The Longest Table

I'm exasperated at the lie I sometimes believe that I, as a stay at home mom, don't have any influence.

THAT IS A BIG FAT LIE. God has disproved it for two years now. There is just absolutely not enough time to do all the things I could do, so I'm asking God constantly how I can specifically use my influence. But my prayer is no longer for God to give me influence. It was there all along. Last night was a reminder that God has put me, my family, and my brothers and sisters in Christ in Dayton for such a time as this.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
— Jeremiah 29:7

Two hours at a table for the good of our city. Two hours of hope, perspective, and purpose. 

Last night I had the unique privilege of attending an event with some members of my house church called "The Longest Table." It rotates locations, but this particular time it was in my neck of the woods, at the Grace United Methodist Church on Salem Avenue. 

You show up, are seated purposefully with complete strangers, people who are different than you in many ways. No fraternizing with people you already know. There was a map of Dayton's neighborhoods and we each circled where we were from and described our neighborhood to one another. We were given conversation prompts like "What do you see as being Dayton's biggest strengths and weaknesses? What do you want Dayton to look like in ten years? etc" We were guided to really listen to one another and to seek to understand our neighbors better.

The concept reminded me a lot of the IF Gathering, that some of the best solutions to our problems can begin when we come together as a community simply to eat some grub around a table. 

When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.

My general perspective was that this is one of the healthiest things I have ever seen our city come together and do. It made my heart swell with pride for Dayton. We met people we otherwise would probably not have opportunity to meet, and really listened to people that don't all think the same way as us.  At my table, for instance, we had an older retired, Caucasian couple that attended the church that hosted, a Muslim, middle aged civil engineer originally from Lebanon who has been in Dayton as long as I've been alive, a Caucasian male Wright State student, an African American, thirty something owner of a nonprofit that helps with several projects to aid our city and his two elementary age kiddos. It was ridiculously refreshing just to break bread with such a diverse group.

In two hours, over dinner, I learned SO MUCH from these beautiful people.

We had very safe, open dialogue with one another on a variety of issues. My table talked about our concern for education in our city, particularly the Dayton Public School System. We talked about the Heroin epidemic, recidivism, racial reconciliation, the food desert in West Dayton, our delightfully growing downtown, and the stereotypes often put upon certain parts of our city.  When I debriefed with Tim and some house church friends later, their tables talked about completely different things! 

I was encouraged by our table's conclusion, that there will always be problems in our city (ie we won't eliminate heroin),  but we can identify issues and patterns and create tangible solutions the best we can. From my Christian perspective, I see "there will always be problems" as "there will always be sin until Jesus comes back." But I have great hope that we can be salt and light to this world, and last night I got to proclaim my reasoning, that my God is all about redemption. God wants to redeem Dayton, every nitty gritty part. 

I left with my journal full of scribbled action steps that I can immediately take. Here are a few: sign up for the Gem City Market co-op newsletter, attend a Hope Over Heroin event, become friends with my county commissioners and school board members on social media, attend neighborhood priority board meetings, continue to be seen out and loving my community, and invite my own neighbors over for a meal over my own rather short (but long enough) table.

After our discussion ended, I gave out Dayton Women in the Word cards out like candy to my table members, even my new Muslim friend. I met a couple Tim and I's age, with two boys exactly like Titus and Matthias. They are running for DPS school board this year. It is good to know their hopeful faces. Then I toured the beautiful Grace UMC church that I have passed every day for seven years and have always wanted to step foot inside. It was every bit as stunning as I dreamed it would be.

As I climbed into my Prius to drive two minutes to my little blue house on Malvern, I felt a little closer to heaven, having looked into the faces of my neighbors made in God's image coming together for a common purpose.

Dayton is not my home. Nowhere on this earth really is. But God has called me to live here and love it to my utmost capacity. It is as close to home as I get until God calls me to my real home.

When I lived with my parents, I wasn't the best at taking care of their home, because it wasn't really mine. When I moved to Dayton, everything changed. God gave me ownership, not only in a physical home, but in a conviction of my heart. 

Dayton is closest to home. At least for now. Today, closest to home means that I take care of this place, Dayton, Ohio. That is what stewardship means, yes? Loving Dayton because God loves Dayton.

Where is closest to home for you, neighbor? How are you being the hands and feet of Jesus in your "close to home?" How are you using your influence today? Would you like to come over and have a meal at my table?