March 24, 2008
Hospitality 101: All Those Who've Ever Burned Chicken Welcome
I am, unfortunately, not a very hospitable person in the traditional sense of the word. I like the idea of having people over, and I generally have fun while they're there, but I don't entertain with ease. I worry about almost every detail: getting the apartment clean, making sure people have what they need, figuring out who should sit where, keeping the conversation flowing, etc., etc.
If the event involves cooking a meal, the stress factor gets bumped up about sixteen notches, because I'm not a great cook. The various dishes probably won't be ready at the same time, or something might be a little undercooked, or it might be a little black and crispy and stick to the pan . . . Unless we just eat cookies. I make good cookies, and good homemade chai. But let's just say, no one has ever asked me to serve on a hospitality committee. And I haven't volunteered.
I've been realizing more in the past few years, though, that as Christians, hospitality must define us. Not necessarily (and thankfully) being able to cook a Martha-Stewart-approved meal, but the much broader and deeper meaning: the art of welcoming people in, just as they are, of listening well with openness and compassion, and then responding with grace and truth. This kind of hospitality, I'm learning, is core to who I'm called to be as a follower of Christ.
I'm reminded of that truth even more powerfully right now, as we've intentionally pondered Christ's final week on earth and the pain it entailed, and then celebrated his resurrection and victory over death and sin. No one will ever give us a stronger picture of hospitality than Christ, who invites us with deep love and mercy to come to him with all of our messiness, brokenness, sinfulness; who knows the hardness of our heart, the ways we've denied him, the lies we've told, the ways we've hurt others, the ways others have hurt us. And he doesn't just listen well and offer compassion; he actually takes on our sin and claims it as his own, offering us full forgiveness and freedom and life. Only with Christ can we be completely ourselves, fully open about who we are, because he knows us in every way anyway, and still joyfully, lovingly calls us to himself.
As his followers, we have the perfect example of hospitality to imitate. Yet, without having done any polls, I am pretty certain hospitality is not the first word that springs to mind when people think of Christians. Two bumper stickers I saw on one car illustrate well the reality of our level of hospitality. One read "The [denomination name that isn't really important because it could be any one] welcomes you." Okay. That's friendly when you're stuck in traffic, right? And then, above it, the other bumper sticker: "My poodle is smarter than your honor student." Gee, I feel right at home. Totally welcome. Don't you?
The reality is, offering hospitality is hard. It's hard to listen well to someone whose point of view is different from ours. It's hard to welcome someone whose needs feel bigger than we have time to address. It's hard to welcome someone whose sin has hurt us or someone we love. But it is one of the greatest gifts we can give to others and one of the most powerful paths to reconciliation and understanding.
As hard as offering hospitality is, though, receiving it--sharing my messiness with others and letting them offer me grace and truth--is even harder for me. Being an extraordinarily private person, I'd rather keep my brokenness and sinfulness and ugliness and confusion to myself, thank you very much. But a few close friends who are willing to share with me who they are--good and bad--are teaching me the power of letting my mess be known by them as well, and the freedom, grace and growth that come as a result.
I long to be that safe person for others--the hospitable, compassionate, grace-and-truth-filled friend who invites others in just as they are. However, I know that until I am more willing to really show others who I am--a scared, not-so-put-together twentysomething who is a little confused about how to love and live this life she's been given--it will be hard for them to feel comfortable coming to me just as they are.
But this keeps me working at it: Christ on the cross, taking my sin on himself; the risen, victorious Christ appearing to his disciples who betrayed and denied and deserted him, speaking words of peace and forgiveness and promise of the Spirit to come and the ways he would use them; Christ ascending and interceding for us; Christ constantly whispering to me "Come to me, come to me, come to me."
So come on over if you want to. I'll put the chai on and resist the urge to clean before you arrive. You bring your messiness and your joy, and, with some patience from you, I'll do my best to invite you into mine.
And Christ--the risen, living, loving, perfectly hospitable One--will be there too.