweet tea spills, overflowing honey jars, gravy drippings, you name it.
We love this table.
A Full Table and an Open Door
Even more, Tim and I love what this table visibly represents into our home.
We enjoy inviting people over for meals when we can. It might be a family trait. I remember my great-grandmother—who was known all throughout the valleys around the Roan for her authentic southern cooking—would always have a full table and an open door. She’d always cook enough so that if anyone happened to stop in, they’d leave with a full belly.
Baskets overflowed with fresh buttermilk biscuits, catfish from the pond down the road was fried up in layers, dishes spilled over with pork gravy, sliced tomatoes from the garden, and there were always seemingly bottomless pots of coffee.
People knew this, so a lot of folks wandered in from off the street to enjoy my great-grandmother's humble feasts.
There was always room at the table. I remember sharing a chair with my sister, cramming up at the corner so we could fit one more.
Sitting around the same table was the second cousin with the drug addiction, the neighbor lady who’d been an abused wife, another cousin who sometimes drank too much, my grandfather from New Jersey (which, in rural Appalachia, made him quite an outsider).
Beyond the Boundary Lines of Acceptance
There’s a story in the Bible about a full table. Jesus once went to eat at the house of a prominent Pharisee. The text in Luke 14 says that Jesus was being carefully watched, but what the crowd may not have known was that Jesus Himself was watching them. He was noticing certain habits and customs around the dinner table, how people were jockeying for the place of honor.
"One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched." —Luke 14:1
He went on to give some instructions. He told them that when they were hosting a party, they shouldn’t invite their friends and relatives and rich, influential neighbors only. But they should invite the marginalized, the poor, the crippled and the lame.
It’s a teaching we all know well. And I believe that fortunately, we as a society have moved towards embracing those in the margins, on the outskirts of society. But I’ve been challenged by a new dimension of Jesus’ sentiments here.
What does it really mean for someone to be in the margins? Not just in society, but in my heart too? Who lives in the outskirts of my approval, and my interest?
A lot has been written lately about the concept of “echo chambers”—that with the advent of social media, we surround ourselves with voices and information that confirms our existing opinions. I’m concerned that we’ve begun to do that with our friendships as well.
It’s just easier to hang out with people who share our values and world-views.
And while we may go out on a limb and invite someone to our table who is marginalized in the traditional sense of the term, we might be more hesitant to invite someone whose perspective puts them beyond the boundary lines of our acceptance.
Inviting People to Our Tables
But that’s the thing about community…real, authentic community. We are forced to work and live alongside people who are truly different than us.
"We can’t shut people out when we live in community." —Amanda Opelt
And the question is, do we choose to dine with those who are different? Do we savor life and laugh and experience bounty together? Or do we choose only to invite those who are like us? And maybe more selfishly, do we choose only to invite those who have some benefit to us socially?
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, and all of a sudden, another person with more clout, more social currency, more power approaches and without hesitation, the person you were talking with totally shifts their attention from you to the other person? I’ve done it, and it’s been done to me.
It’s a de-humanizing thing to do, to consider one person more worthy of your attention because of what social collateral they can bring to you.