Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” — Isaiah 57:15
I love autumn. It’s my favourite season of the year. I love the changing of the leaves’ colours. I love the increasing chill in the air. I love the earlier sunsets and the encroaching dark of the evenings. I love the smell of the season, everything from the odor of cinnamon to the scent of people using their woodstoves (alas, we use oil heat). Autumn invites mugs of coffee, tea, hot apple cider, and hot chocolate. At the same time, if it were autumn all year round, I probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much. It’s the changing of the seasons that gives each one its singular pleasures. I love autumn, in part, because it’s not always autumn.
Life has its seasons too. Seasons of life come in different shapes and sizes. Some last longer than others. And when a season is changing, it’s almost like you’re beginning to notice the cumulative effect of incremental change. We experience transitions. Things don’t remain as they were. The pages of life’s calendar continue to turn.
For example, when my family and I moved to Nova Scotia in August of 2014 our twin sons were 5 years old and our daughter was about to turn 10. Now she’s 17 and next February our boys will turn 13. Soon we’ll have a house full of teenagers! And this is definitely a seasonal change. I can feel it in the air of our lives. Whereas for a long time our sons seemed to be stuck in this little boy-young boy phase, now I’m starting to see their transition into older boys-young men. I suspect our house will continue to get smaller as they grow, if you know what I mean. I’m also that much more aware of being middle-aged. Over the last few years my beard has gone from brown with some grey to grey with hints of brown.
Lately my wife and I have been going on more regular walks together. She wants me to get more exercise, but I’m simply enjoying the chance to talk and reflect together. And being aware of this shifting of the seasons in our lives has led to some interesting conversations. We’ve been chatting about what’s important to us, what we want for our family, and what changes, if any, a new season might bring. It’s not so much that we are inclined to make any big decisions anytime soon, but we are finding ourselves almost naturally discussing possibilities and dreams for our future. Thinking ahead, you might say. Certainly we’re more aware than we have been of our stage of life.
Nature has seasons. Life has seasons. And, I think, we as individuals have seasons, personally and spiritually. It might be a function of middle-age, but over the last couple of years in particular I’ve noticed shifts and changes in myself. While I am fundamentally the same person, my priorities and my values and the way I see some things have been adjusting and transitioning. At least at one level, I think of this as God doing his transforming work in my life, of his ongoing realigning of my soul. Put another way, I’ve come to feel differently in my own skin than I did even four or five years ago. More at ease with myself, but still aware of places in need of God’s kind, steady, but determined sculpting of my heart.
The other thing about seasons is that each one carries with it both losses and gains, both difficulties and blessings. And the truth is, we need each of these seasons to become who God wants us to be. We might not want to experience a particular season, but God is at work in each one. I don’t really ever want to turn back the clock or the calendar. Nor am I especially anxious about moving more quickly into the future. What I do want is to be sensitive to different seasons of life on the one hand, and to have my eyes and heart open to the season I am in on the other. I want to live into the reality I am given by God here and now. In this, I usually meet with varying degrees of success.
I don’t necessarily know what all of this means. I can’t say exactly what God is up to and what he’s going to be up to in the days ahead. Like I said, it feels like a transitional season. Perhaps a season God is using to prepare me for something else. That something else might be internal, external, or both. Who knows? All I know is that I have been reflecting on these matters more and more. I am watching my kids grow up. I am seeing changes in me. And when I look outside and see the vibrant shades of the autumn trees, I am grateful that while seasons come and go, each one contains its own unique beauty that reveals the glory and purposes of God.
Last night we had friends over for thanksgiving, and it was a wonderful evening of food and conversation. We made the turkey and veges and they brought pie. Actually, they made three pies! Chocolate cream, apple, and pumpkin! Needless to say, I think we all had more than enough to eat.
Here’s the thing: I love having people around our dining room table. If I had my way, we’d have a much larger dining room and a much larger dining room table, one we could cover with plenty of culinary delights and surround with animated, enjoyable, maybe even serious conversation, the sort that resonates deeply with who we are as human beings. Suffice it to say, there’s something uniquely intangible and beautiful about table fellowship. The preparation may seem like a lot of work, but it’s always worth it. More than worth it.
The Bible affirms and teaches the importance of table fellowship. Think about Jesus. He was always going to peoples’ homes, sitting around the table eating and drinking. And, I imagine, laughing and having a grand ol’ time! He was even accused by critics of being a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:19). The religiously stuffy and arrogant chided him for sharing meals with the riff-raff of his day, people otherwise unacceptable in respectable company.
In the culture of Jesus’ day, table fellowship was a sign of hospitality, acceptance, and friendship. Who you sat and ate with could be a matter of controversy. Take, for example, these words of Paul:
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned.For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party. Then the rest of the Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were deviating from the truth of the gospel, I told Cephas in front of everyone, “If you, who are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel Gentiles to live like Jews?”Galatians 2:11-14
Cephas here is also known as Peter, one of the more prominent of Jesus’ disciples. Having already been shown by God that the gospel is also for the Gentiles (non-Jews) (see Acts 10), Peter later separates himself from the very people God had told him to accept. He did so under pressure from people who were falsely teaching that Gentile converts had to be circumcised and obey the entire Law in order to be genuine followers of Jesus. Rather than enjoying a meal with his Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ, Peter caves into fear. Paul openly rebukes him, seeing that the very nature of the gospel is at stake in Peter’s actions.
And all of this over who is sitting around the dinner table.
Who are we inviting to sit around our table? With whom are we breaking bread?
When I consider the state of our world, and especially the state of political and cultural discourse, I can’t help but think sometimes that there are people who just need to sit at the same table together. Break bread. Enjoy a cup of coffee or glass of wine. Rather than having a leadership debate before an election, maybe require the candidates to show hospitality to one another. Maybe if such leaders, who are at least in part called to model political discourse to the rest of us, could look one another in the eyes without the glare of TV cameras and a tight script to follow, they would be able to see one another’s humanity and find their way towards genuine compromise.
Jesus, of course, broke bread and shared wine on the night before going to the cross. It was around the Passover table that Jesus instituted what Christians observe as Communion or the Last Supper. Jesus ate and drank with his disciples, most of whom would desert him, one who would deny him, and one who would betray him. Hardly perfect company.
Having people around our tables means extending to others the grace of God. Hospitality is an act of love. It’s a gesture of peace. Gathering around a table to share food and have conversation demonstrates a willingness to see past differences and to become open to the other, rather than see them as a label to be easily dismissed. Every meal is a parable pointing to the reality of the kingdom of God. Feasting is a prominent image for the world to come, the new heavens and new earth. One day we will dine with the king of kings. And having people around our tables now points to a future reality we can joyfully anticipate.
So who is around your table these days? Who needs to be?
It’s safe to say, I think, that our culture is polarized. Not only are there are strong disagreements amongst people regarding politics and various societal issues, but we seem to be less and less capable of viewing those with whom we disagree as human beings worthy of respect. Instead of thoughtful dialogue, we have media outlets that serve one point of view or another. If you’re more to the left on the spectrum, there’s CNN or CBC. However, if you’re more to the right, there’s Fox News or Rebel Media. Rarely do voices from one perspective meaningful engage directly with the voices from another perspective. Neither seems very willing. It probably wouldn’t be good for ratings, social media attention, and their bottom line.
But is it all about political differences? Are we only talking about the policy differences between Republicans and Democrats or between the Liberals and the Conservatives (or the NDP or Greens)? Have you, like me, ever wondered where this polarization comes from? How do opposing positions become so deeply entrenched? Why does it seem as though people are, more than ever, at one another’s throats?
This week conservative podcast host Ben Shapiro discussed this very question and I thought his analysis was insightful and very helpful. You can watch the clip below. While the context is the US political situation, I think if you watch it all the way through you can see how it applies more broadly.
Essentially, when we think about politics, culture, and how we as a society deal with one another, some key questions to ask are: What does it mean to be human? What is human nature? Are human beings basically good and trustworthy or do we need to acknowledge that each of us contains both good and evil, right and wrong? How we answer these questions–and not everyone operates with the same answers in mind–matters because our answers impinge on the way we think we ought to organize society, government, and our relations with one another.
More and more, it’s clear that different and competing visions of human nature lie beneath different views of political authority and societal norms and expectations.
The Christian worldview makes clear that human beings are a mixture of good and evil. When God created human beings in his image, he said it was very good. But not long after the creation of humankind, things went awry. Sin entered the picture. People became enemies, both of one another and God. The image has been cracked and marred by selfishness and disobedience. The question is what happens to the way we think about society, culture, and politics when we ignore the realities of human nature? I don’t have all the answers, but it’s a question we should be asking.
Here’s Shapiro’s video.