My wife and I are from the southern part of the United States and as such have an almost instinctive tendency towards extending hospitality to others. I say this up front because I want to talk about how simple it is to practice hospitality — and how strategic hospitality is to helping others to think with you about Christianity. And yet, I know that many people, including Christians I know, struggle to practice a basic hospitality.
At least some of the unease can be attributed to personality (introverts, anxiousness, etc…) and some of the unease can be attributed to the cost (hosting people is a lavish gift). However, I also suspect that much of the hesitation to practicing hospitality comes from a misunderstanding of what hospitality is and is not. In this post, I want to address some of the basic mechanics of hospitality as a way to cast vision for how Christians can leverage hosting to facilitate a conversation about the consideration of Christian truth between neighbors, co-workers, or friends.
What Is Hospitality?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines hospitality as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” Thus, any vision of hospitality should mention a tone of friendly receptivity, and entertainment.
So what could this look like, especially from a Christian perspective?
In her book Taste and See, Margaret Feinberg argues that part of God’s plan for the world is to provide meals that not only fill our stomachs, but also heal our souls, as we learn to taste and see the goodness of God together. And the ideal spot where this “healing in togetherness” takes place is around the table in the home. Feinberg hangs much of her outlook on a quote by German poet Christian Morgenstern, “Home is not the building you live in; home is wherever you are understood.”
In the home. Around the table. This is where people are understood, and healed, together. This, I think, is what the Christian vision of hospitality looks like. Around the table, we receive friends and neighbors and co-workers. Around the table, we eat together. And around the table, we are entertained, not by frivolous conversation, but by meaningful discussion of who we are and who we are meant to become.
The table is meant to engage us in the task of thinking together.
So What Might Hospitality Look Like?
By now the introverts who are diligently reading this post have possibly begun to feel a strong sense of anxiety and are thinking many of these thoughts:
- Host people in my home? My place of refuge and retreat from the world?
- Do I have to host more than 2 people? Including me?
- But these people and conversations will deplete my internal resources!!!
- But how will I kick them out of my home when I am ready to go to sleep?
- Is it every room they can walk-through, or can I keep some parts of my home guarded? Like an ambassador’s palace?
- Man, this sounds expensive. Seriously, though. Can I just provide water and bread from Fazoli’s?
- No. Just no. Tell them I am busy.
Be cool introverts. You will be okay. This is not as bad as it could seem, nor is it meant to be a depleting task. Here are some irreducible rules of hospitality I would encourage people to consider:
- Hospitality is meant, ideally, to be life giving for EVERYONE. Hospitality is not envisioned to be great for all the guests and miserable for the hosts. If you are thinking about hospitality in the latter manner, please know that is a whacked out, extreme outlier of hospitality.
- Hospitality is not about numbers, it is about people. When thinking of having some people over, it is important to have real people in mind. Often times the anxiety kicks in when we begin with the proposition of trying to fit “100 people into our home.” Or, we get stressed at trying to throw the biggest and best party ever. However, when we imagine hosting real actual people with faces and names — the people that we know a little bit and want to know a bit better — then our hospitality finds its natural setting. A good question to consider: Who is the ideal group of people that I can enthusiastically host without causing me strife or consternation? If you can imagine this ideal in your mind, you are well on your way to hosting well.
- Hospitality is not about showing off the biggest and coolest space, it is about facilitating a space for mutual understanding and meaning. I have noticed that some of us have unease about hosting a small group gathering, or Bible study, or dinner party in their home because of insecurities about the size, neighborhood location, or furniture arrangements. I have similarly noticed some of us project a dangerous arrogance at hosting because of the size, neighborhood location, or furniture arrangements. Accordingly, I know plenty of people who host amazing gatherings in their 700sf efficiency apartments. And, I know people who host duds of gatherings in their swanky mansions around town. The reality of Christian hospitality is that you can facilitate community in our apartments, in our duplexes, in our starter homes, in our dream homes, and in our mansions. We can also facilitate community at coffee shops, in storefront businesses, in parking lots, in DisneyWorld parks, and in tons of other third spaces.
- Hospitality pairs well with food, but not necessarily with expensive food. Food is critical for hospitality because food communicates community and friendship. But merely providing a steak and lobster dinner doesn’t necessarily indicate a greater degree of hospitality than a dessert and coffee affair. When thinking through a table setting with friends, neighbors, or co-workers, consider what type of items would help you and help them bridge the conversation gap. Also, consider what foodstuffs would help communicate welcome and warmth to your company. For some folks, it may be chips and salsa. For others it may be coffee and desserts. For others it may be salads, or subs, or soup. And for some folks, it wouldn’t seem right in the world to bring people over for anything less than a three course meal. The point is, have some food and make sure that the food pairs with your goal in hospitality-led conversation.