"For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” ― Aristotle
I teach high school science. I don’t tell you this because I am hoping to get a pay raise or think I deserve consideration for sainthood. I mention that I am a science teacher, because, as I try to teach teenagers how to think, solve problems, and answer questions like a scientist, I am myself becoming better at thinking, solving, and answering like a scientist. This is my way of warning you that I am biased, or at the very least, I have a certain way of viewing the world.
I give a version of this speech each fall to my students as we get ready to start the year. However, the version I tell them includes that I am a Bible-believing Christian, and that I have certain beliefs that may not line up with the accepted scientific positions on all topics. I tell my students this, and I tell you this, so that I can leave room for disagreement and discussion. I am also putting it out there, because I want you to be aware of how I approach things. I try to approach the world around me as a follower of Jesus Christ, but also as a scientist. In short, I ask questions.
Asking questions is terrifying. It leaves room for someone to give you an answer you don’t want to hear. To this day, I can't remember a time I was more nervous than when I asked my wife, Megan, if she would marry me. Unlike how it is often portrayed in the movies, proposing marriage is not a question that should be asked if you don’t know what the answer is going to be. Even though I knew she would say yes (I had already asked her what she would say if I ever proposed), I was still giving her the opportunity to give me an answer I was terrified to hear. This blog is intended to be a safe place to start conversations about difficult and divisive topics that are generally left out of polite conversations (explained in detail in the blog Introduction). I can’t think of a better way to start these conversations than to ask questions. Especially questions that terrify me a little to ask.
I don’t know yet if the questions that I raise in my posts will have any theme to them as Annie Bauer’s posts have (her series on Sex Ed Fails should leave you with a few questions). I don’t know if the questions that I ask will include any answers either. I will try to, at a minimum, summarize my current thinking on the questions I ask. One thing I do know, is that I haven't actually asked a question yet. So, here it goes:
Question – Why not at the dinner table?
The title of the blog is "Not At The Dinner Table," and the purpose of the blog is to provide a safe space for disagreement, conflict, and questions. Why do we need a blog for this? Why are these conversations taboo? The title of the blog probably resonates with you, as it does many of my friends. They tell me that their table conversations are usually limited to the mundane and shallow conversations detailing the nuances of the work day. Some of my friends and family don’t even have a dinner table to have meals at, let alone deep conversation. I understand the sentiment of the blog's title, but it doesn’t resonate with me.
My family is far from normal, so I realize that my experience will also be far from normal, however, in my house all the important family conversations always seemed to take place at the dinner table. In fact, they still do. Around the dinner table is where I heard stories about my parents’ childhoods, and their rebellious and sin-filled teenage years. I learned about sex, drugs, alcohol, politics, and God while breaking bread with my dad (we literally ate entire loaves of bread with apple butter). Around the dinner table is where my sisters and I shared the good news of engagements and pregnancies. At the dinner table we learned of my sister’s failing marriage and impending divorce. We gathered around the same table to confront a family member about their sin and the effects it was having on the family. All of these things happened around the table and were discussed around the table. Was it awkward and uncomfortable? Most of it, yes. However, I would never trade the awkwardness and discomfort these caused for more common experiences, because my family is and has always been extremely close due to these experiences.
Having a place where no topic was off limits was such an important part of my childhood and my growth into an adult that I am trying to be intentional to continue it with my own family. At a recent meal, my seven year old daughter asked "How do babies get out of the mommy's belly?" I believe that most parents would save their answers for a more private location, if they didn't just avoid the question or come up with a lie to stop that line of questioning in its tracks. With a little awkwardness, my wife and I simply told them the truth. "EWWWWWW," they shouted while simultaneously breaking down into the most adorable giggles. That turned into one of the more memorable meals we have had with our girls. They, of course, couldn't talk of anything else for a few days, and even incorporated their new knowledge into their playtime with baby dolls. At our dinner table, my wife and I are trying to foster our daughters' curiosity about life. Curiosity about death isn't off limits to them either. About a year ago our girls got the opportunity to have dinner with a close family friend they knew as "Grandpa Kenny." He specifically requested that the girls come to dinner because his failing health had prevented him from seeing them for a long time. That meal, Grandpa Kenny's last, was such a blessing to him, his family, my family and my daughters. They were curious about the medical devices he was hooked up to, and curious about what was happening to him. My daughters had been to two of their great-grandfather's funerals, but this was the first opportunity that they had at experiencing the last days of life. That night allowed us to have many conversations about death, Heaven, salvation, and the importance of sharing the love of Jesus with loved ones while we can. Have these experiences been easy? Not at all. Have they been valuable? Undeniably!
So, should you look for ways to make your dinners awkward from now on? No. Don’t force awkwardness. Embrace it. I don’t believe the point is that discussions have to happen around the dinner table and they need to be awkward and uncomfortable. For me, the point is that I am raising my children to handle awkwardness, discomfort, and conflict better than I do. Better than society handles it. Better than Christians handle it. How different are American Christians to the Corinthian Christians the Apostle Paul appealed to as brothers and sisters to be united (1 Cor. 1:10-12)? If I want my daughters to handle conflict and uncomfortable conversations well with the goal of increasing unity within the family and within the Church, then I must model it to them.
Do you need to add a little awkwardness and discomfort to your conversations? How will you do it? I am trying to set forth a place where my daughters feel safe enough to really open up to me and my wife, as well as each other. The appeal of having the dinner table be that place for my family, is that no matter how contentious or uncomfortable the conversations may get, I know that everyone will always be able to agree about how great the food is.