IVP - Strangely Dim - Stuff About Hospitality Archives

September 7, 2012

What Authors Eat

By Dave Zimmerman

It has been brought to my attention that I tend to go on a bit in these posts. Sorry about that. I thought I'd overcompensate by talking about something simple: what authors eat.

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For the most part, authors eat what pretty much everyone eats--although some, including Sean Gladding and Rachel Stone (whose forthcoming book Eat with Joy will be as yummy as it looks), are particularly particular, in that they like real food, as opposed to the processed stuff that I (and, if you're being honest, you) feel little compunction about chowing. But authors are also like everyone else in that they're suckers for a free lunch; in that respect, what authors eat is, essentially, whatever I pay for them to eat.

The first time I took a prospective author to dinner I was ill-prepared. I was a deer in the headlights, and he was a ravenous, road-kill-eating ice road trucker. (Not literally; books in that genre don't fit nicely into our publishing program.) Anyway, he ordered an impious amount of food and drink, and when the bill came, I swallowed hard and paid it. He eventually signed a contract with another publisher.

Since then, when I take an author to lunch, I tend toward bargains and signed contracts. I am unique among my colleagues in that regard; most of my coworkers respect food and authors enough to pick a nice place. Pity the poor Heuertzes, Chris and Phileena, whom I rewarded for for their book deals with meals from Taco John's and Taco Bell--which, in my defense, may have been the best Mexican food on offer at the time in Omaha.

When authors come to IVP, I usually let my coworkers (or the authors) pick the place. Over the years a few restaurants have emerged as particularly good for such occasions. If you're ever in the area and itching to write, here's a list of places I might take you (or, if you're lucky, my colleagues might take you).

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Uncle Bub's. Award-winning barbecued pork, and immortalized in some film starring that Git-Er-Done guy. Order the pig-pickin' pulled pork sandwich or, if you're especially hungry or daring, the Uncle Joe burger.

Standard Market. A relatively new entry on the scene here, Standard Market is a farmer's market with a dining area. It ffers a simple yet elegant sit-down meal with good service. I like the Buddha Bowl.

Siam Kitchen. Good Thai food. I had lunch there once with one coauthor while on conference call with the other coauthor. I felt mildly wicked, like we had just tee-peed the coauthor's house. I like this line from their website: "We omit the use of MSG." Sounds like a good line for an editor.

Portillo's. A family-owned franchise in the Chicago area, Portillo's is famous for its Italian beef sandwiches. But I usually get the Italian sausage sandwich. At the launch of Likewise Books, we took about sixteen prospective authors here, including Sean Gladding, Mike Sares, Heather Zempel and Amena Brown, who graced us with an impromptu slam poetry performance. (I snuck some of her fries while she wasn't looking; her book comes out next February, so I'll probably buy her some new fries then.)

Zaza's. I go to Zaza's if I'm trying hard to impress someone. They have a lot of wine, but that would be inappropriate during a working lunch. Good bread.

There are, of course, lots of other places to eat around here. This is America, after all. But these are some of the IVP hotspots. How about you--where would you make me take you if I was trying to squeeze a book contract out of you?

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:50 PM | Comments (3) are closed

November 23, 2011

The Beauty of Being Present

In case you haven't noticed, we have a little hospitality theme cooking here at Strangely Dim. To be honest, I've struggled for more than a month to come up with something (okay, anything) that I thought might enhance the theme. Last week, I scribbled two lousy first drafts, drummed my fingers on my keyboard to "Wheels on the Bus," chewed on my bottom lip for a while as joggers and dog-walkers passed by my office window, and waited--and hoped--for a moment of inspiration. Almost absently, I glanced at the copy of The Gospel of Matthew by Matt Woodley sitting on my desk, and I started thumbing through. When I hit the subtitle of Matthew 8 ("The Beauty of Being Present"), I chastised myself.

9780830836420.jpgI should have known that Matt--both of them--would come through. My soul exhaled. (You might even say it resonated). I finally had my thing.

In today's over-scheduled, over-stimulated, over-industrious, over-distracted culture, being present with people is a monumental accomplishment. I mean, most of us are with people all of the time, but how often would we describe the presence we offer as beautiful? The kind in which our minds don't wander, our eyes don't flutter, our hearts don't waver and in which we never have to say, "Now, tell me your name again?" The sad truth is, we have to work pretty dang hard at being present with people.

In "The Beauty of Being Present" Matt recalls a time when he spent ten hours a week for thirty weeks visiting chronically sick hospital patients. His most memorable patient, an amputee named "Bill," had spent 160 days in the hospital without diagnosis or cure, "listening to doctors and residents endlessly discuss his case" right in front of him. Bill ultimately landed under the care of a psychiatrist who, in a nutshell, told him he was grumpy. 

"After completing my three hundred hours of visitation," Matt writes,  

I concluded that our modern hospitals--efficient, bright and sterilized--qualify as one of the loneliest places on earth. Health care professionals could discuss diagnoses, prognoses, medications and treatment options, but they almost never engaged a patient's sense of agony or abandonment. For all of our disease-curing efficiency, we usually don't know how to provide healing presence.

Healing presence. Maybe it's not often something we consider ourselves conduits of, but as followers of Jesus, we probably should.

Last Saturday night, I had just nestled my head into the pillow when I heard my phone buzz on the kitchen counter. A friend of mine had been admitted to the hospital. She was physically okay but shaken and lying in a hospital bed nonetheless, so I was dressed and walking out the door before I hung up the phone. Halfway to the hospital, I wondered if it was silly that I go. Had she known that I was on my way, I'm certain she would have pointed a stern finger in the opposite direction. But when I stepped around the curtain and stood at the end of her bed, watching her tears flow openly at the sight of my face, I knew I had my answer. There is no substitute for the beauty of being present.

Midnight phone calls are one thing, but often the more difficult task is to provide healing presence in the midst of our everyday lives, stopping our "doing" long enough to be present in the brokenness of the world. And not only in the parts that are so obviously broken, but those that look like the state-of-the-art hospital Matt describes--efficient, bright and sterilized. And in desperate need of an undivided touch.

"As those who are connected to Jesus, trusting him in our spiritual poverty, we can offer others the personal presence of Jesus," Matt says. "By touching others we offer them the touch of Jesus. In our impersonal culture marked by deep loneliness, this ministry of presence--offering the presence of Christ, God with us, to others in their isolation and pain--is an amazing privilege and calling."

Hospitality is often associated with doing--entertaining, opening, welcoming--but I wonder about the healing touch we could provide others if we'd stop doing for them and simply start being with them.

When I think of the best dinner parties I've hosted, for example, I think of the ones that were rich in conversation: where politics, religion and money were all fair game, where surface-level was a bore, where the TV remained off, where dishes sat dirty in the sink, where wine turned into coffee and back into wine again. Where people engaged one another free from distraction and provided a healing presence by simply being themselves. I think the beauty of being present might just be the most beautiful kind of hospitality there is.

I had lunch with Matt last spring. I often ask authors about their experience writing their book; answers vary from "challenging" to "exhilarating" to "never again." But like his memorable time with "Bill" in the hospital, Matt's answer to my question stood out above the rest. After four years of delving deep into the book of Matthew--after being in the healing presence of Jesus--Matt couldn't help but walk away changed. It's fitting then, that the full title of the book is The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us. After experiencing the beauty of being present with Jesus--God with us--none of us, not one, can walk away unchanged.

In less than a week, we'll settle into Advent, perhaps the most poignant season of "God with Us." We're looking forward to sharing our thoughts with you and hope to hear from you as well. Until then, we hope your turkey is juicy, your football teams victorious, your hospitality undistracted and your heart overflowing. But most of all, we pray the beauty of God's presence in and through your life.

Happy Thanksgiving . . . from our house to yours!

Posted by Suanne Camfield at 8:20 AM

October 7, 2011

Welcoming the Stranger: Matt Soerens on Hospitality

As is appropriate during "Hospitality Month" at Strangely Dim, we welcome Matthew Soerens as our guest-blogger for this post. Matthew is the coauthor, with Jenny Hwang, of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (IVP, 2009). He serves as the U.S. Church Training Specialist with World Relief. He blogs on a regular basis at UnDocumented.tv. 

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I did a survey recently that was supposed to identify my spiritual gifts: I figured out pretty quickly that I could claim the gift of hospitality if I affirmed statements that I liked to cook, to entertain guests and to maintain a tidy, comfortable home. That pretty well fit what I have understood hospitality to be for most of my life: having friends from church over for meals and serving them something delectable, setting the table with the best silverware and cloth napkins when a boss, pastor or someone else of authority was coming to dinner, and cleaning up a guest bedroom when relatives were visiting. 

In recent years, God has been teaching me that this Martha Stewart-inspired ideal misses the heart of the biblical command to "practice hospitality" (Romans 12:13). Real hospitality, if we look to the etymology of the word, is loving strangers (from the Greek xenophilia). There's nothing wrong with entertaining friends and family, of course, but doing so doesn't necessarily touch the heart of hospitality. "If you do good to those who are good to you," Jesus asks his disciples, "what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that" (Luke 6:33). Christ's call is to go beyond the obvious, to welcome those who are strangers--in fact, even those who are enemies (Luke 6:35). When we host a banquet, Jesus tells us, "do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors" but rather "the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" (Luke 14:12-13). 

Jesus' commands sound pretty radical in our American culture. We teach our kids to be afraid of strangers--and while it is prudent to protect children, many of us carry this "stranger danger" mentality into adulthood. If an unknown person showed up at the door of a typical American home late at night, I imagine most people would be more likely to call the police than to offer them a guest room. By welcoming in a stranger, though, Jesus told his disciples that they were welcoming him--and that by turning away the stranger, they had turned him away also (Matthew 25:35). Scripture also juxtaposes the idea that strangers are a threat with the idea that by welcoming strangers, "some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2). Maybe the stranger to whom we extend God's compassion might end up blessing us more than we could imagine. 

That's been the experience of many churches in the United States. Our society as a whole increasingly seems to favor xenophobia (the fear of strangers) to xenophilia (the love of strangers). In contrast, as immigrants arrive from various countries, some churches have sought to extend welcome. These immigrant strangers have become, in the words of Asbury Theological Seminary President Tim Tennent, "the greatest hope for Christian renewal in North America," as immigrant congregations fuel the fastest growth in American evangelicalism. That growth is happening despite that fact that most churches have yet to recognize the opportunity presented by the arrival of immigrants to their communities. In fact, the results of the Faith Communities Today survey suggest that just one in ten evangelical churches has any ministry oriented toward immigrants. 

The arrival of immigrants to the United States gives American churches--and the society that we influence--the opportunity to put into practice the biblical value of hospitality. As we do, we can expect to see God bless the church in this country through these potential angels-in-disguise.


Posted by Christa Countryman at 8:42 AM

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 11:47 AM | Comments (1) are closed | TrackBack (0)

December 16, 2009

Authors in Their Native Habitat

This nugget of strange dimness brought to you by David A. Zimmerman.

If you are related to Mike Sares, pastor of Scum of the Earth Church in Denver and author of the forthcoming Likewise Book Pure Scum, I have three words for you: Watch your back. Mike may give someone the coat off of it.

That's what happened to me during my visit a couple of weeks ago. Because I'm a reasonably ignorant traveler, I packed a windbreaker to help me stave off the winter weather. Because Mike knows Denver well, he quickly surmised that a windbreaker wouldn't be enough. So he dipped into his son's closet (his son, incidentally, is in Brazil, blissfully unaware) and gave me--not loaned me; gave me--what his assistant later told me was "probably a $200 coat."

It's awesome. I'd be wearing it right now if my coworkers would promise not to look at me funny.

I would have counted it a great visit even without the free coat. I've been eager to get a look at Scum of the Earth since I first heard of the church, and now that they've moved into their new, permanent location, the timing seemed perfect. A wildly creative church with a longstanding relationship with the Denver homeless community, Scum has always struck me as both innovative and orthodox, a combination that many churches struggle to master--as much as anything, because attempts at both innovation and orthodoxy are so often met with contempt from outsiders.

Case in point. The new building Scum finds itself in, formerly a church-turned-residence for a mosaic artist, is smack-dab in the middle of a Denver neighborhood gradually being transformed from cosmopolitan crevice to arts district. As such, the church's creative streak is for the most part (one holdout notwithstanding) welcomed by its new neighbors, but the homeless community the church attracts is not. It can be tough to be orthodox sometimes.

Similarly, the name of the church (taken from a passage in 1 Corinthians 4) draws as much ire from church purists on the right and left as it does praise from the "left-out and right-brained" it seeks to serve, and curiosity from ambivalent onlookers. Like I said, it's not easy being orthodox. ivPhone 065.jpg 

And yet the people from across the spectrum of Christian orthodoxy who get it, get it. I attended a year-end banquet for the church, a sort of Christmas celebration of all the good news Scum has experienced in 2009. Also in attendance were students, alumni and faculty from Denver Seminary, pastors and congregants from a number of other Denver churches, and longtime friends and supporters of various members of Scum's staff team, who count on such supporters for their salaries. We enjoyed a dinner of homemade Greek food and the company of this eclectic mix of people, set against a backdrop of good music and a slideshow of the church's activity over the past year--which included acquisition of the new building, which includes what friend of Likewise Margaret Feinberg has called "the coolest bathrooms in Christendom," or words to that effect.

Seriously, you should see the bathrooms at this church. Same goes for the kitchen, the "nursery" and the cross. It's only fitting that a church made up of so many artists and craftspeople would house itself in the former home of an artist who considered every wall, ceiling, floor and counter as creative space.

Thumbnail image for ivPhone 112.jpgIf you're intrigued by the prospect of visiting such a church, I have two words for you: sensory overload. Still, I'd recommend a visit to anyone and everyone. Mike tells the story of the church in Pure Scum, but you won't have the whole story till you've walked through the foyer and stood before the cross--not to mention used the bathroom.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:45 AM

November 12, 2009

Duplicity, Schmuplicity

By Lisa Rieck

Okay all you rhyming buffs. Here's a word for your next limerick: duplicitous. That's what I've been thinking about lately, thanks to Mindy Caliguire's Soul Care guide titled Simplicity. Her extraordinarily helpful take doesn't pit simplicity against complexity but rather simplicity versus duplicity.

Simplicity, Caligure explains, is marked by a singular pursuit of Christ and his call on our life. And she insightfully points out that a singular pursuit of Christ may very well make our lives more complicated--not simpler. Take Noah, for one. There he is, quietly living his life, minding his own business, following God faithfully, when God comes to him and essentially says, "I'm going to destroy the earth, but I'll save you and your family. Here's the plan: build an ark in this desert big enough to hold you, your family and two of every living creature on the earth." And just like that, Noah's life got a whole lot more complex.

Living duplicitously, on the other hand, is being distracted by many pursuits: "The sin that so easily entangles," for one. Trying to impress others by dressing a certain way or decorating your house a certain way or driving a certain kind of car. Spending all your time working to "prove" your usefulness. There are, unfortunately, myriad ways to be duplicitous.

I'm noticing many in myself. Did I say that because I mean it or because I want that person to think of me in a certain kind of way? I wonder. Do I really like to run? I ask myself as I lace up my running shoes, or do I just want people to think of me as a dedicated athlete? And the classic, Friends are coming over so I better hide the stacks of mail and dust so that they think I'm the kind of person who always keeps things clean, even though no one can possibly keep up with the mail and dust unless they have no life besides cleaning.

The comparison game only makes it worse: Okay, God, I see you leading so-and-so into really meaningful ministry. That's great. I'm happy for her. Thrilled. But do you think you could do the same for me? Now? Before others start to whisper about whether or not I have any spiritual gifts at all? . . . And on and on it goes. It can be hard to discern when I'm being simplistic or duplicitous. Often it comes down to motive. As Chris Heuertz writes in Simple Spirituality, "Simplicity is best understood in evaluating how we hold things, not just what we do or don't hold."

I love the idea of simplicity; I deeply want my life to be a singular pursuit of God. I'm learning to make it more so. But--I'll be perfectly simple here--I have a long way to go. However, another book, Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner, is helping me learn the way. In a chapter on hospitality she talks about not just inviting people into our homes but inviting them into our lives, just as they are. "At its core," she writes, "cultivating an intimacy in which people can know and be known requires being honest [or simple, if you will]--practicing that other Christian discipline of telling the truth about where we live and how we got there." She continues with (duplicitous) sentiments that I can definitely relate to: "Often, just as I'd rather welcome guests into a cozy and cute apartment worthy of Southern Living, I'd rather show them a Lauren who is perfect and put-together and serene."

On many days, I strive to show people that put-together, serene, perfect Lisa. But in some moments, when I slow down enough to listen to the Spirit, I'm willing to let people in: to show them the simple truth--the mess, the struggles, the faults. And usually, I experience God's grace through those people as a result of letting the duplicity go.

A few more words from Lauren: "Like my apartment, my interior life is never going to be wholly respectable, cleaned up, and gleaming. But that is where I live." And that's where I live too. Where I'm trying to accept that I live, and trying to let others see that that's where I live. It isn't easy. It makes things messier. But mess, I'm learning, is where God lives too, the place where often we can most sense him near. So it's good, and hard. And simple, huh?
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 8:12 AM | Comments (5) are closed

February 17, 2009

Schmoozing, Stalking & Social Compacts

There are two ways to violate a social compact: (1) fail to live up to your end of the deal, or (2) fail to end the relationship where it is supposed to end. I experienced both over the past week at a national conference I attended. Gathered together were some two thousand people, each of whom came to the conference for their own complex network of reasons. Among those reasons were invariably the chance to stalk someone famous, the chance to schmooze someone influential, the chance to convalesce after a significant time of uninterrupted hurriedness, the chance to grow personally and professionally, and--let's be frank--the chance to eat more than perhaps one ought.

These were, at least, some of the reasons I attended. The problem with schmoozing and stalking, however, is that your prey does not necessarily approach your social compact in the same way as you. They have, it's fair to say, their own prey to pursue, and so while they might offer one eye and ear to you, they keep the other on alert for either an out or a better offer. Consequently, I was occasionally given the cold shoulder, even in the same moment that I was schmoozing and stalking with all my might.

I'm not bitter; I get the game, and I get the rules of the game. Every once in a while, however, the game is thrown a curve, and the players are left wondering where the playbook went. This happened to me when I inadvertently bumped into one of the most influential people in the whole place. I covered my ignorance with a cheeky grin and admittedly slick eye contact, and I put out my hand for the conventional Western greeting.

This venerated elder took my hand and shook it, and shook it, and shook it. He shook it like a Polaroid picture, if I might borrow an analogy. I tried to let go, and then tried to regain my dignity by reengaging his handshake--again and again and again. It may not have been the longest handshake in recorded history, but it was strikingly long and seemingly impossible to break. I felt like the Millennium Falcon, caught in the tractor beam of the Death Star. Might as well kill the engines and go where you're led.

Almost immediately prior to this encounter I had been reading the first half of Miroslav Volf's Exclusion & Embrace, which offers ethical parameters to individuals and even whole cultures for our interactions with one another. In contrast to exclusion, the way of the world that disempowers others by dehumanizing and marginalizing them, Volf characterizes authentic encounter as an embrace in four acts:

Act one: You open yourself to the Other, perhaps by spreading your arms or, in my case, extending your hand.

Act two: You wait for the Other to reciprocate your advance by willingly entering into your embrace.

Act three: You close the gap between one another to establish the embrace.

Act four: You release your embrace and allow the Other to continue being Other.

To leave out any of these four creates a breach:

  • By not opening yourself, you refuse to let down your guard and can't fully enter into relationship.
  • By not waiting for the Other to reciprocate, you trespass on the person of the Other and trample on their dignity.
  • By not closing the gap, you reject the opportunity to be vulnerable to the Other, and the authenticity that accompanies that vulnerability.
  • By not releasing the embrace, you colonize the Other, disregarding their uniqueness and again trampling on their dignity.

I had these ethics of embrace in mind as I endured the eternal handshake of this venerated elder, but to be honest, I found his colonization of my uniqueness endearingly gracious: by keeping the embrace going longer than social convention would expect, he was effectively transferring some of his own dignity onto me. We later even shared a delightful meal together, completely stripped of the agendas that tainted so many other meals throughout the week. I must confess that I saw him in a different light from other subjects of my schmoozing and stalking; here was a whole person, whose significance extended beyond his utility to me.

I'm reminded of Jesus' encouragement to his followers to always take the lower seat at a feast table. It's not so much an ethical command as a nugget of advice: you can't know in advance whether your host wants you to take the seat of honor or "the least important place," so it's infinitely better to be invited up than to be cast down, to be embraced rather than excluded. The advice works in reverse as well, I suppose: be attentive to all your guests--from the powerful to the powerless, from the naive dreamers to the disillusioned schemers--because you never know which one you'll wind up embracing as a friend.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:24 AM

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.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at 1:47 PM | Comments (1) are closed

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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.

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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