Surrounding my house is a large wooden fence with gates to allow entry and exit outside of its boundary. The fence does a great job of keeping people out. The fence provides a sense of safety when my children are playing or when I am sleeping. All of my neighbors have fences too, but I’m not much a fence person.
Recently one of my neighbor’s dogs broke a section of our fence. Thankfully my neighbor fixed the problem, but not before I told him I didn’t care much whether it was fixed or not. I’m just not much of a fence person. He has pets so he needed to fix the problem so they wouldn’t escape.
We’re currently in progress on a house project inside our 1950s home that involves knocking down a wall, to open up the space between our kitchen and living room. The idea behind the project was to be able to host groups of people and having everyone connected even if they’re in two separate rooms.
With the wall gone, we had in mind getting a larger dining room table, able to seat 8-12 people at one time. Even though our home has a fence, we want our home to be defined by a table.
Both a fence and a table have obvious, distinct uses and purposes. One is about barricading, the other is about invitation. One is about protection, the other is about relationship. One keeps people out, the other brings people in.
Rose and I have always wanted to instill in our children the value of relationship as core to who we are as people. Rather than simply telling our kids “people matter” we thought making the table the focal point of our main living space would put action to that value.
At a table everyone is on level ground. At a table you face toward the middle, seeing everyone with your eyes. At a table, conversation with one another is as important as the meal being shared.
When we first moved to Salem one of my favorite coffee shops featured some tables that I absolutely loved. I told my wife, “If we ever have enough space to fit a table that big, we have to save up money to buy one.” Well, now we have the space, so we saved up the money, and a few weeks ago we purchased a new dining room table from Fahlman Furniture.
Not only do we love the table, handmade locally, with a walnut top, but we love supporting Jason and his beautiful work to everyone who comes in our home. We nicknamed our house “God’s House” through the unique set of circumstances leading to us buying it, and this table is an extension of our desire to do “God things” in our home.
It’s not hard to extrapolate some of our own family decisions up against the realities of life today. Fences are political platforms. Nationalism is on the rise worldwide. We define ourselves by what we dislike. We are quick to generalize and stigmatize. We protect ourselves from those who are different from us. That’s living with a fence mentality.
What we need is more people with table mentalities instead of fence mentalities. We need people who are willing to do the work of invitation, to give others the dignity of sharing a table and a meal. We need to look one another in the eye, as if to say, “you matter to me.”
Friends: more tables, less fences.