In Florida I spent some time with old friends, and as we sat talking I said, Lonnie, you and Phil were such an influence on my life. She challenged me, now find the people who you will influence.
I thought on this and decided it could be a good thing to focus on for Lent, influence, but the more I thought about it the more uncomfortable I became. I don't really think I'm the influencer-type.
I would ask you to tell me your influences because I love nothing more than to hear how two stories can collide sometimes and the way we spend the rest of our lives startled and picking up the space rocks.
In my mind there are at least a dozen, maybe more, people who have had this kind of holy influence on me. I wish you could see them the way I do in my mind, these friends of mine, they are otherworldly. They glow. (Not that they are perfect. Who ever does Perfection influence?)
But the thing I am almost certain of, every single one, is that they weren't really trying to influence me.
That's the thing about influence.
It's such a heavy word, and there is so much harmful happening in the name of influence. The word reeks of things like persuasion, condescension, control. I don't know many people waiting in line to be influenced.
This morning I read John 15 and it's like Jesus is saying, okay listen, let me be perfectly clear, this is what I want you to do: Love one another. And we're like, Oh influence. No love. Lead? Love. Okay then I think I will form a group or organize a something and Jesus is like, Let's just go get dinner.
This is where influence happens. Around tables.
I assume it is called the Last Supper because it was the final of a long series of suppers, meals shared together and I imagine them lasting long into the night. I bet they loved these meals together, the disciples, I imagine them impatient to get the miracles and healings over so they could go have dinner again with Jesus. I bet they laughed a lot, and ate really good food, too much, like Jesus was always wanting to splurge on that great take-out place- again- even though it was the middle of the week and everybody was on a diet. I imagine somebody always drank too much and I bet they never wanted to leave.
I was influenced most around tables. Always when I wasn't looking, unaware of being influenced because it happened so subtly as friendship. I thought then and I still do, that these were first of all my friends, that they were with me because they wanted to be, not because I was assigned to their group but that they liked me even.
It was over cafeteria trays or sunny picnic tables, my grandparents' table on the farm, worn wooden tables in kitchens with the windows thrown open, mismatched tables drug from pockets of the house and shoved together to make room for more and it usually wasn't until later, much later, that the subtlest question, an offhand remark, a few unexpected words carried on the air of affection . . . or mostly just their person- their character, their perspective, their story- would come to mind- (they still do) and I would think on it, and keep thinking and turning it over in my mind and slowly, gently, I was influenced.
Jesus looked at him and loved him.
(p.s. I'm not saying that things like preaching and teaching aren't necessary, I have been influenced by both. Only that love reaches deepest by people who are willing to open their lives to us.)
Isn't a meal together the most beautiful expression of our desire to be given to each other in our brokenness? The table, the food, the drinks, the words, the stories: Are they not the most intimate ways in which we do not only express the desire to give our lives to each other, but also to do this in actuality? . . . When we eat together we are vulnerable to one another. Around the table we can't wear weapons of any sort. Eating from the same bread and drinking from the same cup call us to live in unity and peace .. . a really peaceful and joyful meal together belongs to the greatest moments of life.
-Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved