2012-03-04

We Belong to Those Who Need Us

"Radical hospitality" means hospitality that goes to the root, hospitality that transforms everything we do, hospitality as Job One -- and as the foundation of every other job.

The radical goes beyond social norms. Radical hospitality goes beyond social norms to love others into the family of belonging.

Radical hospitality is a spiritual practice, and spiritual practices need a group. Like prayer or meditation, a true practice includes doing it by yourself, and also doing it with others. Your individual work to be hospitable supports and strengthens our collective, congregational practice of hospitality, and the shared collective practice supports and strengthens the individual hospitality you carry with you out into all aspects of your life. My Job One – what I believe is your Job One – is also our Job One. Every time we gather in these walls, we gather to practice, to teach by example and to learn, the gentle art of hospitality.

If you are brand new to Unitarian Universalism, bring your hospitality. If you have been a member of your UU congregation for forty years, you have a special responsibility to demonstrate hospitality for the newer folk.

Radical hospitality is not coffee and donuts. It is not a greeter at the door. It is an orientation of our being that sees everyone as a valued guest.

In Luke 14, Jesus says: when we are to have a dinner, do not invite your friends or the rich folk. Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. We are here to serve.

I was at a talk once by Sharon Salzberg. She's a spiritual leader and teacher who, in the course of her training and travels, has had occasion to spend a fair amount of time with the Dalai Lama. They’ve gotten to know each other. She spoke of how the Dalai Lama seems to have an almost-magical radar for suffering – and he goes to it. Once, she said, she had had an accident and broken her leg, and was attending an event on crutches and cast. She reported that the room was full of a hundred or two people gnoshing and talking. The Dalai Lama entered, paused just a moment, then made his way straight to her. He was drawn as if by a magnet to wherever the need for care was greatest. So with a room full of various dignitaries and spiritual leaders, he went right to where the injury was. He holds her in the embrace of his gentle attention, and said, “What happened?”

Hospitality is responding to the need: it can start with seeing that coffee cup needs refilling. In its radical form, hospitality goes to the greatest needs. So Jesus, being the radical he was, told us that it’s not about tending to your friends, tending to the wealthy who can help you get or remain wealthy. It’s about the the poor, the crippled, the blind, the hurt, the outcast.

Go to the need. Go to be with it in care. Love the stranger into the family of belonging.

This is a radically anti-consumerist approach to congregational life. On the consumerist model, the members of a congregation are essentially customers. They pay a percentage of their income – ten percent or so – and get a product, a service, in return. They get to see a nice show on Sunday morning, nice classes for the kids, a minister to talk to when you’re troubled. Fee for service.

The radical hospitality perspective is completely opposite. The building and grounds might legally belong to the membership, but spiritually a congregation belongs not to its present members. Legal ownership is not really ownership -- it just means "have assumed responsibility for the stewardship of the institution." The spiritual truth -- the heart-truth -- is that a radically hospitable congregation belongs to the people who need it. Its true owners are the ones who aren’t members – not yet, and maybe never will be. It belongs to those who need it.

* * *
This is part 3 of 5 of "Radical Hospitality"
Next: Part 4: "The Question at the Center of Your Life"
Previous: Part 2: "Being Human is a Guest House"
Beginning: Part 1: "William Ellery Channing's Radical Hospitality"