The Kind of Neighbour I Want To Be

It is probably no surprise that I have a fascination (a combination of curiosity and respect) with the Amish.  They puzzle me and I think to myself, "Why would anyone live that way?"  And in the next thought I think, "Why doesn't everyone choose to live that way?"  Which only goes to show how bizarre my thought process can be.  One minute I lean one way, the next, I reconsider!

  But because I find them peculiar and interesting I do often read about them.  Mind you, not the fiction, though I tried that and just couldn't stomach it.  I need not go into what I think of these pseudo-novels here, but suffice to say, it did little to satiate the desire I had to know of them - who they are, why they are, how they live etc.  When I want to learn something, I tend towards non-fiction material (though fiction can be helpful in many areas of growth and learning, to teach and inform us in ways we didn't realize were possible).  A few weeks ago, I picked up a book at a thrift store called Plain and Simple by Sue Bender.  I have been reading it some off and on, in the midst of the other 14 books I'm reading!  (Yes, I counted them and there are indeed 14 others.  When I got to 15 I capped the list and told myself to finish something before adding anymore...)

  At the same time I have just finished reading Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen.  There are actually some amazing parallels between the two, coincidentally.  And combining the thoughts of these two I am formulating ideas of who I want to be, what kind of community I want to interact with, how I want my world to connect.  Specifically, what kind of neighbour am I?  In the most literal sense - a neighbour is someone who lives nearby.  In the broader sense, it means all the people in my world - who I have contact with - who know me, see me - even in the smallest measure.

  And what I get from the Amish, and from the thoughts of Nouwen in Reaching Out is what it means to be hospitable.  Hospitality is a character trait - much more than fancy dishes and napkin rings.  It is a state of the soul that welcomes another - warmly, receptively, with compassion, friendship and joy.  This is the kind of hospitality I want to engender in my life.

In Plain and Simple, Sue Bender writes, "Confused, I made a pilgrimage to the house of my neighbors, Ruth and Tino.  They weren't Amish...but...Each time I stepped into their home, I left behind a world of frenzy and entered a tranquil place.  I know that's supposed to happen when you go to church or temple, but it happens to me in my neighbors' home."

I wanted to jump up and down saying, "YES! That's the kind of neighbour I want to be!"  The kind that lets others enter as they are - without judgement - and gives them a place to just be - to hear wisdom, kindness, mercy - to receive the open hand of friendship.  I want my home - or beyond that - my presence, to be a hallowed place where people leave behind their frenzy and find a tranquil place - because that is the kind of world I want to function in.

Much of my life is certainly frenzied and NOT tranquil.  But it is tranquility that I love.  So maybe in spite of the normal frenzy that life brings I can carry a steady spirit of willing engagement with those around me.  Maybe I can offer hospitality to others even if my world seems to be falling apart.  Maybe in the struggles of life we can find communal hospitality to serve each other in our deepest need.

This is the kind of neighbour I seek to be.

Nouwen writes, "The German word of hospitality is Gastfreundschaft which means, friendship for the guest.  The Dutch use the word gastvrijheid which means, the freedom of the guest...It...shows that hospitality wants to offer friendship without binding the guest and freedom without leaving him alone.  Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a 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..."

There are certainly times when hospitality can be challenging.  But I realize that there is healing in the welcome - there is joy in community.  And community is fake when it isn't bathed in true, genuine, hospitality.

It isn't lost on me that the word 'hospitality' contains the word 'hospital'.  The hospital is where broken or sick people go to get treatment - immediate care, help, and repair!  If I am to be hospitable in my spirit, I must be ready to welcome the sick, hurting, broken and seemingly beyond-repair types.  And in fact, we have this example in the Lord Jesus Who chose common fishermen for his crew, invited prostitutes and tax-collecters to be His friends and who ate and drank with the lower class of society.  He willingly associated with the hurting and disenfranchised, and He welcomed little children and blessed them.  This is a picture of hospitality in its truest sense.  That Jesus created space for others to just be themselves.  Yes, He called them to change - but He cared and instructed and nurtured and was patient.  This is the kind of neighbour I want to be.

And ultimately hospitality is about the Gospel:

Nouwen again writes, "Only when we have come in touch with our own life experience and have learned to listen to our inner cravings for liberation and new life can we realize that Jesus did not just speak, but that he reached out to us in our most personal needs.  The Gospel doesn't just contain ideas worth remembering.  It is a message responding to our individual human condition.  The Church is not an institution forcing us to follow its rules.  It is a community of people inviting us to still our hunger and thirst at its tables.  Doctrines are not alien formulations which we must adhere to but the documentation of the most profound human experiences which, transcending time and place, are handed over from generation to generation as a light in our darkness. But what is the sense of speaking about light to people who do not sense their darkness?"

And the Church, of all places, is a place of hospitality - a place to be welcomed, nurtured, and given freedom to grow and hear from God.

This is the kind of neighbour I want our Church to be.  And it is the kind of hospitality I want to offer my Church community, neighbourhood, acquaintances and everyone else I meet.


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