Our American society has become deeply polarized on a number of important issues and oftentimes this is seen most clearly within the church. Throughout the gospel narrative, Jesus broke bread with people from all different walks of life, and yet today, many are being told they aren't welcome at the Lord's Table. How can we be faithful to Christ's inclusive message when the world around us is increasingly marked by fear, prejudice and exclusion? Through personal stories from his own life and the lives of those he's pastored, John Pavlovitz seeks to show how we can faithfully carry on Jesus's work by living our lives in revolutionary inclusivity through radical hospitality, total authenticity, true diversity, and agenda-free community. In doing so, he also presents a hopeful path forward in which love overcomes the brokenness of our world.
I can't recall exactly how or when John Pavlovitz came to my attention, but I've been following his blog for a while now. His posts usually always speak to me, so when I saw that he'd written a book, I immediately put it on my TBR list. As luck would have it, A Bigger Table also happened to be on my pastor's reading list, and since she also leads our church book club, it was agreed that it would become our latest read. For those who might be familiar with the author's blog, the tone of the book is a little different. In his blog posts, he usually addresses timely and topical issues, while this book covers a broader spectrum. In it he discusses the need for Christians to expand their table to be more inclusive of people from varied backgrounds and life experiences, rather than shrinking it to exclude them. Far too many people, particularly from the LGBTQ community, have been left behind by Christian worship services, if not outright driven away, so the author advocates that it's time we change that. And I couldn't agree more.
Throughout A Bigger Table, Mr. Pavlovitz sheds light on this topic by relating stories from his own life and the lives of those he's pastored or mentored along the way. He expresses very eloquently how he went from being a smaller table kind of Christian to his coming to believe in the more expansive table. I felt this added a very personal element to the book that solidifies the humanity of his stance in a way that perhaps simply stating his convictions might not. There are many people along the way who've helped to shape his beliefs and bring him to the conclusions he's come to. His message that Jesus' table is one that is big enough for all of us is a very welcome and much-needed one. I really liked the way that he framed the four marks of a bigger table as being radical hospitality, total authenticity, true diversity, and agenda-free community. Total authenticity is one aspect that really speaks to me, because I've often not felt this when in Christian community. Sometimes I think it's OK to admit to having doubts or struggles, but many times, the church isn't a safe place to express those things, when it should be. That's where the agenda-free community comes in as well, because in my experience when those doubts are expressed, oftentimes the person expressing them is fed nothing but platitudes or bludgeoned with scripture (basically being fed an agenda) when more constructive dialogue is called for. It's all a very fine line and one that I felt was extremely well articulated in this book.
As I read A Bigger Table, I heard echoes of a couple of past books we've read for our book club that might be of help to readers of this one who want to expand upon what Mr. Pavlovitz discusses. For starters, his chapter titled "Earthquakes and Aftershocks" talks about how we often think of our faith as relatively solid and compartmentalized when "in reality belief is more like a Jenga tower, a series of interconnected pieces that moves and shifts...," where when one thing is shaken up, everything is, even though we may think otherwise. This part of the book reminds me of Peter Enns' The Sin of Certainty, in which he explores what he terms the "uh-oh moment" in much more depth. Then there's the overall message of the book about the Lord's table and how it's big enough for everyone that reminds me in some ways of Sarah Miles' Take This Bread.
Overall, A Bigger Table was a very good book with an excellent message that I think more Christians should take to heart. I enjoyed reading it and agreed with what the author had to say. The only reason I marked off a star is because when reading Mr. Pavlovitz's blog posts, they tend to be pretty succinct and easy to read, but this book tended to drag a little for me. His penchant for writing in exceedingly long block paragraphs didn't help that. If anything it made the narrative feel much longer than it was. As a writer myself, I could see places where he could have broken them up and given the reader more white space, so that it wouldn't have seemed so long, while still getting his point across in a more encapsulated way. IMHO, the editor should have done this, but it doesn't really change the strong message the book contains. I keep coming back to the word authentic, which for me, was the takeaway buzz-word here. I think if people see us as being authentic in our faith then we'll draw them in to that bigger table if we're making room. I believe Jesus' table is always big enough, but is ours?
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