2012-03-07

Hospitality Is Inconvenient

To embrace the worth in the other, even when their actions don’t meet our needs, is a radical notion. It’s the kind of idea that could change the world. In fact, it might change not only the world, but your world. It might change your world into one in which you don't have to be smart or witty, deep or cultured, beautiful, young, healthy, enlightened, or handy with a glue gun. All you have to do is open the window of your heart and let the outer light in -- and let the inner light out. In that light, you can see and be seen; love and be loved. It is revolutionary, risky, and world-rattling.

Radical hospitality isn't safe or cozy. Commitment to radical hospitality is challenging. Take the story of Tanya and Tracey Thornbury of Montevido, Minnesota. When Hurricane Katrina slammed New Orleans in August 2005, the Thornburys were among many Americans who opened their hearts, felt it was their duty to do something to help. Over the Internet they made an offer to open their home to hurricane refugees and were put in touch with Nicole Singleton, an impoverished 33-year-old single mother of six children, ranging from age 3 to 16, and Nicole’s mother, Dot. The Thornburys, with three children of their own, welcomed Nicole and her children into their home. Tanya Thornbury bought Nicole a bathrobe, pajamas, sandals, helped her find a fob, offered to help make financial decisions about the federal aid. The Thornburys accepted the doubling of their electricity costs and tripling of the natural gas bill.

There were problems. Nicole’s mother, Dot, refused to live by the rules of the house, allowed her grandchildren to watch violent, inappropriate movies in the presence of the Thornbury kids. The guests wanted to download rap and hip-hop music on the internet, and Tanya said no. Nicole had a boyfriend just released from prison that she was surreptitiously corresponding with – and she revealed to him her new address, which made the Thornburys nervous. Tensions and quarrels began.

Six weeks after it began, the merger was over when the Singleton family moved to a donated house in Minneapolis. From the Thornburys’ perspective, they felt keenly the sting of ingratitude. Tracey Thornbury vowed, “I won’t help anyone again for the rest of my life.” (from Robert Emmons, Thanks!)

Sometimes gifts bring joy, at other times they come with pride, and, the gifts can evoke envy, jealousy, and thus greed, and even hatred. Receiving a gift can place one in a position of inferiority. If a recipient believes that a motive for a gift is to make the giver feel generous and munificent or that the gift was intended to put him in his place, resentment will be more likely than gratitude.

Hospitality requires our humility – and it also requires knowing our limits. I’m not asking you to take strangers into your individual homes – not right away. Warm up the hospitality muscles by welcoming them more graciously into this, our collective home. Even if they are different from us. Even though, If we were to make them feel at home, they might, you know, actually, feel at home. And stay.

We would have to change to be hospitable – to meet their comfort needs. I might have to preach differently. They might like different music. We might have to involve an electric guitar more than once a year. Or maybe instruments I like even less than electric guitars. They might have different ideas about child-rearing. It might call us out to social justice projects that aren’t very convenient in our busy lives. It’ll take our time.

Hospitality is inconvenient. Transformation is always inconvenient to the interests of the person that you were. It’s also what we’re here for. Hospitality is job one. This being human is a guest house.

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This is part 5 of 5 of "Radical Hospitality"
Previous: Part 4: "The Question at the Center of Your Life"
Beginning: Part 1: "William Ellery Channing's Radical Hospitality"