Hospitality

A month or so ago, I learned that there were several homeless people who attend my church.  I was bowled over by this.  Not that people are homeless.  I know this is a reality.  What surprised me was that we had people who were part of our church community who did not want to be homeless but were.  I recognize that there are some people we can’t immediately help, some are homeless because they are running away from things they must first turn and face, others are dealing with medical issues with no easy answers. My observation is that this is not the case with most of the people our church finds in our midst. We can address the issue of homelessness within our community. I am not expecting our church to fix this as an institution, but rather people who know these folks to open their homes, offering them use of a bathroom and a spare bedroom or at least a pad to sleep on.  Not everyone might be up to helping someone with the issues that put them on the street, but many of us are able to do something.  I have no way to know for certain, but I would guess that there are at least a couple hundred extra rooms in the homes of people in our church, and only tens of people who need a place.   I am sure that now that our church is more aware of the needs, that this will get addressed because I believe in our people, that they will love their neighbor and help.  But this seems to be a symptom of something gone wrong.

Our church runs a summer leadership institute for young folks. Each year, a number of them need a home to stay in during the summer.  These are low maintenance  people who are a joy to be around.  They are exploring what God might have them do.  Can you think are a more exciting person to have join your household for a brief season.   It has certainly been a joy for our family to host students. Our only complaint is that they are so busy with their activities, that we saw less of the students than we would have like to. Inspite of how great it is to have these students, each year is takes time to find each of them housing.  I would have thought people would be fighting for the opportunity to have one of these students live with them.  I would have thought that housing would be addresses the first week the need was announced with the only trouble being that someone would have to  tell people they don’t get a student even though they want one, but that’s not what generally happens.  It takes weeks to find housing that will work.
The more I think about, the more I think we have let our hospitality muscles weaken.  I wonder if part of this is that we set our expectations too high.  We think that unless we are Marta Stewart, serve gourmet meals, having the house perfectly clean and organized, we can’t have people over.  So we don’t share meals with people, we don’t open our homes and the community suffers.  I wonder though, if part of the problem is that we don’t recognize the important of community and we let our lives get consumed with busyness. That we don’t see how much more vital life is if we are sharing our meals, our time, our lives with other people, people who aren’t part of our immediate family.  Not just seeing people at weekly meetings, but daily.  I wonder if due to lack of exercise, our hearts have grown a bit weak.  If this is the case, maybe we need to start small.  Think of one act we could do each week.  Do that for awhile and see if God has us take another step, until our hearts are as big as Jesus’ heart.
Ironically, I am finding my interest in hospitality some what at odds with my minimalist leaning.  On the one hand, I would love to live in a smaller place, have less furniture. Yet, if we are going to be hospitable, I need space to share.  It would be good to have an extra bed that can be offered up.  So along the path to a more minimalist life, I find our family deciding to add things in as well.  The most recent decision was to give away the futon in our guest room (it’s a fine couch, but not so great to sleep on), and replace it with a comfortable bed that we can share with other.
The topic of hospitality has historically been a very important practice in the church. Even in the mid-20th century, there were numerous books like  Open Heart, Open Home. For several decades it seems like the topic of hospitality has been at best, a back burner issue in most churches. I am encouraged though, It seems in some circles there is a re-awaking to the importance of hospitality and seeing the connection between our hearts and how we use our homes. I am encourage be seeing new books and blog entries like The Importance of Hospitality by Katie Driver. I believe hospitality is very important.  I know that Jesus seemed to think this was important.  In Matt 10 he told a parable with the following punchline:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

I know there is a lot for me to learn about hospitality, but the best way to learn is practice, so that’s what I am trying to do. It would be good if I didn’t feel as stressed about cooking food for others, but I will get over this, and in the mean time, I don’t feel bad about doing carry out some of the time. I want to have a heart which is open and welcoming. This is a work in progress.  I pray that in a year I will have more thoughts than “Hospitality is important”, but right now that’s all I can offer.

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