Henri Nouwen once wrote that we are either moving towards hospitality or we are moving toward hostility.
What do you make of that?
This is a polarity where the two ends are at odds (as opposed to one where each opposite has a value and your job is to maintain a balance).
The “we” he was referring to is a faith-community, a church family…
Maybe we don’t portray the full-on extreme of anger, malevolence, hatred and contempt. At least, I hope not.
But the hostility-side of the spectrum includes being unfriendly, resentful, or having an aversion to hospitality.
Or it might even show it, in what seems like a more neutral way, in lack of empathy for the stranger and visitor or in a failure to welcome and include. It doesn’t have to be intentional and purposeful to be real.
We all know the experience of walking as a stranger into a new place, where people are already sitting with the people that they know. Even though they may smile vaguely in your direction, they are unlikely or hesitant to invite you to join them.
However, as a visitor you may also see the value in people being with those they love and care about. But if what also happens is that no one approaches you, or someone does and you have that awkward experience of forgetting his or her name within a few seconds of being introduced – you’ll probably experience the event as uncomfortable, and may judge the church as at best insensitive.
There is a need in this to sort out our intention, or our desire, from the impact and effect of our corporate behaviour.
What does a church look like that veers a little towards the hostility side? It might present as impatient, frustrated, busy, rushed, or even fearful, a little aggressive, or passive…
The thing is, there’s always plenty to do, even in a small church. Church life gets crowded with things to do, with events, expectations, and pressure on all sides.
It’s even possible to see new people as a danger to the way we are; or to be used to fulfil certain needs of the fellowship Or as a potential problem to be fixed.
Three wrong answers.
So all I have to offer here are questions. How do we manage disagreements and conflict? How do we provide receptive, safe boundaries? How do we encourage people to question and experiment without fear? How do we invite openness while honouring uniqueness? How do we deal with emotional pain with compassion?
I see the concept of “fellowship” as a space in which people might be changed as those questions are worked through.
How does that work? Through the paradox of engaging with both receptivity and confrontation; through both a total acceptance and the ongoing challenge of change.
But for now, the movement into increased hospitality is a decision made by individuals and fellowships that takes form in rituals and habits of hospitality, a stance of kindness and welcome, and spontaneous acts rising out of the Spirit’s movement within us.
People are not problems to be solved. They are mysteries to be explored.
“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” (Col 3 MSG)