by Annie Dimond
Dry Bones’ Resource Navigator
Our fundraising event, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” is coming up soon. We are excitedly working and planning (buy your tickets here)! With a hospitality-themed event in our near future, I’ve been reflecting on what hospitality is, how we encounter it, what keeps us from it, and what it can create in us. What you’ll see below is the first part in a series on hospitality that will be up on the blog soon.
When I was a little girl, I hated locked doors. I loved the idea that people could come and go as they pleased, in and out of our home. My parents often locked the doors, like most families do. Perhaps it was because of a childlike innocence, or perhaps it was because I had taken the first few scenes of Les Miserables to heart, I was distraught that we locked the door at all. As an adult, I lock my doors. My younger self asks my older self: “What if someone wants to come in?”
Last night a friend and I visited a church for the first time. Near the end of the service, a pastor got up to announce that, like usual, he would be meeting anyone who wanted to join him at a Greek restaurant for food, drinks and conversation after the service. “Church after church,” he called it. My friend and I were hungry, and interested in seeing what this gathering might be like, so we joined.
After meeting a lot of new people and enjoying hummus and gyros with them, the checks came to the table. The pastor had told us before we sat down that he would be paying for our meal, but my friend and I felt uncomfortable walking down to his end of the table to hand him our bill. Just as we were deciding that we should pay for it ourselves, he looked at us and waved his hand, as if to beckon our check to himself. We walked it over to him and thanked him. He told us that he doesn’t just do this for us. Anyone who is new to the church will have their meal paid for; “This is one of the ways I practice ‘philoxenia,’” he said.
“Philoxenia?” I asked. “What does that mean?”
He went on to explain that it is a Greek word that means “love of strangers,” a particular kind of hospitality.
I was struck by the joy in his giving. Someday I hope to ask him about who he has been drawn into relationship with as a result of his gestures of hospitality. I have a feeling he has met people he would not have otherwise met.
More often than “philoxenia” (the love of strangers), our culture often exhibits “xenophobia,” (the fear of strangers). We prepare for danger, and even if we don’t prepare, our bodies have natural responses to things that trigger fear. The psychologists tell us that we fight, fly (flight), or freeze. All of these responses are instinctual tools that we use to protect ourselves.
Instincts are extraordinarily helpful. If a hungry lion storms into the room or the river begins to rise above it’s banks, we’ll be thankful for these responses. It is when there is no real danger that these instincts create difficulty. Fear isn’t an indicator of real danger, it is an assumption about what might lie ahead. Alongside some of its helpful functions, fear-filled instincts can block us from enjoying all kinds of things that might actually be surprising, challenging, awe-inspiring, or truth-giving. Fear keeps us from strangers of all sorts.
“When I was a stranger, you invited me in.” (Matthew 25:35)
The invitation of the stranger is the invitation of Jesus. We never know what we’ll get when we welcome a stranger into our life. The act of inviting the stranger in is always a risk. And this risk may end up being the greatest gift. It also might end up being new territory that is different, scary, frustrating, or requires great work. Hospitality might be, in the end, less about giving stuff to others, and more about who we might receive.
Jesus, is that you?
Whoever it is, this is a person unconditionally loved by God, who by very nature of existing in this created world has been given unsurpassable worth.
Will I open my door?
Little Annie, circa 1996, says YES. Big Annie, circa 2014, says, uh, well, I have a lot of things to do tonight and other people are depending on me and I really should but I am just tired tonight and well, I’m sure someone else will open their door. And, those things might be true, and they might not be. Whoever does open the door will receive a gift. And truth.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)