Hospitality – Radically Speaking

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!  –  Hebrews 13:2 NLT

Around the old wooden table hand-crafted by my husband’s grandfather we sat.  The table was made for my mother-in-law and in the years it resided in her home it supported a myriad variety of elbows and held countless plates of food of people from many places and walks of life.  That table has seen many family celebrations, both fancy and plain.  It has witnessed conversations and stories of God’s work in places of mystery and heard the tales of men and women from around the world.  The old table, now in my home, continues its beautiful life as a gathering place, supporting elbows and plates heaped with food.

As we sat there surrounding its marred old surface in the dwindling light of day, I reveled in the diversity of the people sitting around it – from blond to black hair and light to olive and very brown skin – some souls I knew well and some nearly not at all.  But, this is mishpacah (family), and we had gathered for oneg (fellowship) and discussion of Torah (God’s Word).  The variety of food held as much interest as the diverse faces boasting delicacies such as Asian fusion Bourbon Chicken to Middle Eastern fare and beyond.

Such blessed joy – to share our home, our table, our food, and our faith with others!

I was reminded of something I wrote a couple years ago concerning hospitality and I wanted to share it with you.  I hope you will enjoy.

♥  ♥  ♥  ♥   ♥

welcome signThere’s a debate in my brain whether I should add a warning label to the ‘Welcome’ sign outside the door of my house.  

It could read something like:

ENTER AT OWN RISK! Unexpected guests could arrive at any moment which may limit the number of pillows, towels and hot water available in the household.  Said guests will sleep where space is available, including but not limited to couches and chairs.  Be aware that ALL individuals are accepted without charge or judgment, including yourself.  Unexpected arrivals may be considered ‘strange’, ‘weird’ or ‘transient’ by the bulk of society.  It is recommended that all entrants prepare for the possibility of unfamiliar behaviors, accents, piercings, dress habits, body odors, tattoos and hair colors.    NOTICE:  copious amounts of vittles and soulful southern cookin’ will be shoved in front of your face, so if you leave hungry, it’s your own fault, dahlin’.

Most people think of the welcoming culture of the southern United States fondly, thus the popular term ‘Southern Hospitality’ has emerged over the years.  My husband and I are known to be very hospitable (even radically so), but many times people forget that I am not a native southerner.  I grew up in the Pacific Northwest – a Rocky Mountain girl.  So, just how did I become so centered on hospitality?  Is it something I learned after years of living in the South?  Did I get it from the household in which I was raised?  Is it merely a part of my natural inclinations and fiber?  The answer is ‘Yes,’ ‘Yes,’ and ‘Yes.’

Last week I received a text message from my oldest son, who was preparing to be a best man in the wedding of the first of his group of friends to get married.  A situation had arisen where two of the out-of-town members of the wedding party did not have a place to stay.  Within a few minutes after my affirmation that it was fine for the two young men to sleep in our living room, I received another message.  “Is it okay if four guys stay?”  Of course, it was okay.  In fact, I believe they multiplied, although the groom did leave some time in the middle of the night.  I suppose I should not fail to mention the loud, videogame-oriented bachelor party that happened in my house the weekend before (again because of the last minute failure of plans).

It reminded me of how it was around our house several years ago when our oldest son was still in high school.  I would wake up on Saturday morning to count noses (at least the ones that were not hidden under blankets) in order to know how many pancakes to cook.  Many of my children’s friends have known us quite literally all of their lives, and many of their parents regularly practice hospitality as well.  It never ceases to amaze me, however, that many young people are nearly baffled by our lack of suspicion toward them and our level of acceptance for who they are, in spite of metal objects stuck in their noses or tattoos or strange hair-dos/colors or bloody skulls on their t-shirts or… I’m sure you get the picture.

Our society has been permeated by a general lack of trust, a lack of faith in our fellow man.  Distrust leads to suspicion; suspicion leads to paranoia; paranoia leads to isolation.  

I would rather invite than isolate.  I choose to have faith!  I choose to seek out the sacred part of each human being I welcome into my home, that ‘image of God’ placed in each one by their Creator.  I hope to retain the ability to see past exterior appearances and behaviors the rest of my life.

Is this kind of hospitality risky?  Perhaps it is.  Maybe I practice Xtreme Hospitality, or at the very least a radical form of hospitality.  I believe this is what I have been called to do.  It’s not always convenient; in fact, it is almost always inconvenient.  Hosting ministry-oriented foreign nationals in your home for nearly two months is a bit radical for some folks, but it certainly was rewarding.  Taking in a foreign-exchange student on the spur-of-the-moment because her first host family ‘bombed’ might be considered crazy by some, but we did it anyway.  Letting a somewhat crusty old Vietnam vet park his travel trailer in your driveway for a year will change a lot of things, maybe you and him.  Inviting your brother, your niece or the son of a friend to move into your home to live for an open-ended amount of time is never convenient, but it seems to be the way my family lives.

My parents welcomed odd birds from time to time. 

I recall one Thanksgiving meal where I sat across the table from a scraggly bearded man who called it a real “fowl meal,” all the time a twinkle in his eye.  His wife flipped her long, gray braid over her shoulder as she laughed.  They lived in a camper hooked to the bed of their pick-up truck, but on that holiday they were in a home and a part of family as they enjoyed that roasted turkey (fowl).  Approximately twenty-six years ago my in-laws took in a college student, giving her a place to live while she worked to earn money for the coming school year.  They still have me!  My husband and I began dating that summer and will celebrate our 28th anniversary in a few months. Now that’s RADICAL!!  And, of course, we just kept the ball rolling as we welcomed a college friend into our home for the last semester of school.  We had been married just a little over a year.

As a couple, my husband and I have been gifted with the ability to welcome others and accept them, regardless of their background, appearance or behavior.  This can raise the question of exactly what it means to accept another person.  In my opinion, it might be easier to tell you what acceptance is not.  I do not think it is the same as tolerance because to tolerate is to shove aside one’s qualms or misgivings, a choice to ‘put up’ with someone until you do not have to ‘put up’ with them any longer.  On the other hand, acceptance does not mean that you condone improper-ness on the part of another.  Acceptance means taking others at face-value, meeting them where they are, and loving them just as they are.  It does not mean simply tolerating behavior, language or appearance we do not like and ‘gutting it through’ in order show some sorry semblance of hospitality.  It does not mean expecting another person to change in any manner before we will show love and compassion to them.

Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.  – 
Romans 15:7 NLT
I cannot remove any aspect of my life from my faith in God.  Therefore, my idea of acceptance stems from the fact that God has accepted me.  He did not try to change me before He decided to love me. I did not have to perform certain tasks of rehabilitation or behavior-modification before he offered me salvation from the penalty of my sin or promised me eternal life through faith in the Messiah.  Because He accepted me, as I was, I have been changed to something new.  God loved me FIRST, accepting me, and then I loved Him because he accepted me.  Even more, I can love others, accepting them, because God loved and accepted me.

We love because he first loved us.  – 1 John 4:19 NIV

In the end, after you skim off fluffy pillows and strain out gourmet food, it boils down to one thing — LOVE! 

True love puts others before self and accepts others as they are.  True love practices hospitality — radically and even in the extreme from time to time.  The South is famous for its hospitality, and Christian Charity has not died.  Apart from this, however, are we not all called to be hospitable, to love and to accept simply on the basis of striving to be decent human beings?

HOSPITALITY – It Ain’t Just a Southern Thing!

Thanks for reading, and y’all come back now, ya’ hear!

So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
   Love never gives up. 
   Love cares more for others than for self. 
   Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. 
   Love doesn’t strut, 
   Doesn’t have a swelled head, 
   Doesn’t force itself on others, 
   Isn’t always “me first,” 
   Doesn’t fly off the handle, 
   Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, 
   Doesn’t revel when others grovel, 
   Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, 
   Puts up with anything, 
   Trusts God always, 
   Always looks for the best, 
   Never looks back, 
   But keeps going to the end.

1 Corinthians chapter 13

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