29 Oct Messy Hospitality: My Life These Days
Three house guests from three different time zones sunk into our couches on a Sunday night in Chicago. Because we’re in a season of transition, we do not have a coffee table, or a kitchen table, or any table on which one can set plates like civilized grown-ups. So we set plates on our laps and drinks on the floor.
We buy extra animal crackers and chocolate when guests are on the way. We blow up the air mattress. We say “sure the love seat can serve as a bed” and then my roommate curls up like a cat to pass the night.
We have a lot of love to give away. Okay, my roommate has a lot of love to give away. He moved here from Texas because he wanted to make a move based on friendship instead of career advancement, and he is an actual saint. He’s the friend who jokes and laughs until you need him to listen and empathize. The one who passes on sleep so you can sit on his bed and emote for as long as you need. The one who makes his own streamers with stationary from Paper Source to surprise you with love on your birthday.
Since I moved across the country to work at Wheaton College and the job (which I loved) didn’t pan out (which we’ll get to later), people often ask what I’m up to now. This is it: rediscovering Jesus and growing in love for the people around me.
I say rediscovering Jesus because some things got tangled up somewhere along the way. I started following Jesus because when He was here He was the embodiment of everything beautiful. Jesus was never disgusted by anyone. He saw people, in all their arrogance and goodness, and had compassion. He grabbed those who were pushed out by the crowd and drew them into his inner circle. He touched the unclean with the flesh of his hands and broke bread with the religious and scandalous alike. “They didn’t want you?” He’d say to those who had run out of hope. “Well, I want you.”
Jesus is worth it all. I hope all of my hours, my things, my energy, and future plans will be given away in a lifelong attempt to become more like Jesus. That’s why I became a Christian. But somewhere along the way the story of Jesus was married to messages that were politically driven, or fear driven, or approval driven in light of the politics and fears of others.
Particular expressions of Christianity were presented as the Absolute Truth versions of the whole faith because people were sincerely convicted that their particular expression, based on a particular interpretation, was the absolute truth. We’ve done it on countless issues: decided we were right, picked a side, surrounded ourselves with those who agreed, and saw people destroyed in the process.
What’s heart-breaking is that this has come at the cost of the most vulnerable.
People saw Jesus in the breaking of bread, though. He sat around the table with them and suddenly they could name the passion burning in their hearts. All throughout Scripture, we see something sacred happen through hospitality in community. Strangers are welcomed into homes and find new families.We’re are encouraged to look out for one another—to give preferential treatment to the excluded and neglected. We get the sense that we belong to one another and that the Spirit of God mysteriously moves through us when we welcome one another with tenderness.
My passion for Jesus almost didn’t survive the years of scrutiny that came in response to my earnest desire to tell the truth, to bring my questions to the community, and to explore a positive vision for those who’d been told they weren’t wanted. While my own disappointment felt somewhat tolerable, it was the despair of those I loved that ultimately wrecked me. I sat with too many people as they sobbed, longing for their Christian families to believe them when they said they loved Jesus. I had coffee with too many addicts who told stories of teenage dreams to become youth pastors until they heard there wasn’t a place for people like them.
Well, Jesus has a place for all these people. So for this season, I’m allowing myself to fall back in love with the Jesus I see in Scripture. My main goal is to give and receive love to the people who cross my path (or to at least imitate my roommate as he does that). Wheaton students stop by often and every visit’s a gift. A steady stream of folks from around the country come to stay for a few days and I hope more sign up and stay longer. It’s taken me a while to realize relationships are more important than, say, what’s happening on Twitter, but I’ve been transformed by the tenderness of friends when I’ve been in need and I want nothing more than to provide a respite for others in return.
The hope is that this will be a place where love will grow, and between my saint of a roommate and my revitalizing love affair with Jesus, there’s a chance that just might happen.