Today I attended our Community Thanksgiving Service here in Jefferson City. It was a bit of a milestone moment for me, because I was asked to participate in the service by choosing and reading the lection from the Hebrew Bible. No big deal, it would seem to most, I’m sure. However, to be quite honest, it was a big deal. It was a big deal because somebody took the time to invite us to participate.
Quite honestly, there are many in the local Christian Community who would much prefer that we didn’t exist. But, as it turns out, there are also many who are glad that we are here, and who are willing to risk their reputation on making sure that we are included. And those same few people keep going out of their way to be sure that we get invited. For that, I am thankful. And the way that extension of welcome warms my heart reminds me that it is that kind of welcome to which God calls us all, and specifically the kind of radical welcome for which God has called Table of Grace into existence.
I am thankful for our call to radical welcome. I think the welcome part is easy. We’re a friendly bunch, happy to have a new friend pop in every now and then. I used to get a bit offended when I heard the words “radical welcome” because they suggested to me that someone could be so unworthy of our welcome, that to extend such welcome would in fact be “radical” (thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms, according to dictionary.com). Well really, who are we to suggest that someone is so outside of the normal realm of welcome that they belong in the radical category? I should tell you that I also have a pretty deep rooted issue with the biblical language of “the least of these.” Those words make me cringe any time I hear them. Ponder that for a moment.
So, since I have determined that radical welcome can’t mean that to me…it can’t mean that there are certain persons in this world who would only be worthy of radical welcome. I’ve spent some time considering what else it might mean to me. I think the radical part of radical welcome is more about stick-to-it-ive-ness, than about the inherent worth of the person being welcomed. It is all about the ability of the community not just to invite somebody in, but rather, to stick with them when they figure out that just like us, they got issues!
And really, these days, who has time for other people’s crap? I’m sorry, did that sound harsh? Maybe, but it’s truthful, right? We all need people around us who require the least possible amount of our time and attention, because we are already spread way too thin. So, new friends, new community members are good, as long as they don’t require a lot of stamina on our parts. Sometimes I watch the attitude creep into the gathering space at ToG. It’s rare, but it does occasionally happen, and it makes me sad. But then I see the magic. I see the light go on, the twinkle in people’s eyes, when they come back around. People step back for a moment and it’s as if they say to themselves “THIS is what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like. “ Well, okay, I usually say that, but maybe there aren’t a whole lot of other folks at ToG regularly using kingdom of heaven language in their thought life…
Anyway, people push through, and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s the point in a relationship where the person who was originally the welcomee realizes that these people are for real. It’s the point where people who have heard for years about unconditional love, but never experienced it; begin to ask themselves if it could really be so. It’s the point where we let God, who lives within each of us, come out to play. If we know anything from our sacred texts, and from our faith tradition, it is that our God is a God of steadfast love and grace. No matter how many times we walk out on God and on each other, God remains. God waits, lets us throw our tantrums, lets us have our way, lets us wreck our relationships; and stands there waiting with open arms for us to give up and come back.
That, my friends is what we are called to. When we put a sign in the front of our church that said “a place of sanctuary for all”, we made a statement that most people aren’t willing to make, or at least to make and mean. It is that, a sanctuary, a safe place, a refuge, for anyone and everyone, and all the stuff that they bring with them. And it is that because there are people there who are committed to that kingdom vision. And for that, I am thankful.
Like those few people in the local Christian community who keep going out of their way to be sure that ToG is invited and included; I pray that we are that kind of presence for individuals who need to find their place of welcome. It’s hard work my friends. Stick-to-it-ive-ness is not a trait that comes natural to humanity, and certainly not to us here in this “have it your way” society; but it is a beautiful gift that has been given to us by the One who made us, and I see it being nurtured in our amazing little community every day.
Thank you for being amazing and loving and welcoming. For YOU I am thankful.