Our Place at the Table to engage Middle East conflict, compassion, justice

Courageous conversations and a shared meal are on the menu for Our Place at the Table, scheduled for March 21 at 7 p.m. in Ballroom A of the Student Union with dinner provided. The event will center on the question: Why does the war in the Middle East matter to me?

A tradition of faith and inquiry

Our Place at the Table began in 2016 as an effort to engage difficult topics through the lenses of learning, mutual respect, grace, and hospitality. Over the years the topics for conversation have reflected current events and matters of importance to students, including topics that are typically considered divisive. This year’s theme spotlights the ongoing conflict in Gaza, and how event participants might respond with justice and compassion. Dr. Faithe Beam, Vice President for Student Life and Christian Mission, sees Our Place at the Table as a natural expression of Campbell students’ curiosity, and their awareness of the world around them.

“Our Place at the Table has become a University tradition. It started with students who were willing to come together and ask hard questions of one another, ultimately to learn from one another, and then take their knowledge and relationships out into the world after graduation. Our Place at the Table is a wonderful example of the relationship between faith and inquiry,” said Beam.

Hard work and hard questions

Austin Maynor is a 2017 alum and founding student coordinator of Our Place at the Table. He sees the event as an opportunity for individual and community transformation.

“The idea for Our Place at the Table was conceived at a moment when our stripes of cultural division were becoming especially visible in our society. Rather than ignoring the proverbial elephants in the room, we at Campbell chose to slow down and address societal tension in more human, incarnational way: by breaking bread together and encountering each other honestly — face to face,” he said.

“We knew that these mealtime conversations couldn’t rightly ignore tension or deny the realities of injustice for the sake of some cheap idea of unity. No, taking your place at the table doesn’t promise a warm, fuzzy feeling by the end of dessert. What it does promise, however, is an invitation — however great or small — into a changed life. In eating together intentionally we began finding in each other the implements we all need to start living into a more flourishing world. After all, one can never find these things by eating and thinking alone.”

Student impact

Rev. Louisa Ward, Dean for Spiritual Life and Campus Minister, recognizes that most undergraduate students have only known constant conflict in the Middle East. While Gaza is more than 6,000 miles from Buies Creek, the global and personal impacts travel fast and far, particularly for students with personal ties.

“When we have individual students or a student organization who is part of the planning the conversation comes alive in new ways and space is made for the stories of students to be heard,” she said.

“Our students are paying attention to global events, and they have important questions about the intersection of conflict, faith, and relationships in their own context. Our Place at the Table is a place to ask those questions, and to learn from the experiences of others. Partners from across the University will facilitate table discussions guided by the Courage Conversations commitments.”

As part of Our Place at the Table, four students will share how current events in Gaza have a direct impact on their lives, and ultimately on their time as a student in the Campbell community.

This year’s planning team has included undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty and staff from Spiritual Life, Public Health, Christian Studies, and Campbell Divinity School.