I have often mused about the connections of being a welcoming community and hospitality. As part of that musing, I wondered about the distinction between entertaining and hospitality, surmising that it perhaps depends on your role model and the source of your ideas about hospitality. If the model is from Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, and Southern Living Magazine – then perhaps “entertaining” is a better description. As a church of believing Christians, it would be best to look to Jesus for models of hospitality.
12 Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. 13 Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; 14 blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)
The essence of biblical hospitality is welcoming those other than friends and acquaintances, in other words, “strangers,” and meeting their varied needs, just as God welcomed and provided for us in Christ, when we were estranged from Him. At the end of the column I asked, “So…who is a stranger and what hospitality do they need?” I suspect there may be some gaps in my musings, but it seems to me there are at least four basic types of “strangers” who would enter into our lives – something much broader than the “threshold of the church.”
The New Stranger. There are lots of people who are not estranged from God, but now find themselves in a situation in which they do not necessarily (or not yet) belong. This group of “new strangers” might include neighbors or associates at work just moving in; military families just assigned (or on temporary assignment) at MacDill AFB, incoming freshmen or international students at the University of Tampa, a new mom with no close-by family or friends, people just moved into one of the nearby retirement or assisted living facilities, and any number of people I haven’t thought about.
The Emotional Stranger. “Liminality” is a word used to describe people who are “betwixt-and-between,” what they have known and what lies ahead. It is a place in life that can leave one a bit befuddled and flummoxed emotionally. For example, a professional working woman turned new mom, someone recently widowed, someone now unemployed or underemployed, couples that find themselves empty-nesters, folks facing formidable medical challenges, the lonely, people who need a break from care giving, people who are emerging from a broken relationship, and in general, people whose emotional safety net suddenly has some serious holes in it.
The Strange Stranger. “Strange” is defined as unusual or surprising in a way that is unsettling or hard to understand – or simply not before known, heard, or seen. We have lots of conventions in Tampa, e.g., the Comic Con convention. That weekend we certainly had some folks in church, in costume, that would meet the definition of strange. But then we have parishioners who might seem “strange” to other parishioners. Perhaps it is an unusual hair color or style, a tattoo, clothing from a native culture, folks pulling wheeled-luggage from their cruise ship wearing aloha shirts and sandals. Perhaps it is language or accent, the hue of their skin, their manner of being present, or their manners in church. Perhaps it is a homeless person (or at least we think they are homeless), someone who doesn’t look like you, or someone who doesn’t necessarily look like they are sure where they are.
The Known Stranger. I think we have lots of these in our parish. You know them. You have seen them in church for many years – after all you go to the same Mass each week. Perhaps you wave to them, smile, ask “How are you doing?” – but darn if you know their name. Maybe you miss them when they are not in church, maybe not – but you notice when they show up again. “I wonder where they were?” And then there are the people in our lives, well known to us, but perhaps they do know God, have no relationship to a faith community, or they did know at one point in their life, but have drifted or been pushed away from their faith home – the divorced and remarried, gay couples, the immigrant, the undocumented.
I wonder if the stranger is the outsider – outside our parochial or personal world – in need of welcome and genuine love.
We need to continue to welcome friends and family. We need to consider, imagine, and pray about what biblical hospitality we extend to the strangers. What can we offer as parish and individuals? It is a lot to muse about. I hope you will join me in this on-going reflection