Not on my terms: Dining Room Tables

 

Moving to the city has been and continues to be a huge eye opener to us. Never before have I been so confronted with my own privilege, stereotypical thinking, racism and feelings of superiority. Slowly I am awakened to the fact that as a white privileged person in South Africa doing things on my terms has mostly been the status quo. Living in the city has revealed how comfortable I have become to do things on my terms.

One of the interesting perspectives arising from our move to a smaller space in the city, was how little we missed the extra two thirds of our “stuff” that we lived with when we were living in a three bedroomed simplex in the suburbs. It is amazing how we feel we “need” certain things that we actually can live without pretty easily. Even now, living with one third of our possessions feels very luxurious in comparison with many of the people living around us.

One thing that I have been missing though is our dining room table. I loved our dining room table. To me it was a symbol of hospitality, connecting and engaging with others, generosity and sharing meals in ways that would make the love and good news of God tangible. So the only material thing I have longed for was our large dining room table…

This may all sound very noble to some of you, but in a dialogue session a while ago as I was listening to thoughtful challenging experiences being shared, I was reminded of the fact that having a meal around a dining room table is European or Western concept, not an African one. It hit me right between the eyes, here I was wanting to engage with people who are truly African around a dining room table – a Western concept. Here I was desiring to learn from others, but without even thinking about it, in doing so, once again, on trying to do it on my terms…

I know there will be some of you that will object, “Eating around a dining room table is practical” and so it may be. Especially if you eat with a knife and a fork, but not necessarily when you eat by using your hands or a spoon. I can hear some of you say, “Eating with a knife and fork is more civilised than eating with your hands or a spoon” – that may ring true to some…but only by Western standards. Western standards are not the only terms or the highest standards to which our own humanity or our dignity or civilisation can be measured.

And some of you might even say, “But Jesus had meals with people around a table!”…strangely I wondered about that too… So, I actually checked the use of table in the New Testament. If you do a word search for table in the New Testament you might find about 39 occurrences, but if you go and look carefully at those verses, you will see that in almost every single instance, the words “at the table” have been added in. I do not know Greek at all so I am certainly not qualified to make a call, but I would not be surprised if the translators (Western/European translators that is) translated the stories on their own terms…Makes you wonder doesn’t it?

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