All are welcome

Draw the Circle Wide: Ripples of Hospitality

I hung out with some youth this week – both on Wednesday and then again last night. Quirky. Silly. Awkward. Listening to them speak of the challenges of high school, specifically because they were our gay youth living in a nearby County, I saw visions of being the outcast and the tormented.

My vision went back to days in the cafeteria – how do you sit with another who isn’t in your circle?   Do you sit with the cool, “in” crowd or the quiet ethnic-divergent kids or the athletes in their letter jackets or the brainy nerds who live for the 10 extra bonus points because a grade of 100 isn’t enough….and the list goes on particular to your own experience of choosing with whom to eat.

Today in our ancient story, Paul’s groups include the Romans – the people of Rome. Remember that the Roman Empire was the scourge, oppressive regime that technically crucified Jesus. Paul yearns to go to Rome to meet these people, to hang out with these folks and to offer them God’s grace and love as taught by Jesus. Tough. This is like the quiet nerdy 14 year old with black rim glasses wanting to go hang out with the Seniors on the ranked football team. You didn’t hang with them. Not only were they out of reach – but they were not friendly nor welcoming.

What do you think if while you were sitting humbly eating your burger, the jocks came to your table?

Do you keep your head down and ignore them?

Do you look up, smile and welcome them to your table?

Do you call them out for the absurdity of power that they wield in the school telling them that they should use their power, their fame and glory for good – for obtaining funding for band instruments, science and math manipulatives and experiments so that learning could be easier? Why do you need new football gear every year anyway?

Hospitality — noun, plural hospitalities.

  1. the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.
  2. the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

Synonyms: warmth, cordiality, geniality, friendliness.

There are different levels of hospitality if we are honest with ourselves.

There’s the excited greeting and welcome to someone whom you were hoping to show up because you invited them. You wanted them to come and they did! How cool is that?!! You graciously roll out the metaphorical red carpet for them – the simple ground beef casserole turns into grilled steak and asparagus. You fall all over yourself to make them feel warm and wanted in this space.

The next level of hospitality begins to get a little more challenging. The person who you thought might come shows up. You know that you should be nice because that is what you were taught. You can hear your mother’s voice saying, “Don’t be rude, invite them in. Ask them to sit down. Offer them something to drink. This is why you always have some cookie or something ready to offer. Make a pot of coffee. Invite them in. Make them feel welcome.” You are not sure why you need to go out of your way to be hospitable because you don’t really know them and you really didn’t invite them…….but none-the-less they are here.

Feeling your skin crawl a bit? Squirming in your chair yet?

The next level of hospitality begins to really hit at our core. Who are we called to sit with in their grief, in their struggle, in their own frustration or in their own shame? The world has cursed them. The circles around them have said they are the scourges of the earth. They must be trampled, hated and are deserving of ridicule. Are you telling me that I need to offer them some type of friendliness, warmth, or acceptance?

Sarah Boyle is a native of Virginia. In her text The Desegregated Heart, she describes the Virginian’s ideal self-image.

He was one whose glory was an inner glory, one who placed culture above prosperity, fairness above profit, generosity above possessions, hospitality above comfort, courtesy above triumph, courage above safety, kindness above personal welfare, honor above success.[1]

……hospitality above comfort……..

In her work on vulnerability Brene Brown speaks to the need and possibility of sitting with another in their pain, in their need for forgiveness, in their shame….

Hear what she says about looking for a church and where she seeks hospitality and how she finds her spot to be welcomed and then become the ‘welcomer.’

Love…….It is not hearts and bows…..the pain doesn’t go away. Faith is a mid-wife. It’s suppose to hurt a little bit.

Forgiveness — in order for forgiveness to really happen, something has to die.

Forgiveness is so hard – We are deathly afraid of two affects or emotions — Shame and Grief. If something has to die to forgive – and we are deathly afraid of shame and grief, then we just won’t forgive anyone. I thought faith would say I will take away the pain and discomfort. Instead it says, I will sit with you in it.

It’s about being with you. It can’t take away the pain. Love weeps.

Ripples of hospitality move beyond the easy “Welcome to the table. Here, have a cup of tea.”

Ripples of hospitality say, “Let me hear your own story. Let’s sit together at the same table, look each other in the eye and connect our souls, our spirits, our minds and our hearts. I will listen to your heartstrings allowing my own needs to ebb away for the time being.” We connect with them on a level that only the Spirit can allow when we let go of our need to control, our need to be safe, our need to be right.

Who are you willing to sit with in this way offering a hospitality that truly pulls us together drawing our circle wide?

If we truly live out our mission of inclusivity, welcoming all to the table wherever they are on their journey, whom would we possibly never consider to invite?

Getting permission to let you in on a bit of news…….Executive Chef of F.A.R.M. Café – our own Renee Boughman invited our Congresswoman Virginia Fox to F.A.R.M. Café to experience a model of community that seeks to abolish food insecurity, seeks to create a community of support and truly seeks to create a space for the college professor to share space with the homeless and the lawyer to share space with the schizophrenic and the college student here from another country to share space and eat with the mountain people of Appalachia.

Do you think she will accept the invitation? If so, what do you think Fox will say when she arrives? This is the question of gossip, puffing up our chests to demonize her while straightening our own halo of self-righteousness.

Are we willing and able to offer the Congresswoman our connection, our grace, our mercy through our listening ear?

Tough questions.

She’ll be here in June — on a meatless Monday. What do you need to do to get ready for our guest……in your heart, in your mind, in your spirit?

God of grace and mercy, forgive us. Open our hearts to our own struggles, our own self-righteousness and our own love to offer another. We seek to be Your People called to offer grace, called to offer love, called to carry the load an extra mile if need be. We struggle with those who offend us, who oppress us and who make us crazy with thoughts, feelings and beliefs that say “in our perceptions and persecutions, they are not worthy of our love and grace.” Oh, might we seek out a faith that offers forgiveness in all of the pain that that might entail.

[1] Sarah Patton Boyle, U.S. civil rights activist and author. The Desegregated Heart, part 1, ch. 1 (1962). A native of Virginia, Boyle was describing the Virginian’s ideal self-image.’