Book Review: A Bigger Table, by John Pavlovitz


What is it like to live and speak out courageously in a pastor’s world that has shifted under his feet by his own realization Christianity has missed it’s mark, indeed, to some extent has gone over to the dark side. Perhaps to the strange experience we’re loosing it, we aren’t going to make it.
“Being an optimist is hazardous duty these days.” John Pavlovitz says in “A bigger Table. Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Communities.”
Pavlovitz is a courageous Christian, holding on to what Crhitanity was meant to be: a life in Christ as demonstrated by Jesus. One does wonder where all that good intention went. It is hard to believe what we have seen in the past 2000 years where exactly Jesus’ teachings come into the picture. What does he think of America the conquerers of a native land, pushing the rightful dwellers of a whole hemisphere out of the picture. Off the face of the earth. What does he think seeing slaves tortured, their families broken apart, hanged and harassed to this day. What does he think seeing Christians killing Jews by the millions in the name of the Nazism? Yes Christians. While our author focuses mostly on Christian Church in America, we must see the backdrop and stage for all that the underlying foundation of the anti-Christ. And ask our own question, why is a surprise that Christianity now supports racism and exclusion from a country that has seen a sprinkling of democracy in its experiment to treat all equally and has beaten down the forces of hypocrisy affecting Christianity in the 20th century? How could this happen here?
We have enough of our own mistakes to amend, without looking on the world around us with the beady eyes of transferring our guilt on others. I was in school yard of my grammar school in Brooklyn, NY and having fun, laughing and I guess “raising hell” as young boys might do when Sister Mary DeSales came running in and screamed: “What is this, a Jewish picnic.” Us Christian boys were not supposed, I guess. to have fun at recess. That was said while Christians were killing Jews by the millions on the other side of the world we have made. Why is surprising that the table to which he ministers is so small that we can’t stand the other person different than we are? We reap what we sow. Our current government in the United States is an example of hateful discourse, the wicked tongue of racism in the cause of greed. Christians by the millions participated in its rise to power. And now continue to foster its longevity.
Where I grew up, Brooklyn, NY, our table was so small, Irish and Italian and German white Catholics, never having the experience of leaning what it was like to be one of God’s children who were black, Jewish, Protestant, let alone gay or lesbian. Our parents most feared event was the black folks, (called a word I, as a white person, can’t utter to this day, even though I lived in a black family,

married to a black women for fifteen years, never thinking I had to right to say that word as my in-laws did at times in the spirit they used it it was OK fro me to do so) were moving up from downtown to take our homes from us. They never did actually, but Haitian people, darker than they, accomplished that, sending Irish, German and Italians fleeing to Long Island. While, we did the work for God at St. Jerome Church and School, keeping I guess, the sinners who were about to be upon us, at bay. In carefully engineered Ignorance of Jesus’ teaching, that went along with the admonishment: don’t read the Bible. We’ll tell you what it says.
Catholicity under Pope Pius we as far as I know, gone. We kept “them”, the inevitable “other” born of guilt, in their place. Hatred always needs a specific.
I would like to think that Pavlovitz’s larger table from which we can learn Jesus’ way, is hopeful. I don’t think so, because God’s table is set differently. God does not recognize the insanity of a table that excludes anyone. Even Donald Trump. Or, Hitler. The worst of the worst is always welcome.
Paul, who is responsible for what Christianity thinks today perhaps more than anyone else, including Jesus himself, witnessed the stoning of Stephen for saying he saw God and Jesus, God’s son together, and Jesus being the Messiah. He was killed for that one thing.
There is hope however. Paul was present at that affair, after which to his great surprise, had a visit form Christ, which transformed him. He stopped killing the dangerous “other”, Christians.
There’s hope for everyone. Everyone is already at the table. Pavlovitz is surely is surely right. But I think we have to believe Jesus’ message; believe that Jesus message for us was just one: forgiveness of ourselves. We can only forgive ourselves. Although we get to know that once we forgive each other. And we have to do this with the recognition that that is our problem and no other. Jesus demonstrated with his participation in an extreme example, one that he would never ask us to repeat. We don’t have to change anything in this world, because we can’t. If we believe fully that we all must practice forgiveness of ourselves and others in turn, the table will be grown by God. That’s what he did in his three years with us. I don’t think he was interested in anything else, just forgiveness. He was interested in seeing that this message became the core teaching as a Jew.
While I applaud John Pavlovitz for his heart being in a very beautiful place, our job is forgiveness, here for that is the only way to building a larger table. it is in fact our only purpose for being in this world. And each of us has to accept it.

Otherwise the table may become larger for a while, but it will shrink again under the weight of un-forgivness. Jesus’ entire message was forgiveness and that every form of human suffering will continue to stem from every unforgiving thought we have and have not recognized and given up to God, Who will do the rest. And that is what we miss in our best of intentions. Forgiving ourselves as we forgive others. This is how Jesus taught us how to return to our Father, within us. When we are intact with the kingdom within, no harm will ever prevail. That intactness, however, always involves seeing this in everyone, as Jesus did. Jesus does not ask that we be credulous of another’s actions. Only that we see truth, one truth. Brother/sister, because I will to know myself, I see you as God’s child and my brother/sister. If this is true, and it always is, what we bring to the table is this truth, which sets us all free.
Not very much is made of the story about Jesus approaching the insane man at the cave entrance. His followers tell himont to go near him. He does of course and the man is cured. Just by Jesus telling him that he knows who he is. The table for this interaction can be very small, a table for two. And once we do this, see in the other person the glory God puts there, we hare home free. We don’t need to change the world for this to happen, it will change because we will have triggered a readiness for change God can work with.

Reviewed by Bob Pajer