On Stranger Hospitality

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Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

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I suppose I’m here as a sort of test case, a run at determining the lengths and depths of hospitality within the Allume community. To the point, I am far from what might be considered the target demographic of Allume, a community which hopes “to minister to the woman, the blogger, the story teller.” More to the point, I am most emphatically not a member of the sorority of womanhood. I am a member of the other sex.

The request to join this community of writing and faith was, I admit, a bit daunting. There were, at last count, twenty writers for the Allume blog, and only one other man (fistbump, Dan King!).   Unafraid of the awkward yes, I decided to jump into this decidedly feminine venue, one with an aesthetic boasting chartreuse, and plum, and frilly hearts. It is true; I come to this community as an outsider.

It is difficult to play the role of the outsider, the differentiated one. We all know this to be true, have all found ourselves on the wrong-track side of money, power, fashion, or sex. And yes, as things go, I suppose I have it easy. A critical analysis of historical exclusion would indicate that being a man in a woman’s conference blog world does not constitute the most dire of “fit” problems.

That being said, it seems, at least to me, that my inclusion at the Allume table (as it were), may stand as a sort of metaphorical reminder. There are strangers among us, those who feel the sting of never quite making it into the inner circle. And perhaps, in an honest moment, you’d admit it–you feel like a stranger too.

Don’t we all have fit problems?

According to dictionary.com, “hospitality,” is “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” Did you catch that last word? Strangers. The definition begs an interesting question: if the purpose of hospitality is to create a space of invitation, of welcome, why exercise it only among those whom already feel invited and welcomed? Is the fullest expression of hospitality the invitation of close friends and relatives to a dinner party, or is it something broader?

Jesus taught a broader kind of hospitality, one that favored welcome of the outsider. In Matthew 25, Jesus taught of his triumphant return, praised those who extended warm welcome to God. And how did they extend such a welcome? Jesus taught, “[t]ruly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Jesus was the embodiment of stranger-hospitality, went out of his way to break bread with the outcasts, the tax-collectors and sinners. He was the entertainer of the marginalized, the party-thrower for the little people.

Yes, there are strangers among us, and perhaps I serve as the tangible, awkward reminder of that truth. (And don’t worry, I’ll continue to pop in from time to time as an ever present tangible and awkward reminder.)  But as we push forward to Allume 2014, let’s work to create a culture of stranger-hospitality, to craft places of fit for the outsider. Let’s remember that this is the way of Jesus.

Now… could someone toss me a baseball?!?

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Seth Haines is a working stiff who makes his home in the Ozark mountains. He and his wife Amber Haines have four boys and a dog named Lucy. Seth enjoys music, food, fly fishing, and fine sentences. He writes regularly at sethhaines.com, and shares music, art, and quippy thoughts on both Twitter and Facebook.

*Photo by Kulwant Singh, Creative Commons via Flickr.

  • KARRILEE AGGETT

    I love this… and I love that you are here! (It’s sort of like when I find a guy in Lisa-Jo’s Five Minute Friday link up…) And can I just say that I attended Allume last year for the first time and as much as I LOVED it and loved meeting online friends in real life, I felt often like a Stranger… I didn’t have any roommates to walk in with and entering room after room after room all on my own, doing the introverted scanning-of-the-room-from-the-back thing, was getting old. I gave in to retreating to my room early just so I didn’t have to do it anymore. But, God love her, Sarah Mae recognized that scan and she – having maybe NEVER known a stranger – rearranged her table and sat me right down next to her.

    That simple gesture… that grace-filled act of hospitality shifted something deep within me and I managed to get over myself and all of my own insecurities and determined then and there to scan the room, not for someone I knew… but for other ‘strangers’ among us!

    I have determined to do that still! Thanks for this reminder to keep at it!

    • http://livingingraceland.me DEBBY HUDSON

      Karrilee, in case you don’t see my reply, I’m going to Allume this fall and I don’t think I know a soul that will be there. So far out of my comfort zone to do this. Glad to read about your experience last year.

      • KARRILEE AGGETT

        Oh Debby – I would so love to go again… if I was going I would find you and we would look for other ‘strangers’ among us! Even so… I will hook you up with some lovely ladies who will welcome you right on in! (…and you won’t be the oldest one, I promise!)

  • http://livingingraceland.me DEBBY HUDSON

    Finding where I fit has been an ongoing theme in my life. Attending 13 schools in 12 years didn’t do anything to help. Now, I often find myself in a “man’s world” in our area of ministry and while it took a couple of years, this is where I finally fit. Now, I have the wonderful opportunity to share with those we work with that in the midst of struggle, they are welcome to find refuge, and hopefully grace, in our doors.

    And, Karrilee, I’m going to Allume this fall and find it completely terrifying as I won’t know a soul and have already decided I’m going to feel like the oldest one there. Hoping someone will recognize my “scan-from-the-back-of-the-room thing” too.

    Glad to have you here Seth! (we seem to travel the same blogs)

  • http://www.amylearns.com/ AMY TILSON

    Welcome, welcome and make yourself at home. Come October, there won’t be any baseballs to toss, but how about a football score – or two. You’ll see covert checking of the smartphones from many of us come Saturday afternoon and evening. Lovely reminder to look around the margins and make a place for hospitality in our lives!