Jen was doing a PhD about her work with refugees and the churches that hosted them when they arrived in the US. She spoke about hospitality, one of those vague Christian-ese words unconnected with my way of living.
Jen's brand of hospitality filled the space of the flat we rented together: she whipped up dinner parties, creating occasions with food and costumes and holidays that breathed hospitality. One night we had a medieval dinner party. Tables were placed in a circle, medieval games were adopted, large dishes were prepared and I sang an old English ballad in my flowy-sleeved dress. It was a night to remember.
Surely hospitality is a joy as much as it is a spiritual discipline.
On a Sunday in summer, he came into our place of worship. He had the yellowed gapped teeth of one who had lived through pain but the bleached hair and funky shirt of a surfer. He spoke with charisma and openness, sharing his stories of helping the homeless, of pilgrimages across Hawaii and of his childhood with the Amish.
He helped Farmer weed and mulch, making conversation, never complaining, pinpointing with great accuracy the struggles of our community. We had him in our home, involving our children in meals with this stranger who was becoming a friend.
But as we listened more closely, the details of his stories began to change. A date or a place here, a name there. We overlooked it for a time.
Then he lied a big, strange, cruel lie. And we felt violated.
Surely hospitality is denying the bitterness that comes when you've been hurt.
We have meetings. We struggle in our church and relationships. We spend many free hours together in meals and worship. We look for unity and live in the tiring tension of opposing ideals and lifestyles. We long to serve others but we are not strong as a body. Even so, more people come to stay and eat and visit and search.
Surely hospitality is a spiritual discipline as much as it is a joy.
Intentional community is hard. Church is hard. Loving your neighbors is sometimes more difficult than loving the stranger.
"On this rock, you will build my church." Peter. Petros. Petra. Small stone. Large rock.
Maybe the church itself isn't one large rock but many small ones, tumbling over one another as the water rolls in, this attrition in the grief and pain of a tumultuous life together on the edge of the sea.
But pick us up and feel the soft loveliness that can come of such a life.
Surely practicing the hospitality of Christ can unite our disparate motives and beliefs, turning us into those sea pebbles eroded down so that they sparkle under the shallow water.
Surely hospitality is a gift, not from us but to us. Surely sharing our lives with neighbors and strangers will open us up to sorrow, yes, but also to the arduous splendor of real love.
*picture from http://www.jesusradicals.com/revolutionary-hospitality-radical-hospitality-part-four/