I have always felt welcomed at “THE” table. I grew up convinced that Jesus had that table and I had a spot right up next to him at it. No matter if I was dressed up, tired from doing homework, mind-wondering from ignoring the sermon, as a teen I KNEW I had a place.
It wasn’t until I left my childhood church that I wondered about my place and the place of others. When I came out as a lesbian and others became judgmental about my place at the table, I became judgmental about theirs, as well. I got a Religion degree from Philips U. focusing on the Old Testament. I loved the prophets and their call to social justice. I thought that would carry me.
I attended seminary in Denver during the late 80’s and 90’s, a very troubling time in Colorado, the “Hate State”. There was a vote about legislating homophobia and hate into a state amendment. I was an activist, putting my time and money where my mouth was and was horribly wounded when Hate won the election. My reaction was to walk away from Seminary, one quarter before I graduated.
But an Open & Affirming Home Church, the first in the Central Rocky Mountain Region of the DOC, was being born at the same time. They nurtured me, listened to my grief and anger, and challenged me to be part of the leadership, even though I had walked away from the traditional, established brick and mortar church.
Finally, after my healing had reached a certain point, a retired minister pointed out a youth director position that would not be a problem time-wise (Since we met on Sunday afternoons) and I applied as an out lesbian and got the job. I spent eight years working with youth on a local and regional level and became a staunch defender of ALL youth inside the church and out. I also became furious with the churches that taught our youth that they were “abominations” and not welcome at the Lord’s table, meaning either communion or the larger feast of radical hospitality and belonging in the church.
One day, as I was driving, a tiny little voice spoke to me in my ear. I had been ruminating on my favorite complaint, “How can they be welcome at the table if they are teaching our youth to hate themselves and consider suicide?” The voice came clear as a bell. She said, “The table is not yours to offer the invitation.” I pulled over. The voice was right. If Jesus invited everyone that meant everyone. It meant the gay teen; it meant me, the gay adult; it meant those who taught hatred of who we were. It meant all God’s children. No exceptions.
I heard a talk at a Regional Assembly a few years later, about the “people of the asterisk.” It told about people that felt they were an asterisk to the comment, “Everyone is welcome* but…” Everyone is welcome but you. Everyone is welcome but addicts. Everyone is welcome except prostitutes. Everyone is welcome but LGBT people. Everyone is welcome but smelly, dirty homeless people with mental illnesses.
Too often there IS an asterisk, unspoken of course, to our invitation to the table. Being in an active, fiercely loving, intentional, “money where their mouth is”, O&A “gay church” (as perceived by many in our region) has helped me heal the wounds of cruel-hearted rejection and mild-mannered exclusion. I now function back in my original belief…I HAVE a place at the table and nothing can shake that. But it is broader. Those who would reject me also have a place at the table. (I may have to keep prayerfully reminding myself that it is not my table…but I finally do believe!) This means, of course, that all the people of the asterisk are welcome, the transgender woman, the HIV positive man, the woman who has had an abortion, the man who is an addict, the person who has not heard the good news: Jesus put no limit of “membership” on his table, he simply passed it among friends. So everyone is welcome at the table, be it their first time or their 20th, be they Christian or agnostic or anything else, there is a place for them. Truly ALL are welcome and I don’t get to put any limits on that ALL.
Having gotten to that place, it makes coming to the table a joy-filled, awe-some experience for me. I wish that experience for everyone, and I do mean Everyone, else.