A Table In The Wilderness

Come Sit At The Table

Some Impromptu and Unedited Thoughts

In 2005, during the first Sabbatical of my life, off the grid in a cabin high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, a life coach suggested I go through my life journals to see if anything helpful emerged.

As I slowly and tearfully read through my sporadic but thankfully somewhat consistent entries, a single truth literally jumped out at me—the most significant thing over the past ten years of seemingly spectacular success—was a small group of guys—artists I mentored at Merridees Bakery in historic downtown Franklin, Tennessee each Tuesday morning for the past five years.

It wan’t the financial success, reaching the pinnacle of my career, nor the celebrities that called me friend.

I could literally mark the chronology of my life AND, I realized later, my meaning in life, by those Tuesday morning 9-10:30am mentoring meetings.

Heck, I was there so often and it was so well chronicled in the later years by my protégés and social media, that I even received my personal mail there at Merridees.

Nobody, label executives told me, had been able to sustain a consistent mentoring program in the Nashville area for any length of time—much less years. They said artists were impossible to get together in a consistent fashion, they were messy, undisciplined, unreliable and undependable.

But for all the hoopla it was really quite simple, all the guys, there were fourteen total, all professional touring artists—I just told them I would be at a table in the back of Merridees every Tuesday morning from 9-10:30am. I told them at the outset: there is no curriculum, no accountability—this is not a small group nor a discipleship group nor an accountability group—we will simply get around the table and you all will have my objective advice from my life experience—but only if you ask for it—and a listening ear, and someone who cares about you, a gentle ally. I told them I would always be there, and if no one comes, that’s fine, I would always have work to do.

In over ten years of Tuesdays, almost 500 Tuesdays, I was only alone at that table twice. Twice.

In the solitude of the sabbatical at that Rocky Mountains cabin, I began to realize what I needed to do with the rest of my life. The thing that brought meaning and fulfillment to my life was that rickety table in the back room of Merridees on Tuesday.

Because really, I just want to be at the table. Available to mentor, refresh and encourage people, especially the messy people who call themselves creatives. And the time I’m not at the table, I want to live fully in the healing and creativity I’m experiencing. To help people that have been wounded by the institutions of life—family, church, school and society—and are now  weary and full of questions….like I was.

I want to sit at that table literally and figuratively and be available. 

I would like to be there not only on Tuesday but every day when people need rest and are finally ready to sit at the table. To listen, to love, to encourage, to mentor—and to ask the right questions.

Who will sit at the table? Will you?

Restauranteur Danny Meyer says “There are three things that people pick up on the instant they walk into your home. They will be able to feel the human energy. The feeling of home. They’ll smell the food. And they will see, instantly, the table.”

Let’s consider the table for a moment. It’s like breathing, we probably have never given a table a second thought.

A Table is a basic article of furniture, known and used in the Western world since at least the 7th century BCE, consisting of a flat slab of stone, metal, wood, or glass supported by trestles, legs, or a pillar. Did you know that in Victorian times, people were so repressed, that not only was the sight of a female ankle considered scandalous, even the sight of table legs was considered unseemly and indecorous! So it was that table legs were also required to be kept covered and out of sight; they were legs after all!

Until moving to Kalien, I had no idea how important tables were. We did not have a functioning table for over twelve months. Yep.

I have now constructed two tables. You have to build a table to really appreciate it. A table can be round, rectangular, square, triangular, can be long or short or in-between, and can have one, two, three, or more legs, made out of wood, steel, tin, glass, rock, granite, cement, marble, and I’m sure other things.

How could we live without them?

For many of us, the most important conversations of our lives occurred around a table.

We eat at tables, work at tables, drink at tables, play games at tables, lay things on tables, we store things on a table, we celebrate around a table, dreams are formed around a table, we study at a table, we create on a table, we talk around a table, we cry, laugh, hold hands and hug around a table, we pray around a table, take communion round a table, some of us may have made love on a table…I could go on…

At the table at Kalien Retreat lies hospitality. Specifically, Encouraging Hospitality.

Hospitality called on us to create space for guests at Kalien in which you can experience growth.

The two sides of this story are: Host and Guest. It takes both sides, both parties engaged, to experience mutual growth.

The great theologian Herbie Hancock says, “You would not exist if you did not have something to bring to the table of life.”

A table, a chair, a slice of cheese, a bit of chocolate, and a glass of wine; and someone to share them with. What else does a person need to be happy? —Randy Elrod

So what do we bring to the table of life? How do we create space for mutual growth? How do we provide encouraging hospitality at the table? And more importantly, throughout life?

First , By Setting The Table…

A. In Simplicity—I’ve had the good fortune to dine in some of the finest restaurants in the world: L’Tour de Argent in Paris, The French Laundry in Napa, Mogador in Aspen, Sooke Harbor House in Canada, but the best meal I’ve ever had was deep in the wilds of the Uganik River on Kodiak, an island in Alaska. It was just before sunset. A friend and I had just pulled in a couple of silver salmon—he literally made this stump into a huge wooden table down in the sand, pulled the salmon from the water, dropped it on top of the stump, pulled the skin off and sliced it up. Move over Thomas Keller!

Fed up with the distractions of his father’s pencil making business, Henry David Thoreau set out to find some peace and quiet to work on his first book. Lucky for us, Ralph Waldo Emerson offered him free use of his woodlot along the northern shore of Walden Pond.

Thoreau began planning for his 10′ by 15′ house in March and he was ready to move in on the 4th of July. The interior of the house was furnished with only the essentials: a bed, a small desk and lamp, three chairs — he named them: one was called solitude, the second was friendship, and the third called society —- and last but not least—a table. ”

While at Walden, Thoreau strove to reduce his needs and to work efficiently. “The cost of a thing” says Thoreau, “is the amount of life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

Gina and I have created some very complex recipes here in this kitchen—they cost a lot of life—but it’s funny how the most satisfying dishes are the simple ones. Comfort food we call it. Soul food.

We don’t try to show off any longer.

In the beginning, Gina and I would try to serve a 15-course menu with smoke-filled glass domes and all sorts of things set on fire. But we’ve started to feel that meals like this are more about the hosts than they are about the guest, so now our mantra is “less is more.” People aren’t coming over for a life-changing dining experience; they’re coming to spend time with you. We err on the side of simple, regional, seasonal, and hopefully delicious food.

Especially, the food from our garden, reduced to its essence. Yum. Simplicity. Gina’s carrots. In fact, some of our favorite recipes are from a magazine called Real Simple.

Maybe it IS all about the simple things in life.  A term I use is: “Exponentially Quintessential.” The essence of things.

We also set the table…

B. In Beauty—The name Kalien when reduced to its essential nuance means: Beauty is Calling. Gina and I are working hard to create a BEAUTIFUL place while still respecting and honoring the land. To set a beautiful table with respect for the essence of the foods, if you will.

Beauty speaks to our souls. There are essential reasons we are attracted to it. Beauty in a wholistic sense. Sure, in the body, but also the soul, spirit, and mind. It speaks to our essence. A tale as old as time.

Our first priority when they walk through the doors is to strip all the frenetic pace of the world away, help our guests relax and enjoy the moment. Hospitality is all about human connection and making people comfortable. So we communicate with guests as we would dear friends, and we spend endless hours focusing on table setting, flowers, art, candles, music. We also put together a playlist designed for the guests in mind.

And we set the table…

C. In Comfort—A guest can be no more comfortable around a table than the host. Ever go into someone’s home and not feel quite right? It’s probably because the host was uncomfortable. They didn’t have the ability or knowledge, or manners, to be comfortable…or perhaps, they were not able to be present because they had not prepared well for the meal ahead of time.

The magic times around a table happen when the host is comfortable in their own skin—AND their home AND around the table. Those times are moments when you as a guest feel at home.

We want our guests to feel like being at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving – you can put your elbows on the table, you don’t have to talk politics… no matter how old we get, there’s always a part of us that wants to sit there.

We try and serve communal courses in the middle of the table to encourage people to connect.

Second, By Sitting at the Table:

When we sit, we share the gift of our:

  1. Presence—Will Guidara is the owner of the second rated restaurant in the world this year, Eleven Madison Park, he says…

“We talk about this in the restaurant constantly: Genuine hospitality only exists if you can forget about all the things you have to do and focus on the people you are with. How do we accomplish this? Organization and preparation. The more things we can check off our to-do lists before you walk through our doors, the better chance we have to be fully present when you do. The biggest mistake people make when having guests over? Being “in the weeds,” as we say in restaurants. Don’t drop off chips on the coffee table and rush back to the kitchen. Plan your day and don’t overextend yourself; that way, when everyone arrives you can relax and be with them. That’s the point, after all.”

Alexander Schmemann weaves a compelling case in his book “For The Life of the World” for the table as something more than mere ritual and ceremony, but as a way of entering into the very presence of each other.

A little perception goes a long way. Hospitality can, in the right instance, involve little more than sitting comfortably and allowing my body language to smile at the guests.

The inimitable Maya Angelou said:

“Eating is so intimate. It’s very sensual. When you invite someone to sit at your table and you want to cook for them, you’re inviting a person into your life.”

We believe in the importance of wine. It helps us let our masks down.

We try to practice Congeniality, Curiosity, Intelligence.

B.Time—Eating—Get rid of cell phones. Put fork down until finish chewing a bite. Do not pick up until completely finished. Well prepared.

It’s human nature for people to take precisely as much interest in you as they believe you’re taking in them. There is no stronger way to build relationships than taking a genuine interest in other human beings and allowing them to share their stories.

When we take an active interest in others, give them our undivided time, we create a sense of charisma, community and a feeling of camaraderie.

The Three C’s: Charisma—is the art of making people feel better having been in your presence.

Encouraging hospitality is a philosophy that works best with congenial, curious, and intelligent people. It tends not to work when the hosts are skeptics who think they already have all the answers. Those people are a finished product in their own minds, and so is everyone else they relate with.

Charisma leads to…

Camaraderie—is the experience of feeling important and loved. That sense of affiliation builds trust and a sense of being accepted and appreciated, invariably leading to growth for both guest and host.

which leads to…

Community—a social group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists. 

which equals…


C. Wholeness—Talking-Conversation…Stories… A Good Question: Can you tell me a little about the place spirituality had in your childhood? 

At Kalien, we practice the Art of Listening with our Whole Heart. In America, today, we suck at expressing hospitality to one another. We stubbornly stick to our monologues rather than engaging in dialogue. Hospitality has the power to unite us.

Service is a monologue—we decide how we want to do things and set our own standards for service. Hospitality, on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response.

Big Quote: Simply serving someone is one-sided, a monologue, but encouraging hospitality is two-sided, a dialogue.

Third, By Sharing The Table:

Send ’em home with something. At Kalien, every guest now goes home with a logo coffee cup. It’s a humble way to end a special meal, but, more importantly, it’s a way to relive the experience the next day. Also, it’s just nice to give someone a present. The best part of doing this at home is that it’s unexpected.

It could be anything: some freshly baked cookies, a copy of that evening’s playlist, even a doggie bag (we’re not going to eat all of those leftovers anyway).

Sharing the Table Locally—our home, our table, our food, our selves… We must share without expectations…but oh so hard…our guests should leave not only ingesting our food…but also parts of our whole selves…our mind, soul, body, and spirit…so we literally are taken into the world by our guests if hospitality is successful.

Sharing the Table Globally—Endowment. Charity.

We all have a product or brand of some sort—ourselves, music, a message, a philosophy, worship, an ideal…Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel. 

A charitable mind-set assumes the best in other people. Mind-sets tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. When you assume that people’s stumbles are honest mistakes that come from a good place, you get farther with them during their victories. When you assume the worst of people, you get the worst from people.

It’s important that we maintain a charitable assumption about the guests we serve. At our table AND in life. Doing so even when a mistake has been made gives us the chance to react with integrity and to be accountable for our actions.

I’ve been to many meals where the hosts makes the guest feel uncomfortable for being twenty minutes late for dinner—when there may well have been a good reason for their tardiness. It’s hard to justify being ungracious to anyone who wants to spend time with you. A charitable assumption might be, “You must have had a tough time getting here. I’m delighted that you made it!”

I am going to get the most out of my relationship with every guest, including a deeper relationship, when I base the relationship on optimism and trust. Hospitality is hopeful; it’s confident, thoughtful, optimistic, generous, and openhearted.

We all have the possibility of finding the mysterious treasure of life lived in presence personified at the Table. “We were created as celebrants of the sacrament of life, of its transformation into life for ourselves and then…for others”

By randy

Encouraging people to find out who they are so they can live their lives fully.