I always wanted to have the kind of home where friends could just stop by. My apartment during seminary had an unusually large living room compared to the rest of the space, so it comfortably fit two chairs and two full sofas–one of which often had someone staying the night on. I liked dinner parties, but while the living room was large, the kitchen was basically a closet; 3 people were in it once, but you had to leave in order.
We still like to do dinner, host people. And while I might make tacos, Kelly wants to make something fancy–pork that cooks 8 hours in the oven with 4 sauce options. Appetizers with 5 kinds of cheeses. And if she wants to do it, it’s delicious, so, fine.
This is an extension of our hospitality, we just have slightly different ideas of where to put our energies. I mostly want to sit around a big table and have loud conversations, and we get there, but she wants to wow folks first. And no one leaves hungry, because there are many things to choose from. And there is always dessert.
I think back to seminary, my friends, the Bakers, a couple, both of them were in seminary with me, they would have folks over for holidays if students could leave the city. They would have me over when we were all serving church way out in the Chicago suburbs. The thing about hospitality with the Bakers is that it always seemed comfortable, easy, just life.
But hospitality can be all of those things and none of them. The Greek word for hospitality is “philoxenos” which divides into 2 parts: xenos: stranger; and philos: love in a familial, sense. Hospitality is stranger love. Love of stranger sounds kind of creepy which is probably why I use it. And we are in a time in the world when Strangers are rarely people that we approach to interact with. We teach our kids stranger danger even if they have candy or a puppy. There are so many different podcasts that are solely focused on true crime, And I don’t know if it’s because we want to be very aware or if because folks are incredibly fascinated by it or maybe a little bit of both.
In our world, stranger love kind of seems like just that, strange. Children do it all the time. They meet another child on the 1st day of school or on the playground and before it’s time to go home, they’re already holding hands claiming they’re each other’s best friends and they’ve shared all their secrets, which isn’t very many because they are 3. It’s weird when you’re an adult and you meet somebody and you decide that you’re going to be best friends, I know because I’m awkward and tried it.
And I think the reason we want to make that person our best friend is the same reason that kids decide they’re each other’s best friends on the playground. There is some shared interest, some shared experience, Something that reflects how we think about ourselves, or the world, something that reminds us of home, some connection, if even for a moment, whether they are 3, or definitely older than 3, a connection to another person that makes us want that person in our lives.
For 1st Peter, it was about what it meant to be a follower of Jesus, what it meant to live fully into community–it was being a group, a community, a place that sought to welcome each other and the stranger, to make space for each other and strangers, to open homes and tables for each other and strangers. All are welcomed and, no one is pushed out. When someone is welcomed into community, they are brought fully into baptism, making us family, and you don’t get rid of family, not easily or lightly.
There is an idea of chosen family, especially in the queer community. Being Christian in a community is both like that and completely not like that. You choose to be in the community but sometimes it’s with people you wouldn’t have chosen on your own and that is how we really learn hospitality and love, strange love with a bunch of strange people, I mean, strangers 🙂
Love and hospitality are active and embodied experiences. They are what we do, who we are, and how we live. They are what we make for food and how we welcome others. It becomes our identity–that all are welcome, completely and always.
And that might mean letting go of some old ways of living in the world. For 1 Peter, the list is several items that boil down to, “don’t get drunk or rowdy, or drunk and rowdy” which… not all of us have followed. But there is something about those that, when they become a way of life, when they are used to mask or hide things, when they become an excuse for being terrible to people. And when they hurt you and those around you, when they damage relationships, they are not living the calling of being part of the community of Christ that is called to love, and honor, and respect others as well as ourselves. We let go of the ways that damage ourselves, our neighbors, our relationships, and we turn to the identity, the actions, the experiences that bring life to ourselves, to each other, and to the community.
Because hospitality, in the real world where we live it, can’t just be about strangers, but about everyone, those who we know and those we don’t know yet. Those we have seen every day or week for years and those whose names we’re going to remember this time if you give us a minute. Hospitality and love include looking out for each other, making space for the fullness of each other, and being able to be our authentic selves, even when it’s messy, when it isn’t perfect or pretty.
Hospitality is about loving each other, in a way that might seem strange to the world because it is about opening our lives to each other in a world that tends to close down, isolate. It’s scary to be so open, so honest, because what if someone walks away? What if no one understands? What if they reject us? What if they choose to abuse the trust? Most of the time, life doesn’t work like it did when you were little.
And, I’m not saying that we trauma dump on a person we just meet. Don’t spill all your family’s darkest secrets day 1, but we can still be open, vulnerable, without overdoing it.
Because hospitality is about making each other feel safe and welcome, comfortable and capable of bringing our whole selves. And then inviting them, and making it easy for them to stay.
When the Bakers offered hospitality, it wasn’t fancy, it was right into their lives. It was honest and, later when they had 3 little boys running around, it was a bit chaotic. It was doing life together. It was having conversations about how weird it was to be getting older, about difficulties with family and what it was like after she had major surgery, go home with bags, and have a romantic relationship with her husband. It was about how weird bodies are and weird things they do when you’re stressed. It was about surviving seminary, and your first years in a church.
Here’s the thing, relationship are built either way, but the kinds of relationships for the Christian church, that form Christian bonds, that form the body of Christ isn’t when we show off in our Sunday best, our best smiles, our only good news. They are the ones formed when hospitality is inviting each other into the raw reality of our lives, and making space for the reality of others. To be honest, to be joyful, to be in pain, to struggle, to doubt, to grieve the losses of another person, and to grieve the ways things used to be.
See the thing about hospitality is that it isn’t just how we first treat people who come through our door for the first time, although it is that. And it isn’t just about showering folks with abundance and extravagance, although it can be that too. Love and hospitality are about inviting people into our lives. It is about making them comfortable and making them family.
It is an identity, an action, a way of living with our head and hearts and feet and hands, hand in hand, soul to soul with each other.
It is about loving ourselves, don’t ever forget about loving yourself, and loving each other enough to be human, fully human, fallibly human, Rough edges human, growing and changing human, and still image of God human. Being in community, being church, being Christians is about doing life together.
Hospitality is a way of being Christian, that welcomes others in and makes space, keeps them close as they are loved. May you find in this place and in this community immunity love and a welcome, hospitality, that is fully embodied and is a way of life. May it be how you breathe and live the world around you, to all of those you know and to every stranger, may you be a place, a person, a community of welcome and hospitality, of strange love, so that all those you meet may live and be fully themselves fully, as God made them to be. May love grow.