Late one afternoon, I am sitting in a workshop conducted by the the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management which was discussing Ronald Heifetz’s work on adaptive leadership. (the speakers didn’t show the video, I just offered it as a short description to avoid a lot of technical narrative here.)
My collaborator, Margaret and I, were excited regarding hearing the information as we had already (without having the language) determined to go Beyond Boundaries and chose to Buy More and Build Something New as we reassess What We Do and where we might offer an appropriately chosen Nod. But following the breadcrumbs left behind of thought, I was reminded that it all led to a two year old post regarding Table Hopping in the Food Court/ So, let’s revisit it here with some hopeful since that we might rebuild upon it in time.
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I think most of us can acknowledge a need for a paradigm shift in Catholic youth ministry… And, for me, that might just begin with the metaphors we use. For example, it may be time to bury “the table” metaphor…
What’s that? It is the image we hold, consciously or not, that there is a common table that we are to share. We work industriously to gather many divergent voices to the table and/or go forth from the table in many different directions having found the common table serving as a source.
I’m beginning to think that it is an image that no longer serves us well. The table is often quite dependent on a sense of personality and hospitality of “the one” or “a few.” At the table, there is a presumption of leadership as influence or control. In the end, it develops a set of mores that risk dismissing or ignoring dissent within the culture.
The future of youth ministry can no longer be about the table… It must find itself within the food court… But, but, but, the food court is comprised of a whole bunch of tables… Exactly!
Last week, in Albuquerque, Father Alan Deck discussed cultural competency. He discussed how “either faith transforms culture or culture transforms faith” At the table, I think that the culture of the table has transformed how people perceive themselves while at the table (do I fit in?); who owns the table or even the doorways or access points to the table (who belongs here?); and what are the perceived manners/ appropriate actions around the table (what do we do here?) We develop a faith around the table and in the table itself.
But, Jesus, flipped all the table rules… washing feet, theologically redefining not the selections of the main course but the inconsequential standard everyday staples of bread and wine… The table is ingrained into our theologically sensibility, but we don’t seem to use it in the same manner Jesus did…
The Last Supper, powerful and lasting image that it was, however, was not the only table Jesus sat at. He sat with tax collectors and sinners. While at table, Mary scandalously washed his feet with her hair and perfume scented them. At the wedding feast, His Mother nagged him up from the table into chatting with the wine stewards.
Really, Jesus was a table-hopper.
Deck indicated that “Until culture is transformed, you have not evangelized.” We are not called to gather others to our table, but to go out, if not to all the nations, then, at least, to some of the other tables. We are called to follow the Master and to table hop!
But, it is absolutely impossible to do alone. We need others, and not in the “Hey, I’ll lead and you just follow along” mode. We need true partners and authentic collaborators…
Using a food court metaphor, we are called to recognize that there are numerous, almost countless tables, and an unmanageable amount of access points of entry. Some just pass through, while others visit briefly, and others are regulars. The hours of the food court, the transience of the people, the comings and goings all confound our ability to make it about our table and most especially about us.
If you need a scriptural reference, then lean towards the Loaves and Fishes. Look at all the players/partners involved in the story — Jesus, Phillip, Andrew, and (most especially) the kid smart enough to pack five barley loaves and two fish for a day trip. Attending is not a table of twelve, but a field of 5,000 or more. Jesus not only flips the rules of the table here; he expands our definition of a communal meal— one where the left-overs are greater than what was shared.
We desperately need a multitude of allies and approaches. There is no one method. What works for the table here may not work for the table over there nor the entry point back there.
“We used to think that the unity of the church was brought about by uniformity,” said Father Deck. “We know that it is actually found in our diversity.” Can we use the gift of our diversity to transform the food court-like culture around us? If the field of youth ministry is to grow, we must get up from “our” tables and recognize that we are to address the whole damn food court around us.
Still working these thoughts all out… your comments would be appreciated.
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and they still are.