I recently had the opportunity to travel for several days, going through five states, and staying in a few different hotels, experiencing a variety of restaurants. We also took a several tours and visited many local historical sites and venues. What struck me most was the variety of expressions of hospitality that I experienced. Some were so focused on welcome and hospitality that they stood out. There were others where it took extra effort on our part to have a question answered or to place our order. What I realized in all of those experiences is that Hospitality is really all about Generosity.
When you search for “hospitality” or “welcome” on the internet, you find a list of biblical references for receiving strangers or aliens in your midst. Most often the reference will include some rationale (especially in the Old Testament) that you should do so because you were once the stranger. There also seems to be the assumption that one offers welcome and hospitality because it is the proper thing to do.
Welcome and hospitality seem to be a lost art in our culture. Some of that is due to our “instant gratification” culture. We expect drive-thrus to be fast, we want everything to arrive “next day delivery” or sooner, and we all want, what we want, right now. Add to that, our cultural divisions that are founded on and strengthened by a sense of fear of the stranger, and it is no wonder that hospitality and welcome are hard to come by. That said, when we experience even a little bit of hospitality it gets noticed. When someone goes out of their way to offer welcome and to make sure that you have what you need, there is almost a sense of surprise at their offer of hospitality.
Hospitality is an expression of Generosity. It is about sharing with others, that which one has, in order to make the other’s experience more enjoyable, more complete. It could be a warm greeting of welcome. It may simply be the sharing of information. It could be an offer of help to fulfill a need. It may be a simple gesture of a cup of coffee, a cup of cold water, or a fresh baked cookie. In some cases, it may require a more involved action on your part, including time and energy, to make sure the stranger receives what they need. In thinking about it, it does come down to living out the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12)
One of the requirements of this kind of Generosity is that we must let go of the unrealistic fear of the stranger. In doing so we open ourselves up to welcoming them, to receiving them into our community. Hospitality requires us to exercise our generosity with others. Most encounters will probably be brief. Some may require an expenditure of energy or sharing of our gifts and resources. But the blessing for us will often be that we will receive the unexpected in these encounters. Because the stranger brings their life experiences, their stories, and their gifts to every encounter as well. Just imagine what a little welcome and hospitality on our part can bring to the world we live in.
Scott A. Jacob, Sr. Program Director
The James Company