I’ve been around long enough to know that the best parts of a conference don’t happen at the conference, but around it. The meals, the conversations in the hallways, the impromptu meetings in hotel lobbies, the setup, the cleanup, and the sharing of rides to and from the airport. So several weeks back when the Transform Network was doing their thing in nearby DC, I was disappointed to not be able to attend the whole thing, but I was also resting in the confidence that I’d be able to skim the cream off the top of that particular experience by dropping in at the very end. So I attended the final session, then helped with cleanup, wrapped mic cords, took out the trash, loaded the cars, and joined everyone left on the rainy walk to a restaurant where folks were enjoying some food and drink. It was here that we engaged that most ancient and farcical of ecclesial traditions, The Sharing of a Table. It’s ridiculous, really, because it’s terribly inefficient, unkind to servers, and entirely unrealistic. There is no way that all of us can have a single conversation, or even get to know the folks several places down the table (much less at the other end!). On this particular occasion, our ‘table’ was actually a gargantuan mass flanked by at least two other largish tables. All served by a frantic gentleman trying to keep everything straight, and scared that he’d never collect enough tips from us. The tiny systems engineer who lives inside my head always rolls his eyes at times like this, because part of me thinks that we should just dispense with the pretense and admit that we’re not actually gathering with this whole group– we are going to talk to maybe five people, at the most. So why not simply divide up into reasonable subsets, and spread our burden around to several servers (if not several restaurants). But even in the midst of the chaos and choruses of apologies to the server, I saw the beauty of this attempted inclusivism: we refuse to leave anyone out. It’s a symbol, sure, and a failed attempt in every case, but in a world fragmented by contentious loyalties and politics, this is us saying: “No. Not here. We will make room for everyone, no matter how much we might disagree.” And as I start to load the car for another such gathering– The Wild Goose Fest— I’m once again looking forward to a people and a place where we always smile and say, “No, no worries– I can just skooch over and you can sit right here… so, who are you?”
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