On practicing Christian hospitality

My husband and I recently made the difficult decision to open our guestroom to a family experiencing homelessness in our community.

bedroom-by-Nicole-Steele-Wooldridge
Guests are welcome to Nicole’s “Jesus Room” (Photo courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge)

We heard about a mother, father and their infant who were living on the streets and in dire need of help. A member of my husband’s congregation posted on Facebook that the family, whom she had known for quite a while, were looking for a place to stay. Though she herself would have loved to take them in, she had family visiting and no extra space in her house, so could someone please help?

I couldn’t ignore her desperate plea for somebody with a spare room to step up and get the family off the streets.

You see, we have a wonderful guestroom in our house and it just so happened to be unoccupied at the moment. Our guestroom is the “master bedroom” of the home, a converted garage with plenty of space and an en suite bathroom.

When we bought our house nearly five years ago, my husband and I envisioned this space to be our “Jesus Room.” In the spirit of one of our heroes, Dorothy Day, we wanted a dedicated hospitality room into which we could welcome Jesus in the form of “the least of these.” But the refugee resettlement organization I contacted regarding transitional shelter needs never followed through on their home inspection process … and our family and friends kept visiting … and our lives were busy.

Dorothy-Day
Dorothy Day

Eventually, the sense of urgency we’d felt to utilize the space for God’s poor subsided.

When I heard about the family living on the street, I knew this was our chance to finally make our guestroom a true Jesus Room. Here was an opportunity to practice the radical hospitality that we believe is fundamental to Christianity.

But, here’s the thing: I really didn’t want to.

As I scrolled through the Facebook post, hoping to no avail that somebody else would volunteer, I became increasingly apprehensive. I came up with an unholy litany of reasons to say no: Our house isn’t big enough for seven people; our schedule isn’t very flexible so we won’t be able to help them get to their appointments; I don’t want strangers sleeping in the same house as my two young daughters.

It’s reasonable, I think, to be hesitant to bring strangers into a home with young children. But, as I previously reflected, I don’t want to use my daughters as an excuse to abide complacently in my comfort zone. In my heart, I did not believe that allowing this family to stay in our guestroom would put my daughters in danger.

What, then, was my excuse? That it made me uncomfortable? Unfortunately, I concluded long ago that following Jesus is supposed to be uncomfortable.

So, my husband and I put the word out that this family could move into our guestroom. Since they did not have a working cell phone, we had to trust that their network of friends in the community would get the message to them.

Meanwhile, we frantically cleaned the house; we bought baby food, diapers and extra sandwich fixings; we came up with a plan for establishing appropriate boundaries with the family. On an impulse, I hid our iPad, and hated myself a little bit for doing so.

And then we waited.

For most of a week we wondered when and, eventually, if the family would arrive. Finally, they showed up at a community supper and we learned they’d found some other friends to stay with.

They would not be needing our Jesus Room after all.

I was both immensely relieved and acutely disappointed. On the one hand, our daily routine would not be disrupted. On the other, we hadn’t gotten to practice the Christian hospitality we so revere (at least in theory).

Since then, I’ve been reflecting on what it truly means to “practice hospitality.”

It’s not something I’m naturally good at (as demonstrated by my knee-jerk reaction of finding reasons to say no), but this experience has helped me to practice hospitality—to practice preparing my home for a stranger, to practice making the decision to step out of my comfort zone, to practice being welcoming in a Christ-like way.

And, as with anything, the more we practice the better we become.

Not only do I feel a renewed sense of urgency to make a Jesus Room out of our guestroom, I feel confident that when I’m faced with another opportunity to “welcome the stranger,” I will be less hesitant to say yes. Perhaps, one day, I’ll even be able to say yes with a fully cheerful heart as Paul instructs us, in 2 Corinthians 9:7, to do.

Until then, I take comfort in the knowledge that—while I am a far cry from a perfect Christian—I am at least a practicing one.

About the Rabble Rouser:

Nicole-Steele-Woodridge-with-daughtersNicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia’s who writes from the Seattle, Washington, area. Her Jesus Room is still just a guestroom … for now.

nourished by disturbance

O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?  I want to learn only this from you: did you receive the Spirit from works of the law, or from faith in what you heard? Are you so stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Galatians 3:1-3 

There is no doubt that Paul’s words were meant to disturb the community at Galatia. I am sure that I would be disturbed if I was called stupid and bewitched by someone I look up to. “Are you so stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now ending in the flesh,” or in New Jerusalem translation, “After beginning with the Spirit, you now end in observances.” A message like that cannot help but shake people in their ego! It cannot help but wake people from their sleep. That was true then but is it true now?

I am willing to bet that most people today skim over this text paying very little attention to it. I know that I have heard it many times and I have become accustomed to it. If we are honest with ourselves, are there any Bible passages that have the power to disturb us, to shake us out of our own selves, lives, problems, and egos? We claim to be Christians; does the gospel message disturb us? Or have we grown accustomed to almost sleep walk through reading the scriptures, mass, or prayers? Has the Christian life become a passive comfortable existence? Have we been sleeping through our spiritual lives? I know I can get into a pattern, a routine; I can be comfortable with framing the world with what I already know. We can feel worlds apart from the moments where Jesus rocked our world. I am talking about that moment when we stood at the edge of the vast ocean and yelled “YES” to the radical call of discipleship. I am talking about the moment when the thought of leaving everything to follow Jesus disturbed us but we wanted it anyway, the moment when the radical love of God challenged us but we desired it anyway. I am talking about the moment when we stood before the deep blue sea and we were scared but we knew we must dive in anyway. At times we can feel so far from that moment, that person we were, the openness and trust we had. Instead we have been lulled into the routine.We build expectations around what little we already have and know. We have forgotten how to dream. We follow rules and do practices yet they seem to mean nothing to us. We are no longer disturbed by the eating and drinking of the flesh and blood of Jesus. Even Jesus no longer disturbs and following him follows.

“Are you so stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, you now end in observances.”

The reality is that we will not alone be disturbed by Jesus in the Gospels, we will not be disturbed by Jesus on the cross or on the altar, Jesus becoming the bread and the wine, or by anything else in church. We will not be disturbed here at church until we are disturbed there in the world. Until we are disturbed by the grave injustice done to people in this world, the pain of peoples’ lives, and the kingdom that is not yet here, we will not be disturbed here in church. There is nothing strong enough other than the suffering of others to pull us out of ourselves, to tear us from our own self-centered world, and to free us from our smallness. But, if we are honest in this moment then we can honestly answer the question: have we not been sleep walking through this also? Have we not become accustomed to the brutality of war, the sin done against our earth, and the injustice that surrounds us? Is it true that we are no longer surprised by homelessness and disturbed by our own neighborhood evils? We sleep walk through the pain of the world and it is no surprise that we do the same with our spiritual lives.

Do we connect the pain of this world to the pain within our own hearts, the suffering of our past, the longing, and the desires for the kingdom? Do we allow the needs of this world to mirror the needs of our own souls? Are we disturbed by what we find within ourselves? Does the need for the kingdom penetrate our own souls so that we long to be freed, to be healed, and to hear the good news? If the world out there doesn’t disturb us and the world within our hearts doesn’t disturb us then the gospel will fall upon deaf ears. If there is no need to transform the world and our lives, then the altar will not disturb us.

But, if we allow the world to disturb us, the pain of others to rip our hearts out, if we allow the broken world to show us our own brokenness, then the message of Jesus will disturb is. It is in that hunger that eating His body and blood we will be transformed. And as we become what we eat, the transformed will transform and we who have been disturbed will be sent out to disturb the world.

 

Art, photography and writing are property of the author and have been previously published. All have been used with permission. To learn more about this week’s guest blogger visit his January post.