Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hospitality: Loving one another as if our life depended on it...

I love Eugene Petersen’s translation of 1 Peter 4:8-9. In the NIV it reads, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” But in The Message, Petersen puts it like this: “Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully.” Love each other as if your life depended on it! I can’t help but wonder what our churches might be like if we loved one another as if our life depended on it.

Hospitality – the generous, spontaneous sharing of who we are and all that we have – flows out of this kind of love. In its purest form, hospitality is the divine mechanism by which God demonstrates his love for all creation, through us. In Making Room, Christine Pohl says that hospitality isn’t so much a task as it is a way of living our lives and sharing ourselves. It’s not just a matter of providing shelter or sharing a meal. These are entry level steps – important practices but small first steps. Pohl suggests that we learn how to practice hospitality in small increments of daily faithfulness. First a sharing of what we have but ultimately a sharing of who we are and of the love that God has invested in us for the good of others.

In our society and even in our churches, this kind of hospitality is rare. We are conditioned to be prudent in our sharing, to maintain proper boundaries between our lives and the lives of others. Our cultural milieu is one of distance and distrust. Openness, transparency, vulnerability and honesty are often seen as childlike qualities that must be overcome as a matter of safety. We need to take care of ourselves after all – and above all. Really? But this is a clever deception and not at all what God intends for us or for those – strangers, foreigners, friends – who he places in our path.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a case in point. We ought not to be too hard on the priest and Levite. They did what was expected of them – in the hierarchy of rules, best to give a half dead man a wide berth. The Samaritan, on the other hand, was not constrained by purity rules. He was free to show mercy, to treat the helpless and wounded man as he himself might want to be treated had he been the one to fall into the hands of thugs. The kind of compassion he demonstrated is rooted in a spirit of hospitality.

Compassion may compel us to look after someone who is in need – to provide medical care, food, clothing, shelter, encouragement. But hospitality is about giving AND receiving. Hospitality transforms us. As it turns out, sometimes the needs we don’t see – the attitudes and prejudices and ethnocentrism and arrogance – are actually MORE debilitating than the needs that we do see – the poverty, addictions, wounds, lack of opportunity. These are lessons that our global field staff learn quickly as they live among people groups around the world. They soon discover that people with pressing material needs have much to teach us about hospitality and the state of our hearts.

Who is our neighbor? Well, in Canada, the neighborhoods are often diverse, especially in the larger urban centers. But diversity is spilling out into the rural areas as well, as governments at all levels and businesses are recruiting immigrants to work in their factories and to populate our towns and villages. There are challenges and opportunities for churches. And the way forward must, I think, be rooted in an understanding of, and commitment to, the practice of biblical hospitality – loving one another – whether family, friend, foe or foreigner – as if our life depends on it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Politics of Choice

As I was driving to work this morning I listened to CBC's show The Current, and one of the topics was a review of the impact of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms (http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/coming-up/2012/04/17/tuesday-charter-of-rights-freedom---30th-anniversary/). We're now 30 years in and the discussion was around the question of whether or not the Charter has been a "good thing" for Canada. It got me thinking...

Do you suppose that efforts to bolster "individual rights and the freedom to choose" may actually be a symptom of a society's inability to provide conditions for its citizens to live the life that they might prefer? Here's the thing. We've been conditioned to think that the promotion of a culture that favours individual rights and freedoms - to live as we wish, so long as we're not hurting someone else in the process - is a way of limiting the state's control. In other words, the state can't tell us what to do. We're free to do what we want. We're free to make "bad choices" - choices that might negatively affect our physical, emotional, relational or spiritual health, or the health of the environment - and it's nobody's business but our own. But what if a relaxation of conventional moral codes (our collective conscience of what is "right" and "wrong") is really about diverting our attention away from the fact that the state is not providing the levels of support necessary for us to choose what we might most want to do or be?

On The Current, the two issues that seem to have generated the most public debate in the last 30 years under the influence of the Charter, are abortion and same-sex marriage. Supporters of the Charter cite these two issues as "successes" that indicate that the Charter is protecting individual rights and freedoms. But maybe - if we dig a little deeper on these and other issues - we'll discover that there are more profound realities at stake. I've talked a bit about the abortion issue in several previous posts, but let's think about it for a minute from the perspective of the Charter and the perspective of the woman who determines that terminating a pregnancy is the best option in her particular circumstance. Does anyone ask if she LIKES the circumstances that she's in? And by that, I don't mean the fact that she's pregnant. I mean the fact that she - perhaps - doesn't have the financial and/or social support she needs to have the baby. So - in a Charter-based, individual rights and freedom driven society, the state has no obligation to address THOSE issues. If she can't afford to have and raise a child, or doesn't have the kinds of supports in place that would make having a raising a child a healthy option (for herself and the child), no problem. She can CHOOSE to have an abortion. But is it really a CHOICE? If her circumstances were otherwise, would an abortion still be the thing she'd choose to do?

There's no doubt in my mind - now that this thought has taken root - that it is far easier and cheaper (at least in the short term, and from a political perspective, that's what counts!) for the state to give people the opportunity to do things that are neither best for them nor for the broader society, than it is to provide the infrastructural supports that make it possible for them to truly choose what they would most desire, if all options were truly available.