Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Reflections on hospitality

I've finally returned to Idaho! My internship ended in May, but I've been having a great road trip adventure for the past week and a half!

I was invited to Atkinson, Nebraska to spend a week with the great people in the rural parts of the state. After that I spent a few days in Boulder, Colorado to stay with some dear friends from college whom I haven't seen since their wedding last summer.

Being a guest can be a challenging experience. When you live in someone else's house for a while, the impulse is naturally to want to repay them for their kindness and hospitality. That's all good and well; we should never take gifts from someone lightly. But sometimes that wish to reciprocate is almost a desire to be "debt-free"; if I repay you for hosting me for a while, then we're "even." I won't owe you anything if I pay you back.

Accepting the generosity of others even when I had the means to pay them back made me realize that Jesus meant it with the whole "inviting people to dinner who can't pay you back" thing (Luke 14:7-14). We want so hard to make things "right." We want to wipe out our obligations to others so that no one has any claim over us. When we sink into this, then the spirit of generosity is lost. No one gets to give freely because it's more like a loan: I do this for you and then you'll do this for me.

If I worked to repay my hosts for their generosity because I didn't want to feel indebted, then I wouldn't have really been living into their hospitality. That isn't to say I didn't try to help out when I could; what I did do I did because I saw some need I could help out with. My "debt" couldn't be repaid because it wasn't a debt at all. It was a gift to be enjoyed and celebrated! And then what I did could be a gift, too.

I won't lie; I sometimes felt extraordinarily self-conscious about my needs while being a guest. That's understandable because even if we recognize hospitality as a gift we don't want to abuse that kindness and generosity. I didn't want to be a burden to my hosts! But when I've hosted people for dinner or a party, I enjoy helping them enjoy themselves by providing for those needs and wants. So being a guest requires balance: balance between being a burden and feeling indebted. It was a gift, so I enjoyed being with my friends. It was a gift, so I didn't abuse their generosity.


Because I've been so lax on updating (yes, I was without internet access for a week, but is that an excuse?), I'll post a few more updates later unpacking my latest adventure. I might even put up some pictures, too!

And let me thank my gracious hosts, Randy, Michael, Ryan and Katie for their hospitality in this trip, and all my friends new and old who made it such a wonderful time. Thanks, y'all!


Alice said...

I like the "pay it forward" philosophy for these sorts of things. I feel like it is especially useful when dealing the the hospitality and generosity of those who are older and therefore have a lot more resources to share right now. There are some debts I can't repay right now, but hopefully I can be just as generous a person someday when I have the means.

Country Parson said...

Reciprocity is one of the strongest motivators in American society, perhaps in others as well. It's what enables good sales people to seal a deal on something the buyer didn't really want or need. The spiritual discipline of learning how to accept hospitality is very hard. But, according to our theology, it is important, because we must learn to be the recipients of God's gracious hospitality for which no payment can be made. The reformers tried to make the point that our good works are works of thanks giving and not of a form of payment no matter how understood.

PS It's a lesson I have yet to learn.