Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Place at the Table

"No Borders"
-In the High Desert-

Amidst all the conversation about "immigration" here in the United States, I was fascinated by an article I recently came across that reported on immigrants in "Sweden." For some reason I have never thought about Sweden as a nation that deals with immigration issues.  When I think of Sweden I conjure up images of a fairly quiet Scandinavian country composed of mostly blonde haired, blue-eyed "Nordic" looking folks who enjoy a rich heritage in a relatively close-knit society.   The article I read the other day literally shattered my preconceived perceptions to bits. 

As it turns out, about one-fifth of Sweden's population is made up of immigrants who have come to that land from places like Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, Somalia and Syria- a rich mix of extremely complex diversity. Although there has been some opposition to the influx of the immigrant population, for the most part Swedes have welcomed these "foreigners" to their land; however, they have had little or no desire to interact with them. Throughout the country there are little enclaves, ghettos, areas in which Afghani people live, other areas for the Somalis or the Syrians, with virtually no contact with any others outside their separate "camps." 

Last year, Ebba Aackerman, a 31year-old Swedish teacher decided she was going to do something about the isolation of  immigrant peoples in her country. She went onto Facebook and Instagram and jokingly gave herself the unofficial title of "Minister of Dinners in Charge of the Department of Invitations." Then she went into the backyard of her apartment complex, put a few picnic tables together and covered them with a cloth, she chopped up vegetables, made some pasta as well as some traditional Swedish fare and she began her invitation campaign. 

On her Facebook page she welcomed Swedes and Somalis, Syrians and Afghanis, native-born peoples and those who had come from foreign countries -come to the feast in her backyard and take your place at the table.

Ms. Ackerman has become somewhat of a celebrity in Sweden nowadays. She can fit about 20 people around her table for those weekly suppers, and she now has a backlog of about 800 waiting to attend. People come to partake of the food she has prepared and they also bring dishes from their own native lands. The table conversation is always animated and lively as people share their life-stories and come to understand that, in the end, none of us are foreigners after all.  

Ms. Ackerman described what goes on around her backyard table every week:

When you sit down to eat at the same table all the inequality goes away.
It's very basic

And now others in the country have jumped on the "invitation bandwagon" setting up their own backyard tables all across the nation making a place for everyone to sit, where all the inequality goes away. 

It's no wonder to me that in the Christian Scriptures Jesus is so often depicted sitting at a table where everyone has a place of equal dignity - no head tables, no places of honor.  He ate with sinners and outcasts along with the rich and the mighty. He once shared a common meal of loaves and fishes with 5000 hungry people in an open field without respect to anyone's status or position in life.  Everyone was welcome to the feast; everyone shared in the abundance. For Jesus, "sharing a meal together at the same table" was an icon of what it means to live in the "Kingdom of God" where everyone is welcome to the feast. 

I don't know if that 31 year-old Swedish teacher is a religious person -my guess is she is not. But as I see it, the table she sets every week in her backyard is as close to getting a picture of what the "Kingdom of God" looks like as I have ever seen.

Instead of building a wall at the border crossings here in America  maybe we should just put up a bunch of picnic tables.










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