Essay: Opening the table
Story | Clarence Barr
I made the decision to not only sand and smooth out a table with filler, finish, stain and polyurethane, but to also do the same with my life. The idea to build a table first came to me while on a college religious life retreat. As a Methodist, one of the most important values is to ‘open and extend the table’ of the Church and Jesus’s teachings. As someone who has always felt excluded, having a group of people who were so open to sharing food, time and fun with them was very moving. I made this table initially to reflect these teachings.
I want to make sure whoever sits at the table feels included so I made it with rounded edges. The curve allows a deeper sense of community and isn’t as aggressive as four pointed corners. I made this table to be a constant reminder of how much opening a seat at the table can change someone’s life.
There is a second lesson also—you can always find something and make it like new again. I made this table out of the wood that I had available, which was two old pallets I had in my garage. The wood was partially rotten and fell apart in my hands. It had been left in our garage to rot away. It was an ordeal to even reclaim the usable parts. After finishing the construction and forming of the table, I thought I was done. I initially had no plans to paint and stain the wood. I was going to leave it rustic, still kind of rough and dull.
Even when you make your table, your life, or the experiences you offer open and available to the world, it doesn’t matter how big your table is if it is not sturdy, smooth and safe. I know that it can be uncomfortable, just like me at times. It can rub people the wrong way, give plenty of splinters, and be unsteady and unsupportive in some of the worst ways. I needed to take more responsibility and support people in meaningful ways and not selfish ones. I needed to truly work on how off-putting and aggressive I could be with others, and not just ignore the splinters I was causing them. I needed to become smoother and cleaner in my life. Just like this table, I needed to be worked on and that is a scary thing to admit.
However, now I realize I am not just a table top. I have three things holding me up and making me better. Spirituality has become the legs of my table. Jesus is my center leg post, supporting me and carrying me above my problems.The Holy Spirit is my duo polyurethane and stain finish, filling in my small dents and nicks, coloring me to be consistent over my many fixed up parts, and giving me a nice protective coating from the things in this world that want to damage and stain me again in this world. Finally, God is my carpenter, forever shaping and molding me to be better in his image.
This table was built as a reminder to always be open-minded. But there is more to it. While constructing this during the pandemic, I’ve felt closer to God and closer to peace. My table is a monument to the fact that no sinner of any size, like planks of wood to a carpenter, is beyond redemption in God’s eyes.
Clarence- This is beautiful. Wonderfully written and exquisitely personal in a way only a few of us know, you have captured a universal truth about life and growth and spirituality. This essay deserves re-printing and wider distribution.
I am so proud of you!