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The Table Would Be a Circle

June 28, 2018 by Beth Richardson

Heeding God's call can mean leaving home and all that is familiar. It can demand our accumulated wealth and security or dare us to place our blessings, even our lives, at risk. It can also mean simply living where we are but with an entirely new set of priorities. In every case, our particular vocation in God's service arises from our response to the basic call to radical availability.—Gerrit Scott Dawson (Companions in Christ, UR Books, 2006)

One of the pleasures of my work here at The Upper Room is the opportunity to meet and work with people all over the world. For the past three years, we have had the honor of the presence of Isaac Broune in our midst.

Isaac epitomizes the quote above, “Heeding God's call can mean leaving home and all that is familiar.” Isaac has been here in the United States three years, away from his wife and son in Côte d'Ivoire. During these three years, Isaac attended Vanderbilt Divinity School, worked at United Methodist Communications, at Discipleship Ministries with the E-Reader project, and participated with me in our chapel planning group. Isaac recently graduated from Vanderbilt University with his Master of Divinity degree and is now returning to his home and his family. With great gratitude, we had the honor of welcoming Isaac’s leadership in chapel.

Isaac shared with us a reflection on the carving of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper which is the focal point of our chapel. Isaac imagined how this scene could be different in his own cultural setting. Following is an excerpt from Isaac's sermon:

I grew up with this painting hanging in my father’s living room. I gained a new insight of the message of this painting a few years ago when I was facing a writer’s block. 

At Vanderbilt Divinity School, when you take a field education class, they require you to submit a case study of your work every month. I had exhausted all my subject options. I asked for an extension and could not have any thing to reflect on. It was the last paper to submit for the semester. I was praying for an inspiration in the chapel of The Upper Room when God pointed my eyes to this painting and whispered to my ears “what if you reconstruct this painting?” Normally, I wouldn’t do that. Who am I to challenge my masters? But, the school has taught me that as brilliant as scholars may be, there is always an improvement of their thinking and findings. Our theological task is to bring our own perspectives to their issues.

If I reconstructed the painting, the table would be a circle.

In many villages, people do not eat around a table. They eat in circles while prompting jokes, laughter and happiness.

In a circle setting, everyone, every opinion has equal value. There is no hierarchy. Sitting in circles especially when eating or during family discussion is very important in Africa because it implies togetherness, connection, and peace.  

Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me.” Think about how this reminder would be helpful for us in our workspace, whether we are Republican or Democrat, Progressive or Conservative, Methodist or not. Issues like racial biases, human sexuality, equality in the church for women, fake news about immigrants will all end if we invite to our table the ones who are different from us and take time to simply listen to their stories. 

At the end of the chapel service, the congregation blessed Isaac for his service to God in the world, saying in part:

“Fill your servant, Isaac, with grace and truth, with wisdom and strength, with every spiritual gift to engage this ministry in your power that your will be done in him.” (Discipleship Ministries)

We are grateful for Isaac’s presence among us. He is a gift to us and a gift to the world.

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