Clyde over at A People So Bold has a great post about the spiritual practice of Staying at the Table. He puts words around a belief that I sometimes have a hard time articulating. I have an ongoing argument with a friend about how long one should stay at the table when the ignorance and intolerance are apparent. I have sometimes joked that compared to this friend, I am “anger impaired.” But reading Clyde’s words helped me understand that I am just deeply committed to staying at the table. Even when it hurts, even when I am terribly disappointed, even when I am stunned by the seemingly willful ignorance of people that I otherwise respect and admire.
For the most part, the people who walk away from hard discussions are doing one of two things: they are exercising privilege because they don’t have to face the questions and consequences of their actions, or they are saving their souls because the pain and rage they feel in the face of ugly words, acts, and attitudes. For the most part, when my friend leaves the table, he is saving his soul. He is exercising his remaining power in response to being told he does not exist and does not matter. Sometimes it is all he can do to find a way to walk away with some grace.
Staying at the table takes courage and faith. Sometimes the people who are attacked, oppressed, and erased have sufficient courage and faith, sometimes they don’t. My friend suffers more than I do from the oppressions we have in common. His courage and faith give out sometimes. In some ways, he has more faith and hope than I do, or at least higher expectations of how the world should be. Sometimes staying at the table is a matter of being willing to make do with how broken the world really is and loving the people anyway. And sometimes I can stay because the venom people spew just misses me, while it lands on him again and again.
I guess I am writing this because I am conflicted. I do believe that the only way things and people will change is if we stay at the table. But sometimes that is asking the very people who are already deeply wounded by oppression to keep putting themselves in harm’s way. Sometimes we can do that. Sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we have to go away and save our own souls for awhile. I believe that then the spiritual practice is to Come Back to the Table when we have the strength again.