Mary Kate Morse faculty talk

Title: “Table-Keeping with Christ”
Author: Mary Kate Morse
Text: Luke 19: 1-10
Date: August 21, 2006
Theme: Table-keeping guards against exclusion and misunderstanding. Christ was a table-keeper, so should we be.

• It’s tough being a woman standing before people to bring the word of God. Women have extra things we end up thinking about, because we get asked about them. Last time that I stood in front of a distinguished august group to speak, I made a joke out of being there in open toed shoes with red toenails.

• But afterwards I was asked repeatedly not about my feet, but how I had the nerve to wear pants. Never occurred to me that I should only wear a dress or skirt. Some wondered if I did it on purpose to make a statement. Others had morphed my black dress slacks into jeans and thought I was quite the rebel. I wore pants because at the end of my message I wanted to demonstrate something and didn’t want to do it in a skirt.

• People have told me after messages, that they liked my outfit, that they thought I looked pale, or wondered who my hairdresser was. I doubt if men get asked those questions.

• Nevertheless, here I am this morning before my peers dressed with what came out of the suitcase.

• We are a University that is seeking to be place where diversity matters, and yet I think that the most diverse groups on the planet are males and females, and we rarely enter into conversations about how that impacts us and our working environments.

• I am an academic in a field that is primarily male and a pastor with evangelical leaders/pastors who are primarily male. I’ve been called a witch. I’ve had people pray that my children would be protected from my sin and evil. I’ve been glared at during weddings or at the beginning of a class because of the offense of being female and standing in front of them serving God out of my gifts.

• The discrimination can be overt but also subtle. Recently, 4 of the seminary faculty were invited to the opening service of a seminary grad’s church plant. A little ways into the service he stopped to introduce his guests. He began with me, “This is MaryKate she teaches spiritual formation,” Then he said “Next is Dr. Delamarter, he is the Old Testament professor and knows everything about the bible. Then we have Dr. Shelton, who knows everything about everything. And last is Carole Spencer who teaches church history. You might find this hard to believe but she is a pastor at this church, but don’t worry she is not the senior pastor.”

• The nice thing about this is that the two male faculty sucked in air when this happened. The men I work with are amazing. What was hard for me wasn’t the demoting I got, but that we had taught the student for three years, three years! And his paradigm had neither shifted, nor did he even realize what he had just done. And I know that he had been taught better.

• So why hadn’t he changed…at least enough to be respectful? Because one’s cultural, personal frames about how life works are deeply engrained, and they are not easily changed. People often don’t even know that they have them. Frames are mental models which we use to interpret what happens to us in life. Mental frames define a situation and guide actions.

• This student’s mental frame was that women are not pastors and not usually seen as reliable authorities. So he needed to explain to his congregation how to manage this different thing and then they would know how to relate to us.

• Mental frames are necessary and important, but they can also trap us. Jesus was in the business of challenging people’s mental frames about God, finances, relationships, families, and especially about outsiders.

• Jesus did that through his teaching and through his actions. One of those actions was with whom he would eat.

• Hospitality was a key mental frame for the 1st Century Hebrew. Hospitality was a code of reciprocity and allowed for the determination of strangers as friends or enemies.

• The ritual for hospitality was very specific. An invitation was usually initiated by the male head of a household. He would invite him twice. The head of the household then washed the stranger’s feet to symbolize that he was a guest now and the host would feed and protect him.

• The stranger would refuse the 1st invitation and accept the 2nd. He would stay only for the agreed upon time, and would bless the host when he left. At the end of that time the stranger would be presented to the village as a friend or foe.

• Jesus, however, practiced a radical hospitality. The table became a place for inclusion, not investigation. And Jesus broke most of the hospitality conventions.

• I want to use the story of Zaccheus, and talk with you briefly about Jesus’ table-keeping and suggest his model as a spiritual discipline for us.

• You know the story. It is found in Luke 19: 1-9.

• Verse 1-2: As chief tax collector, he was excluded from the Jewish community. He collaborated with the Romans. As a rich one, he had to be abusing his position to fill his personal coffers.

• Verse 3: Not only was he outsider because of his profession, but he was physically unimpressive. So much so that couldn’t see over the normal heads of persons.

• Verse 4: Zaccheus was willing to look stupid, be undignified. He didn’t want to miss out on one of the greatest things that had happened in a long, long time.
• Verse 5: Jesus invited himself to stay at his house. He took the host role and entered the house of an outsider. It would be as if you were sitting at the meeting on Friday morning and David Brandt came up and said that he was going to your house for dinner. Pretty unnerving and exciting at the same time.

• Verse 6: This was major league… for a holy man, a prophet and a healer to come to your house.

• Verse 7: This behavior of eating with sinners got Jesus in trouble over and over again. He hung out with the sinners. The outsiders. The ones mainstream could not understand or relate to. There were no mental frames except sinfulness for Jesus’ behavior.

• Mainstreamers have the status and power in a cultural group. Mainstreamers think that outcasts get there because of their own sinfulness, choices, or position in life. The status quo is not challenged, believing that it is God’s frame.

• Verse 8: Zaccheus begins his generosity before he even gets to his house. Being included did something profound in him. He repented.

• Verse 9: Jesus announces to the crowd that he is one of us.

• Jesus did two strange things — as the guest, he invited himself, showing inclusion of the sinner, rather than the host inviting. And as a guest, he was the one who announced to the crowd the status of Zaccheus even before he had the meal and entered his house. He identified Zaccheus as a son of Abraham as he was himself.

• I want us to consider a spiritual discipline of table-keeping for our life together at George Fox. So that when there is food, when we eat together, we choose to use the table for inclusion, rather than exclusion, and for identification rather than avoidance. Just as Jesus did.

• Inclusion is a powerful experience. When you are the minority, or different, or new, or odd for some reason…not that any of us have that problem. Then being included is huge.

• One of the most remarkable experiences I’ve had in this regard occurred when I was finishing up my doctoral dissertation. I had read a book by Leighton Ford called “Transforming Leadership: Jesus’ Way of Creating Vision, Shaping Values, and Empowering Change.” I had a serendipitous opportunity to be at a seminar put on by Murdock where Dr. Ford was the speaker. I went up afterwards to ask him questions about leadership formation. He invited me to visit his Arrow Leadership Training program in Charlotte, North Carolina next time they were in session.

• I went. Leighton picked me up at the hotel to take me to the retreat site where the training session began. I was humbled that the second man to Billy Graham on his crusades, and his brother-in-law, and the head of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization from 1976-1992 would drive me the 2 hours to the retreat center. He wanted to get to know me better. We had a stimulating, provocative conversation on the trip and I was impressed with his experience, knowledge, and grace-filled wisdom.

• Upon arrival we went our separate ways. I showed up for the opening banquet where students from all over the world, some of the brightest, most entrepreneurial leaders I’ve ever met in one place, were seated around different tables.

• Before the meal started, Leighton said he wanted to introduce the guests. He had me stand up, and talked a little about me, and told the students, “This is someone you must have a conversation with. She is insightful, wise, and spiritually astute. Get your date books out and make sure you get a chance to talk with her.” I felt honored, and I was surprised by the response. All these students came right over after the meal, with their schedules and asked for some time. Every meal from then on I was eating with someone. I came as an unknown. A nobody, and now I was known and included.

• I had never had a person of such influence say before others that I had value and something to contribute. That I mattered in this male spiritual leadership world. And something quiet and sweet shifted in me. Leighton since has been an important friend and mentor in my life.

• The other thing that happens when we eat together, besides getting a chance to sit at the same table, is we have conversation. We get to enter into each other’s world. We get to identify with them by listening. We get to honor each other by paying attention to and valuing the challenges, joys, reality of the each other’s world.

• Brian McLaren told a story at a conference I attended in Eagle, Idaho this summer. In a denomination that didn’t ordain women, one church went ahead and ordained a gifted woman who was serving among them. The denominational leaders contacted the church and told them they couldn’t do that. They responded by saying, “We already did.” Then the denomination threatened them with all sorts of consequences, if they didn’t revoke-drop the ordination. So the male pastors all gave up their ordination and said, “We will all be called teachers.”

• This is a remarkable example of a group identifying so much with an outsider that they changed their own status in order to do what was for them, the just thing.

• I’m not suggesting that you do that, but even when we listen openly with each other, seeking to know and understand the other, we allow ourselves the experience of identifying with someone else’s world.

• I think we often equate being involved in each other’s business as community. Community does not happen in business sessions, even when they are run according to Friends’ practices. It happens around tables when we eat together.

• So as a spiritual discipline for us together, may I suggest that you make it a point to sit with a group other than your own at least once, and then report back to your homies.

• Go to listen and ask questions about their world. What is it like? What are the challenges as a woman, as a man, as an artist, as a scientist, as a theologian, as an administrator? What are the joys?

• Talk with each other. The departments that are bastions of maleness, send a scout out to visit the departments that are more female, and vice versa. And in every way that we naturally separate and misunderstand each other, visit and find out who these aliens are. And at the end of the meal you might too, like Jesus, be introducing them as friends rather than foes.

• I made a habit at the last Faculty retreat to get to know different departments so I would find some un-invaded territory and plop down during the meals. I sat with the baseball guys once. I sat with the music band guys once. And both times I came to appreciate the special challenges they faced in the university setting.

• My favorite table-keeping plop was with the engineers. They were all delighted to find out that I was in spiritual formation and started pumping me with questions.

• They asked me why people found spiritual formation so hard. If the Bible says to do something, you do it. Right? So, they shared their plan of how they were going to invite students and faculty to hold each other accountable for their spiritual journeys, and they were going to practice the spiritual disciplines together.

• I also asked them what it was like to be in a field and department that were traditionally male. They said they liked it. One guy was bold enough to say that they didn’t want to mess up their special camaraderie by having women, but then he thought they should look into it in case he was missing something. He worked in a company in which a woman came in, and he said that her perspective on things was amazing. He said something to the effect, “Wow, if a woman helps you be a better engineer and make better design decisions, we need some!”

• Eating together and talking together with the outsider helps adjust our mental frames. Then inclusion, not exclusion happens. Identification and understanding happens, not avoidance.

• If we did this, I believe something special will happen to us. Even with this great divide between men and women. I believe it is exactly the way that Jesus lived his life. And we are a place that wants to please our Lord and Savior by matching his heart and steps.

• Let’s pray.

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