Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Possibility of Hospitality

Step Out…
Relationships are difficult.  After some time living in a major city, I’m learning that beginning a conversation can be far more difficult in an urban environment, than in suburban or rural areas.  There is one stunning exception, and I’m still testing the waters.  It is the intimidating path 
                                       of descending 
                                              the social ladder.

The Problem: Relating Our Way Past Walls of Fear

People in cities are more walled-off than others.  There are many reasons.  Where I live part-time here in Chicago--and on my street especially, making eye contact means you will likely receive multiple requests for “spare change” from neighbors. And there is a limit to the amount of spare change one can give away.  Eye-contact means potential invasion into my comforts. Plus, avoiding eye contact is a far quicker way from Point A, to Point B.

Sometimes it’s a matter of language.  
  • There are 39 languages spoken in my neighborhood alone. Thousands of people around me come from another part of the world.
  • At other times it is simply a matter of unclear channels—there is much mental illness in my corner of Chicago. It is on reason for the community of those living the winter in tents under a nearby bridge.  I’ve had several failed conversations, because the one with whom I attempted to speak was simply living in a different reality.

My Dad taught me the importance of eye-contact. But the rules of engagement here are different. Try to make eye contact with those on the street, and they will fear what you are thinking. Or what you are wanting. 

Or, they will ask you for something. 

What do we, who call ourselves by the name of Christ, have to offer them?  

Ice Breaker #1:  Need Looks Eye-to-Eye with Need

Step Up….
If you look closely, you’ll find margins—intimate spaces where a question might be welcomed. For instance, if you need directions while riding a bus or train, you will probably be greeted with kindness and assistance. If you need neighborhood information while sitting in a coffee shop, there is the possibility of hospitality.  

Once a woman with a bad reputation made a scene over Jesus at a dinner party. I love the story as found in Luke 7:36-50.  The “righteous” ones that hosted the dinner resented the intrusion of this woman.  They didn’t see her; they were embarrassed by her.  

“Then he (Jesus) turned toward the woman and said to Simon,
Notice how Jesus’ love is reflected beautifully in verse 44 when he speaks truth to the host.  Notice how he does not look Simon the Pharisee in the eyes as he speaks to him, but instead he looks at the “sinful woman,” and he speaks to Simon:  

“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The woman needed and found grace.  
Jesus needed, and found someone to whom he could 
express His Father’s love and grace.

Need looks eye-to-eye with need.

Is there some love you need to give away?

Ice Breaker #2:  Humility Overcomes Dominance

Step In….
Especially where humanity is compacted into tight spaces, dominance is feared. There is a lack of trust—or at least diminished confidence in those with more power and thus privilege. The lower the economic class (or privilege) of city neighbors, the lower their trust in those who have life easier.  

On my block in Chicago, I have privilege.

People tend to resent those with more….more money, more power, more privilege.  And when we come into the presence of those with less, we quickly devise fears of their every possible advantage; advantages such as 
  • violence, 
  • street savvy, 
  • or mooching off of my tax dollars!

John, a first century follower of Jesus said,  John 4:18 

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, 
because fear has to do with punishment. 
The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We are called to live beyond fear, and beneath our privilege. The Christian’s privilege is to humbly serve, when we could be served. This is why Jesus said this to his followers in Luke 22:27: 

For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? 
Is it not the one who is at the table? 
But I am among you as one who serves.

Step Down….
So where can we find the possibility of hospitality? Is it possible that Jesus’ wisdom teaches us to find the possibility of hospitality, 
not by climbing the social ladder, 
rather by descending it?  

If you hang out with the privileged, they think they don’t need what you have.  If you hang out as a needy one—
as Jesus did—
with the underprivileged, 
you may find a place of rich welcome. 

I’m still testing the waters.  
I’m seeking to learn my way into 
the possibility of hospitality 
from a position of need, and 
a position of humility.

My daughter wrote this haunting lyric. I wish you could hear the music.  It reminds me of the call of Jesus to forsake our privileges, and to seek out humility.  

Is it time to be empty?
time to be empty
Have we felt that, maybe, 
We don't need to be filled?
Afraid to know what it's like
Not to overflow?

When was the last time,
I sought fulfillment for someone other than me?

It's time to be tired
It's time to pour out
And to feel the strength 
of being empty
Make us uncomfortable
Take away all our fear
Show us your power
When we are empty. 

Place us in the agony
Of the world outside our door
Place us in your river
Where we can feel the water roar.

We need to feel you
Moving and changing the world. 

(lyric by Alyssa Stanley)

In Luke 14:13-14, Jesus said, 

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I challenge you to new steps in the year ahead.