Who’s Coming to Dinner?

You might be surprised.

Photo Credit: Unsplash by Garreth Paul

Truffle fries and sparkling wine is our communion tonight as I sit and ponder the significance of salt and pepper shakers suddenly reappearing on restaurant tables across America. Thank God, because on occasion you have to throw a little salt over your shoulder, or who knows what evil might befall you.

I’m having dinner with my husband Larry and daughter Kelley near her new apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. There are two couples enjoying wine, pasta, and a basket of bread at the next table. If I had to guess, I’d say they’re in their forties, but I tend to round down when it comes to age.

We’re eating outside on tables set up along the sidewalk under one of those lean-to structures. The temperature is finally cooling, a light rain is falling, but as the evening settles around us it is the twinkle lights that I find enchanting.

I’m shamelessly eavesdropping on a conversation ensuing at the next table.

In my defense, it’s not like I’m trying to listen, they’re just talking so loud. I’m one of those people who has a hard time blocking out third-party conversations at restaurants, or any large social gathering for that matter. It’s a nasty habit, horribly distracting, and your empathy is greatly appreciated but misplaced.

As if Judas Iscariot, I have no qualms about betraying my own ethics, and unabashedly sharing your conversation on social media. Harper Lee whispers in my ear, “Are you proud of yourself tonight that you have insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about?”

It’s not as if I’m working for the F.B.I., but you might want to migrate to another location if you’re discussing something highly confidential and I’m within earshot, seriously, I won’t be offended. My kids do it all the time. 

So, here I am, half-listening to these couples banter back and forth about the jeopardy of library funds, and the traffic bottleneck in the Lincoln Tunnel. I’m also marginally trying to follow the conversation between Larry and Kelley speculating about taxes and interest rates (yawn), but my interest is piqued when the neighbors start demonizing some poor sap who failed to respond to an invitation because the address label was offensive.

The woman with a mop of elegantly styled brunette hair says, “Honestly, she’s never even read Virginia Woolf, I think she went to a state school, and now she refuses to acknowledge my invitation because I used the wrong honorific.”

Yes, I googled honorific, it’s a form of address denoting status, politeness, or respect such as Mr. or Ms.

I toss some salt over my shoulder because it reminds me of my Zoom classes during the pandemic and my epic failure with pronouns. My students were allowed to write the pronouns they preferred by their names so it would be easy for me to reference them properly. In the heat of the moment, I’d inevitably use the wrong one so I dropped all pronouns for the rest of the year, referring to everyone as “hey.” 

That was not in any way honorific.

We’re so quick to find fault with each other, especially when our political views are in opposition with each other, or worse, when the tenants of our most deeply held beliefs are in jeopardy.

The recent reversal of the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade has everyone up in arms.

We all have our own views on abortion but I believe compassion might be our only ethical response. (Don’t click off yet, you’ll miss the best part)

Compassion is a huge risk, because if I grant you access to my heart, I’m talking all the way to the core of my being, you might change my mind, and open my pleasantly closed eyes. The thing is we can’t see the hurt we are causing others, or the hurt others are experiencing, with our eyes closed. 

I love what Harper Lee wrote in To Kill A Mocking Bird, “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of another… There are just some kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.” How does one write a passage sixty years ago with such relevance for today?

It would be impossible to count the atrocities that have been committed in the name of God because when we fail to acknowledge the dignity of all people someone is going to get the shaft.

I know the Bible didn’t make the New York Times Best Seller list, but talk about relevance, and it was written over two thousand years ago!

Mary was a pregnant unwed teenager who could have been stoned to death legally.

The woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11) could have been stoned to death legally.

And now a woman seeking an abortion could be charged with manslaughter legally.

Men have never had to deal with the same repercussions as women especially when sexual activity results in a pregnancy.

All condemnation does is limit our ability to empathize with each other. Everyone is fighting deeply personal battles, life is not easy, and without compassion, we’ll never arrive at the heart of the issue.

And I think that involves respect, not only for opposing views, but a reverence for the very different circumstances we are born into, ones that have influence over our entire lives, and the power to keep us trapped in endless cycles of misery.

Jesus was continually being chastised for reaching out and touching our misery. He was not caste conscious, he’d dine with tax collectors and whores, healing the demons, illnesses, and infirmities of the downtrodden. I admit I would have enjoyed eavesdropping on some of those conversations?

The Pharisees were furious because this vagabond, by today’s standards, choose to not only heal but consort with the object of their judgment. I mean how are they going to feel good about themselves if they can no longer dump on the people whose afflictions some carpenter just cured?

Jesus doesn’t care what the moral majority thinks, his platform was based on nonviolence and compassion, and he remained loyal to his convictions to the bitter end.

He’s not coerced by wealth or lack thereof, he doesn’t care if you are fashionable or emo, liberal or conservative. He doesn’t care about your ethnicity. It doesn’t matter if you serve the poor, are covered in tattoos, or drive a Prius. He doesn’t care about your stand on climate change, your unconscious biases, or your vaccination status. He was a pretty woke guy.

He loves both Roe and Wade.

I admire a person who goes right to the core of a person, past the addictions, the mental illness, the disordered opinions, especially our crusty pride, and touches our most vulnerable asset, the heart.  

The only vehicle that drives change is love. We know this!

I like how Leigh Roberson, from Living 50, illuminates the concept of acceptance. She writes, “More often than not, acceptance refers to identity. In practice, it looks like unconditional love. Accepting someone with all their faults and flaws is one of the greatest acts of kindness we can offer to others. It recognizes our likeness as human beings not necessarily our likeness of behavior or ideas.”

Jame Baldwin claims our inability to love is the central problem, because that inability masks a certain terror, and that terror is the terror of being touched. And if you can’t be touched, you can’t be changed.

We all have people we champion. You might care for the migrant worker, while someone else wraps their wings around the homeless, the drug addict, the immigrant, the prisoner, the elderly, or maybe you’re sheltering a gay or trans person who has been rejected by their families, church, and/or society. All are vulnerable and worthy of our collective love.

He said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

All being the keyword. 

I think last Sunday’s reading was about Jesus feeding the five thousand broken and bewildered human beings who were listening to him preach on some isolated mountainside. Probably because he was run out of town. It was getting late and the disciples wanted to send everyone home for dinner. 

Jesus had something else in mind.

He gathers some bread and fish from those in attendance and by some miracle it blesses, stretches, and multiples enough to feed everyone.

Notice how he did not meander through the crowd saying “sorry my dear, you don’t get to eat, or you, and especially not you Cheryl.” 

He fed everyone. 

He even fed Judas the blessed bread and wine at his last supper, on the night he was betrayed, even though he was woefully aware of what was to come. If that’s not a powerful example of compassion and inclusion I don’t know what is.

I guess my long and overly belabored point is about expanding my view, digging deeper if you will, down to the core of those who look, act, or worship differently from me. I know what I will find. A beating heart, one exactly like my own, one created by the same maker, for the same purpose. 

That’s what Rumi was talking about when he said, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”

I guess the question remains, how can we love each other in this world, not the next, when we’re sporting wings, happily expired, and living with a heavenly endowment?

As Bob Goff says, “loving people we don’t understand or agree with is just the kind of beautiful, counterintuitive, risky stuff people who are becoming love do.”

I’m going to try harder today, instead of scanning for differences, I’m going to search for our commonalities because this is what love does. And while fights ensue around the proverbial tables across America, voices raised in anger and frustration, I’m going to listen even harder. No condemnation, no shame, no judgment, no stones. As E.A. Bucchianeri claims, “there are times when wisdom cannot be found in the chambers of parliament or the halls of academia but at the unpretentious setting of the kitchen table.”

Pull up a chair, put down the armor, let’s talk.

I’m Living in the Gap, searching for common ground, care to join me?


Leave a Comment

  1. Being an atheist, I won’t comment on The Biblical stuff.
    But I will say that the restaurant woman with the mop of brunette hair sounds like a character in one of Woody Allen’s better films. She could even have helped him with writing the script.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Pete, Thanks for diving in on a subject that involves religion. It know it’s not your thing. I’m always amazed with the ability of some people to block out all distractions and focus on one conversation. I just can’t do it and I’m incredulous when I discover Larry isn’t following the same discussion at the next table. He just doesn’t hear it. We were like three feet from these people and I was facing them. I thought their discussion was so interesting, sophisticated on some level, until the brunette got her panties in a wad about pronouns. I wanted to laugh out loud but thankfully I was able to control myself. I have to add, even though you don’t believe in God the stories about this Jesus guy are pretty cool. You might check him out! Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I was traveling when you published your series on alternative biblical stories and I do appreciate the humor but I’m still pretty enamored by the original tales. I appreciate how they challenge those who abuse their power and authority. He was radical and countercultural and somehow challenges my views especially in today’s world. xxoo, C

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I was really hesitant about approaching the subjects of abortion, communion, religion in general. Organizations that are supposed to ignite our love and compassion for each other but end up being a source of judgment and condemnation. There is no such thing as moral superiority as we all sin, we all falter, and we are all in need of continual absolution. It was courageous of you to read and dive in. Thank you. Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I read someplace (but did not confirm) that being convicted of having an illegal abortion results in much harsher disciplinary action than raping someone.

    Anyway, I don’t share the hearing/listening to other conversations thing but I’m a pretty good lip reader at times so you might want to shield your mouth in my vicinity when talking secrets. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would not be surprised Claudette if the repercussions of rape were less than that of seeking an abortion. I suppose it could be argued that the rapist was procuring life? What a world. I’m sorry to hear you were not born with the gift of eavesdropping but lip reading must be a close second. I’ll keep that in mind when we meet up at Niagara Falls! Thanks for the comment, brave you are. Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Phyllis, the issues we face in the modern world are complicated indeed, especially with the continual advances in science and technology. I love the simplicity of Jesus’ message, love and compassion reign, and I have to assume this is how we create heaven on earth. Love you!


    1. I think you nailed it Dorothy, we get so caught up in our own opinions we don’t make room for our neighbors. I realize this is a heated topic but the more voices we include in the conversation the more compassionate our response. 💕C

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Cheryl, every time I read your articles I am in awe of how you capture so brilliantly the heart of the matter – real life. Like you, I cannot shut out other people’s conversations in restaurants. So, I get it!!! Your words about Jesus, compassion and being open to the people around us rings so true!. I cannot thank you enough for using a quote from my blog … my eyes leaked a little!!!! I join with you in committing to listening more and judging less. Truly we are all better off seeking that “common ground” rather than arguing our differences. I’ll keep my “stones” in my pocket and instead look for the opportunity to “break bread”! Best Wishes Always! Leigh

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good morning Leigh, what a treat to wake up to your comment. I wrestled with this post, or more accurately, I struggled to find my footing. I suppose that’s why I write, to figure things out, and it’s amazing how the answers find me. Like your post, just the right time, and beautifully clarified the difference between acceptance and approval. Thanks for letting me join your words with my own. Here’s to listening more, judging less. I appreciate your courage in joining me in this conversation Leigh. Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “Hey” is how I greeted my mother-in-law for the longest because she wanted me to call her mom and I wanted to call her Sandy.

    Anywho, this was well written and thought provoking.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. After living in the south for two decades, I decided on Ms. Sandy. It’s a nice compromise, and she seems to allow it, except now, I feel mocked because she replies, “Hi, Ms. Kathy,” and I’m like :-/

        Sorry to turn this into a brief therapy session lol

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You know I had the same delima with my mother and father-in-law who did not like me using their first names and I had a hard time calling anyone else mom and dad besides my own parents. My children were the solution as I started referring them to Nono and Nana and all seemed comfortable with those references. Oh my, I feel so much better now that we talked! xxoo, C

          Liked by 1 person

  5. I eavesdrop on people all the time- it’s fun and I always learn something new!

    I won’t say much about the biblical stuff and abortions but I will say that it’s interesting that people tend to act most religious when it supports their argument but when it doesn’t they’re suddenly all about personal interpretations. I think it’s fascinating that someone would care that much about a foetus but not fight for gun control, better healthcare, better education for kids etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Pooja, my fellow eavesdropper! Thank you for your courage to enter into the conversation, you bring up crucial issues that involve the protection of life, especially for our children. We have miles to go when it comes to healthcare, education, and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and those with mental illness. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Cheryl. I loved your observations and explanations on the current state of people and compassion. I think this phrase summed it up perfectly – “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of another…” ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Debby, I appreciate you entering into the conversation, one where every voice counts, even those written sixty years ago. Harper Lee had a unique vision and one that is still applicable today. I appreciate your support of this piece! Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

  7. There’s no way I could love you more. You do it every time. My mouth is gaping open because the words you shared echo my comments I made yesterday to my twin. It woke me up in the middle of the night–thinking about Jesus. Some have tried to give me a death sentence. Nope! Not going to take it sitting down. There was a man who truly believed in “the right to bear arms”. He bore BOTH arms–stretched one to the left, one to the right–he was NAILED! I find conversations (loud ones) very distracting and it’s hard not to overhear. And I’m even more surprised at what others say DIRECTLY to anyone listening. LOL. We all are human after all. I love your perspectives and LOVE HOW YOU LOVE. No judgement. Just beautiful observations wrapped in wisdom and thoughtfulness. Thank you for being a voice of love AND REASON!!! I love you dearly, C. K 💛❤️💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My sweet Karla, I’ve been thinking about you constantly, sending up prayers, hoping you’re feeling all the love! You got this Karla, Jesus is right there with you, arms wrapped around your beautiful person. Thanks for entering into the conversation, we need many more voices rooted in love and compassion. I know that your voice is one of those. I love you so very much. Be well, do all things loving to Karla, receive all those prayers directed towards you. Wrapping you tightly in love and hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cheryl, I feel your love and presence. I think of you and smile. I do feel wrapped by our Gentle Shepherd and the love of those who love me, as you. I’ll use my voice and join your choir. It’s just right. I love you so much, C. Happy Independence Day. We really do have much in which to be thankful. 💕💛❤️💙💪🏻

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Cheryl,
    I both loved and laughed at your description of dining in the upper west side of New York City. It is a different world.
    I pray nightly that I won’t mistakenly use the wrong honorific, though thankfully, I did not go to a state school. 😉
    Once again, I am proud and impressed that you are willing to address the elephant in the room. Your approach is of course the best, to try to look at things with empathy and understanding. Love the Mockingbird quote, and it is apropos. From the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition to Northern Ireland, history is littered with killing in the name of religion.
    To me, when I read your post, I am struck with the thought that we are all here together, and we need to work things out. We maybe need to be a little nicer, and even put ourselves in each other’s shoes.
    Next time we join you for glass of Vino on the deck, I look forward to a deep dive into this topic, and of course I will surely not raise my voice if I happen to disagree with you. After all, what’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?

    PS I feel some Jenga or Mexican train may be in our future?
    Can’t wait.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mike! Oh how I shivered and shook before hitting the publish button on this one. I felt as if the elephant was actually sitting on my chest instead of overpowering the room. I have long considered the keyboard as my therapist, and I’m ever so grateful it is not possible for her/he to expose my secrets, but only pull from me all these deeply repressed thoughts. I deleted half of what I wrote and all that was left was compassion. So damn simple. So difficult to practice. I deleted a lot of thoughts on respecting the faith and beliefs of others. I used to teach world religion at ND and Rabbi Josh Burkenwald would visit all my classes ever semester and teach the students about Judaism. He was a youthful dynamic speaker and the students loved him. Of course they would always ask about the Jewish stand on abortion, gay marriage, birth control, etc. He never shied away from any question. He’s extremely smart and so well spoken. He explained the different branches of Judaism, some conservative, some liberal, some in the middle. He taught them about the Jewish theology on the beginning of life, which seems to be the same for all branches, when the baby’s head emerges from the womb. But one day, he pulled up a stool and sat down, he wanted to share a deeply personal story. He told the students about his family, a wife and two small boys. His lovely wife became pregnant for a third time and they were thrilled. But as the pregnancy progressed it became evident that the baby had such severe defects that it would not be able to live very long outside the womb. In the meantime the placenta was growing into the mother’s organs and her life was in danger. After a lot of prayer, discussion, and counsel a painful decision was made to save the mothers life and abort the pregnancy. Even so, Mom almost died and had to have two surgeries, along with a full hysterectomy. This is not considered a sin in the Jewish tradition in fact it’s argued that the mothers life is the priority. The point he was trying to make was that these are deeply personal, difficult, and private decisions. I only share his story here because he recently published his story in the newspaper. It opened the eyes of my students to another way of confronting the abortion issue and that is from a position of compassion. Thanks for joining me in the discussion Mike and I too look forward to breaking open this topic over some blessed wine, on a shaded deck, overlooking the lake! Hugs, Cheryl


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