To see all the articles in this series, go either to Tammy’s own blog — Raggle Taggle — or to our own Wilson Station “Community Life” section. I’ve fallen behind in posting Tammy Perlmutter’s ongoing series, “31 Days of Community,” which is also posted on the just mentioned “Raggle Taggle” blog — where other wonderful things can also be found. Today I am catching up by posting THREE days worth of entries. Day Five – Reaching Out; Day Six – Reaching In; and Day 7 [below] – Welcoming In.
31 Days of Community
Henri Nouwen, in his book, Reaching Out, wrote that for most of us, hospitality conjures up images of “tea parties, bland conversation, and a general atmosphere of coziness.” This definition is mostly lost on us today, due to gated communities, sixty-hour weeks, trading kids on the weekends, and overextended lives that leave no room for casual community. Another apt description of hospitality is one from Jane Austen novels, the obligatory visiting of people in your social class so as not to be seen as holding yourself apart. But how many of us grew up on TV shows where the parents were perfunctorily visiting business colleagues and neighbors out of obligation, and complaining about how boring and annoying their guests or hosts were? This is the hospitality we’ve been raised on.
But it wasn’t always so. In her book, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine Pohl tells us that “In a number of ancient civilizations, hospitality was viewed as a pillar on which all morality rested; it encompassed ‘the good.’ For the people of ancient Israel, understanding themselves as strangers and sojourners, with responsibility to care for vulnerable strangers in their midst, was part of what it mean to be the people of God.”
This heritage of caring is our heritage too. Since we, at JPUSA, live in community, the gravity of this responsibility is evident. Because we live together, we are more able to welcome the stranger, the refugee, the foreigner, the hurting. This burden to welcome is at the core of who we are as Christians. At times the living out of this burden isn’t convenient, easy, or remembered positively by either of the parties involved. But the point is, the visitor was welcomed, given a place to stay, food to eat, and fellowship to enjoy. And we all learned and grew from the experience.
Sometimes it was the European visitor who showed up on our doorstep without informing us they were coming. Or the raver strung out on E who lost all her belongings on the beach and came to our door without any shoes. She stayed for years. It was part of community life that when you went away, for a night, or a week, you left your bed ready for a visitor. One couple came home from vacation to find a foreigner in his underwear sleeping on their couch! We’ve had people come for two months and stay twelve years (like me!) We’ve had people come in our door and leave before they unpack for the night.
We’ve taken in all kinds of people who are looking for a spiritual home and a family; ex-cons, ex-addicts, pregnant teens, single moms, shelter kids, rich kids, church kids, lost boys, foster children, empty nesters, the list goes on. The thing of it is, it’s not always for the visitor. Most of the time it is for our benefit, for our blessing, that the needy find a home with us. We are changed, challenged, and enriched by the walking wounded who pass through our doors. We are reminded of how Jesus took us in, gave us a home, performing a miracle by making something out of nothing.
These visitors? They have become our heads of businesses. Our teachers. Our deacons. Our pastors. The least of these becoming one of us.
Our home isn’t clean most of the time. It isn’t quiet. It’s fairly chaotic. Sometimes there’s no hot water. We have been known to have forks hanging from the ceiling tiles in the dining room. The beans aren’t always done perfectly. The napkins run out. As a matter of fact, so do the plates, bowls, and silver ware. And the food on occasion.
But it’s home. And the doors are open. There’s a welcome home sign when you return from vacation. Your kids are loved well and wildly. Your floor mate buys Ramen for your daughter because it’s almost all she’ll eat. Your friend records Doctor Who for you when you miss it. When there are too many guys in your room, there’s always a couch down the hall for you to sink into. Come and visit. You’ll fit right in.
“To welcome is one of the signs of true human and Christian maturity. It is not only to open one’s door and one’s home to someone. It is to give space to someone in one’s heart, a space for that person to be and to grow; space where the person knows that he or she is accepted just as they are, with their wounds and their gifts.
It is always a risk to welcome anyone and particularly the stranger. It is always disturbing. But didn’t Jesus come precisely to disturb our routines, comforts, and apathy? We need constant challenge if we are not to become dependent on security and comfort, if we are to continue to progress from the slavery of sin and egotism towards the promised land of liberation.
Welcome is one of the signs a community is alive. To invite others to live with us is a sign that we aren’t afraid, that we have a treasure of truth and of peace to share.
Jean Vanier, Community and Growth