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October 4, 2011

Hospitality: It's Not Just for Dinner Parties Anymore

October is hospitality month--at least here at Strangely Dim. In various posts (including a guest blogger or two) we'll be exploring the notion of hospitality from all angles.

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When I think about hospitality, what usually comes to mind is a dinner party at someone else's house, where I benefit from another person's generosity by enjoying their delicious food and company. They do all the work. I reap all the benefits. Or I think of friends in Kenya who, despite meager resources, treated me and my friends like family when we visited, in part by giving us delicious food to eat. I think we can all agree that this is a pretty selfish, minimalist understanding of hospitality.

Many spiritual gift and personality assessments tend to assume that hospitality is the particular gift of a special class of people. The sad result of seeing hospitality as something that only some people possess as a divinely bestowed character trait is the polarizing of our understanding of it: some people have hospitality, others receive it. If one is not naturally inclined to be hospitable, then there's no reason to pretend, because "that's not how God made me."

Perhaps like many others, then, I have only rarely thought of hospitality as anything like a discipline, a verb, a gift from one person to another, a Christian duty--all of which are categories under which hospitality should fall. I think we can all see the striking difference here: one understanding of hospitality is selfish; the others are markedly less so. The beautiful thing about hospitality as a discipline, when all of the polarization is done away with, is that it starts to look a lot less like an obligation, compulsion, mandate or opportunism, and begins to look much more like love.

For me, the most astounding biblical example of hospitality is that of Christ's incarnation. Not only did this gift require the hospitality of Mary and Joseph as they welcomed Jesus into their home as part of their family, but it opened the door for all of humanity to draw near to God in renewed relationship to him. God, in his love, graciously gave his most precious gift to humankind so that we could know him better, draw near to him and enjoy his presence. Sacrifice, hospitality, love--all together.

If hospitality is like love, then every encounter with another person is an opportunity to give it
and receive it. This means that our own kitchen, the grocery store, and yes, even in traffic--in all the places we love to be, and in all the occasions which try our patience, we have the opportunity to be utterly hospitable to one another.

Examples of unhospitality:

  • A person in a hurry berates an employee new at his job for seeming slow to process an order.
  •  Crew members of an airline make fun of passengers struggling to stow their belongings in overhead compartments, even pantomiming them and threatening to delay the flight.
  • A visitor to a church is ignored and not invited to join in conversation with regular attendees.
  • In an effort to evangelize, a person is aggressive, condescending and rude, unwilling to hear others' perspectives.

Examples of hospitality:

  • A person in line at the grocery store at the end of a long and frustrating day is pleasant to other customers and to store personnel.
  • In a road construction zone, someone lets you merge into traffic when it would be very easy to ignore your attempt to merge in front of them.
  •  In a theological discussion between members of different religions, each person considerately hears the other's thoughts, comments and arguments, and relates their own in a respectful manner.

I think most of us can relate to these examples, because if we're honest, we've been at the receiving and giving end of at least some of them. In fact, all of these examples are from actual events that I've either observed or been directly involved in. I'm not saying practicing hospitality is easy. In fact, it's sometimes the last thing that crosses my mind (in a traffic jam, when I'm late for work . . . as an example). But it's something to shoot for as we all navigate this world together. Thankfully, we have an expert in hospitality to help us along the way. I think he might simply say, "Go, and do likewise."

 

Posted by Christa Countryman at October 4, 2011 11:47 AM Bookmark and Share | TrackBack

Comments

Thanks for the share!
Hellen

Comment by: Hellen White at October 8, 2011 7:03 AM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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