Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hospitality - Aron Smith

As an amateur etymologist, I can’t help noticing that the word hospitality contains the word hospital.  Checking my big, unabridged dictionary, I see that both words come from the Latin hostis, which may refer to a guest, stranger or enemy.  This Latin word is the root of both host and hostile.  Could it be that all strangers were once seen as enemies, and those who entertained them viewed with suspicion?
The dictionary also tells us that while a “guest” is always “welcomed,” this may be either “gratuitously” or “for a fee.”  So one may be a guest at a hotel (same Latin root as above), in our homes or even in a hospital (although today we would use the word patient), but in all cases, hospitality is offered in that we are taken in to an establishment belonging to another, and to which we would have no right but for the owner’s largesse or desire to make money.
My immediate association with the word hospitality is the story of Abraham in Genesis 18:1-8. As the curtain goes up on this drama, we see Abraham sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.  I’ve always wondered why he was sitting out in the heat, in the middle of the desert, rather than staying inside the tent with Sarah, where the shade must have been cooler.  And why wasn’t he working?  Was it his day off?  Was he so wealthy that he didn’t have to work?  We know that he had many servants and flocks and wells, so perhaps he got to relax while his employees did the work.
I don’t imagine that many people came traipsing through the burning sand, so it must have been something special when three men approached, seemingly out of nowhere.  They may have been strangers, but Abraham wasn’t afraid of them.  He welcomed them without having any idea who they were or where they came from.
Looking up, he saw three men standing near him.  As soon as he saw them, he
ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground, he
said, “My lords, if it please you, do not go on past your servant.  Let a little
water be brought, bathe your feet and recline under the tree.  And let me fetch
a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves, then go on — seeing that
you have come your servant’s way.”  They replied, “Do as you have said.”

What can we learn from this?  To be sure, Abraham did the normal things that we associate with hospitality:  He provided food, water and a place to rest.  But Abraham went far beyond the provision of these basic necessities.  His actions speak volumes about his attitude.

We are told that Abraham “ran…to greet them.”  Imagine that!  He actually ran to greet them.    These travelers were no mere curiosity to Abraham.  He must have felt a deep compulsion to be of assistance to them.  He welcomed these visitors not grudgingly, nor out of a mere sense of duty, but with joy.  It is obvious that he had great respect for these people who he had never met before, as he bowed down to them and referred to himself as their servant.

So what did Abraham offer his guests to eat?  No mere crust of bread, no peanut butter and jelly sandwich for them.  Oh no, Abraham provided these strangers with the best and finest that he had to offer.

Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quick, three seahs of
choice flour!  Knead and make cakes!”  Then Abraham ran to the herd,
took a calf, tender and choice, and gave it to a servant-boy, who
hastened to prepare it.  He took curds and milk and the calf that had been
prepared and set those before them; and he waited on them under the
tree as they ate.

Instead of serving everyday bread, Abraham had Sarah use choice flour while he himself especially picked out a calf that was tender and choice.  Also, curds (similar to yogurt) and milk were considered rich foods fit for special occasions.  And Abraham did all this at a moment’s notice, without giving a second thought to the cost.

The theme of urgency pervades these verses.  Abraham hastened, he told his wife to be quick, he ran to the herd and the servant boy hastened to butcher and cook the calf.  It seems that Abraham’s conception of appropriate hospitality involved not requiring the travelers to wait for anything.

Finally, we are told that Abraham waited on the travelers while they ate.  Perhaps this means that he kept out of sight so that the visitors could take their time.  But I don’t think so.  I believe the scriptural reference is to “waiting” in the sense of a restaurant waiter or that of one who is “waited on hand and foot.”  In other words, Abraham was attentive to his guests, refilling their plates and water and generally seeing to it that they wanted for nothing.

Did Abraham know he was providing hospitality to angels?  That is a question that has been debated for thousands of years.  Ultimately, however, I don’t think it mattered.  I believe Abraham would have extended the same courtesy to any travelers who came his way, no questions asked.  In other words, Abraham saw a need and he filled it.

Why is it so hard for us to emulate Abraham’s sense of hospitality in the 21st century?  I thought about this recently on a lazy Sunday when my wife and I were enjoying a late lunch in Denny’s down by the freeway.  As we were leaving, she told me that she noticed three young kids sitting at the table behind us and that she’d like us to pay for their meals.  I quickly agreed; we have often performed such random acts of kindness, and Donna has an uncanny discernment of those in need that has always eluded me.  After paying their bill, she walked over to their table and gave each of the three of a ten-dollar bill.  She reported that they just stared at her as if they couldn’t believe their amazing good luck.  One of them had ordered a cup of coffee; the rest drank water.  They had shared a sandwich among them.  My wife expressed her opinion that they were probably traveling, most likely on foot.  They may have been hitchhiking along the freeway, or they could have been homeless, perhaps preparing to spend the night in one of the makeshift camps beneath a bridge abutment or in an alley between abandoned storefronts.  The oldest of them couldn’t have been more than 21 or 22.

We never did find out what their circumstances were.  Donna told me that she wished we could have taken them into our home, let them bathe and wash their clothes, give them a good meal and a cozy place to sleep.  How wonderful, I thought.  But, she reminded me that, in this day and age, it is unsafe to allow strangers into one’s home.  We must help others from a distance, at arm’s length, for who knows if they will harm us, rob us, destroy our home.  Sadly, I had to agree.

I believe that the spirit of Abraham is alive and well, but the realities of modern life have thrown up barriers to properly performing this act of good will.  Was the world really so different in Abraham’s time?  I like to think not.  I don’t believe people have changed that much.  Abraham did not know that the strangers traipsing across the sand were not robbers who intended to murder him and Sarah and ravage his herds.  He had no idea what their intent was, where they had come from or where they were going.  None of that mattered to him.  All he knew was that they had arrived and that hospitality was therefore in order.

Perhaps we need to take a sledgehammer and break down the barriers that stand between us and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Or at least take a chisel and chip away at it, one person at a time.  All it takes is one or two people to provide an example to others, to demonstrate that there is nothing to fear but our own prejudices.  I only hope I can go out on a limb and be the kind of person I really want to be.  I don’t know that I’ll ever get there, but I pray that I will learn to open my heart fully, willingly and without fear, just as our patriarch Abraham did so many centuries ago.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Open The Doors - Patrick Lowry

Tear down the walls

Open the doors

Open our hearts

Swing wide the door of welcome

Friends are calling

Woody said strangers

Were just friends we hadn't met

To live in trust

Is to live in love

To live in love

Is to live in Christ

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Grand Abundance Out Of Limited Means - Heidi Fox

Heidi and Justin Fox are city pastors with Rock Harbor church in Southern California.  Justin also writes and records good music.  You can download his brand new album "The Sound Forgiveness Makes" at his website It's really good!

Justin and I have lived across the street from the Baker St. apartments for over eight years.  Although the kids from both sides of the street attend the same school, the racial and cultural divide has felt a mile wide.  Ever since moving in, we've prayed about, planned for, and practiced the idea of sharing God's love with these neighbors.  We speak very little Spanish (and don't even like spicy food!), and yet God has knit us together with this Latino community in incredible ways.  PTA projects, birthday parties, an ESL night called "Share Your English", holiday events, and play-dates have all contributed to deeper friendships and incarnational conversations that have indelibly shaped us this year.  After walking out of a restaurant one evening during the summer with our neighbors, they told us this was the first time, in 40 years, that they had ever gone to dinner with a "white couple".  They later asked us, "Why do you show us so much love?"  Can you imagine the Gospel set-up we were handed in that moment?  

This year, we have not only seen the power of reaching out, but we've seen the inspiring way our neighbors care for us.  We could never attempt to attend every birthday party invite, or every community meal we're offered - there's just too many!  My friends from Baker St. are my confidants, my PTA partners, and the absolute hardest working, most joyful people I know.  I am humbled by their contentedness, their simplicity, and their family bonds, and I will never get over how generous they are.  They are always giving, always serving, and always surprising me.  Last week, as the holidays were approaching, I mentioned casually to my neighbors that I had stepped out of my job in Operations at ROCKHARBOR so that I could focus solely on local ministry.  I knew money would be tight, but I also had faith that God was in this and that He would provide.

A few days later my friends said they had a "surprise" and wanted to make sure I'd be home to receive it.  I was not prepared for what I saw; a small group on my front porch with grocery bags!  The husbands even pitched in to bring it all over, and the gang proudly unpacked their gifts of food, condiments, and treats onto my kitchen counters.  A grand abundance out of limited means.  I was overwhelmed.  I kept asking why they would do this, and everyone's response was, "You guys do so much for us!"  This community across the street has encouraged us, inspired us, challenged us, and cared for us, and maybe I have given a lot, but in a deeper way, they have given much more.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

¡Qué ejemplo! - Beth Morgan

Reposted from Beth's blog, a story in Spanish and translated below.

Ella casi no la ve: la mujer encorvada, cubierta de mantas casi parece como un montón de basura apoyándose contra el café.  Es una de las noches oscuras y frías de Winnipeg y ella se ha envuelto la cara con una bufanda.  Se ensimisma, pensando en el fin de semana pasado cuando alojó en su casa a una joven misionera.  Hacía sólo dos meses que había asistido a la iglesia cuando hicieron un anuncio pidiéndole a alguien que proporcionara una habitación por una noche para una oradora invitada, una misionera, así que ofreció su casa.  Sabía que no tenía mucho que ofrecer, pero ella podía ofrecerle su cuarto y así ella compartiría con su hija adolescente.

Ella esperaba que no le importara a la misionera que ella fumaba, que los amigos de su hija fumarían yerba en el balcón, que tenía más gatos de lo que debería.  Trataba de hacer algo para cenar, a pesar de que el día sería un día largo de trabajo.  Cuando llegó a casa, se dio cuenta que no había tenido tiempo de lavar los platos de ayer, pero no había tiempo para hacerlo ahora ya que había que cocinar algo para la misionera invitada.

Fue una comida sencilla, la conversación fue ligera y somera.  Ella se preguntaba si la misionera estaba satisfecha.  Observaba que la misionera parecía incómoda.

(La misionera era alérgica a los gatos; y tenía una aversión fuerte al desbarajuste.  A ella no le molestaba la suciedad en los países en vías de desarrollo, pero ella no podía comprender porque esta mujer canadiense se había ofrecido a hospedarla el fin de semana sin haber limpiado la cama.  ¡Qué ejemplo de hospitalidad!)

Actualmente cuando la mujer hospitalaria camina esas calles de Winnipeg, perdida en estas preocupaciones, se recuerda de algunas palabras que una vez leyó:

Veía cómo los ricos echaban dinero en el arca de las ofrendas.  Vio a una viuda pobre, que echó dos monedas de muy poco valor y dijo:

— Les aseguro que esta viuda pobre ha echado más que todos los demás.  Porque todos los otros echaron como ofrenda lo que les sobraba, mientras que ella, dentro de su necesidad, ha echado todo lo que tenía para vivir.

La mujer hospitalaria y generosa cruza hacia el montón en la acera, dejar desaparecer su inquietud propia.

¿Puedo invitarle a un café y un sándwich? — pregunta.

Las dos mujeres se sientan juntas en la acera, se comulgan, comparten historias, comparten sus vidas.  Aprenden la una de la otra.

En el camino de vuelta a su casa desordenada, la mujer hospitalaria reflexiona sobre las palabras de la mujer pobre que llama a las calles, su hogar:

Cada mañana me levanto y doy gracias al Creador.

¡Qué ejemplo de gratitud!

What an example!

She almost doesn't see her; the hunched over woman covered in blankets almost looks like a pile of garbage leaning up against the coffee shop.  It's one of those dark, cold Winnipeg nights, where she has her own face wrapped up tight in a scarf.  She was also lost in her own thoughts, thinking about last weekend when she hosted a young missionary in her home.  She had only been going to church for a couple of months when they made an announcement asking for someone to provide a room for one night for a guest speaker missionary so she offered her home.  She knew she didn't have much to offer, but she could offer her bedroom and share with her teenage daughter.

She hoped that the missionary wouldn't mind that she smoked, that her daughter's friends would probably be doing pot on the balcony, that she had more cats than she probably should.  She would try to make something for dinner, even though the particular day would be a long one at work.  When she got home she realized she hadn't had time to do the dishes from yesterday, but there was no time to do them now—she had to cook something for the missionary guest.

It was a simple meal, conversation was light and superficial.  She wondered if the missionary was happy.  She noticed that the missionary seemed uncomfortable.

(The missionary was allergic to cats; and she had a strong aversion to clutter.  Dirt in the developing world didn't bother her, but she couldn't understand why this Canadian woman would offer to put her up for the weekend, but not take the time to clean off the bed!  What an example of hospitality?!)

Now as the woman walks those Winnipeg streets, lost in those worries, she recalls some words she read once:

Looking up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these others gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her need put in all she had to live on.”

The hospitable and generous woman is now going over to the pile on the sidewalk, leaving her own preoccupation to disappear.  “Can I buy you a coffee and sandwich?” she asks.  The two women are now sitting together on the sidewalk, communing, sharing stories, sharing lives.  Learning from one another.

On her way back to her disorderly home, the hospitable woman reflects on the words she heard from the poor woman who calls the streets her home: “Every morning I wake up and give thanks to the Creator.”  

What an example of gratitude!