Tag Archives: contextualisation

What does hospitality look like in speech and in action?

A few years ago I had a disagreement with a politician about words. He was using a phrase that had been understood in the popular media at the time as a kind of ‘slogan’ with a particular emphasis. I assumed that was what he meant by using this phrase; he assured me that he had a more nuanced perspective to communicate. The key to our disagreement was that he then said it was my responsibility to listen and understand what he intended to communicate, and my problem if I didn’t get what he meant. Conversely, I suggested that it was his responsibility to understand how I would hear what he was saying and to use words to ensure that I would receive his intention. In the end we had to agree to disagree, but it is a conversation I have often thought about since.

Does the onus lie on the speaker or the hearer to make sure communication is clearly understood?

And what does that have to do with hospitality?

Missiology 101 tells me that as someone who has a good message to proclaim, the onus is on me to make sure that my words are being heard and understood by those I am seeking to communicate with, rather than expecting or assuming that they will know what I intend. We call it “contextualisation,” that is, making sure our message is communicated in a way that makes sense to those who are receiving it. To me, this is a form of hospitality. I invite someone into the conversation in a way that is welcoming when I focus not so much on what I want to say, but on what they will hear and receive.

I think hospitality is often misunderstood. The mental picture many people have is of inviting someone into their home. Which is a lovely, welcoming thing to do. However, there is an important caveat. In many ways, our home is our “turf.” It is the place where we feel most comfortable, and where we do things our way. If we invite someone in to that, but expect and assume that they will “fit in” with us, are we truly being welcoming? Or is hospitality about making the other person feel comfortable, choosing to accommodate ourselves to their way of doing things, making sure they feel at home?

True hospitality is the attitude of making someone else feel at home rather than simply being in our home.

What would it look like to live that kind of hospitality in speech and in action?

My church has recently started partnering with a Christian community who speak a different language to us, many of whom are refugees and have left everything they have known behind. I see their joy in their eyes as they come into a place where they can speak their own language, and eat food that is familiar to them, and feel comfortable knowing that they understand what is expected of them. I imagine that in nearly every other aspect of their lives this is not the case. Everywhere they go they are expected to fit in with us, speak like us, do things our way. And yes, that is part of the process of learning to live in a new culture. But what if instead of the church being just one more place where they are the outsiders who are expected to find ways to fit in, what if we as followers of Jesus chose to be the ones who learned their language, ate their food, did things their way? What if we went out of our way to be the ones who were uncomfortable so that they might feel at home?

That’s a challenge. That will be more difficult. That’s the kind of hospitality that is costly as we sacrifice our own comfort and ease for the sake of the other. That’s the kind of hospitality of a church whose early leaders chose to become like outsiders in order to share their hope with those on the outside. That’s the kind of hospitality of a church whose head is a God who condescended to become a human being in order to demonstrate his great love for humanity.

Is Jesus the true Anzac? Contextualisation and Aussie culture on our most “sacred” day

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey
Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey

Today, the 25th of April, is for many Australians one of the most significant dates on the calendar. All week I’ve heard the media talk about it as a sacred day. This morning many Australians arose before dawn to participate in services of remembrance. Veterans and their families will march in parades, and it’s a public holiday to commemorate the date.

Many would say that the story of the Anzacs has become foundational to Australian culture. It has become what sociologists call our national myth. Every nation has its own stories, its own celebrations and its own myths. The United States chooses to celebrate events like Independence and Victory. The Swiss celebrate their neutrality and their humanitarianism. The Jews commemorate their endurance despite overwhelming persecution. The Japanese esteem the honour and nobility of the samurai.

As Australians (and New Zealanders), we choose to mark a day on which we suffered a terrible defeat. When thousands of lives were lost in a faraway place where many would say they never should have been in the first place. To many outsiders it seems like a very strange national holiday.

Lone Pine Cemetery, Galllipoli, Turkey
Lone Pine Cemetery, Galllipoli, Turkey

But it is more than the events of that day at Gallipoli 99 years ago that this day is about. For many Australians, the Anzac story or legend has become a story about the kind of people we want to be known as. The values of the Anzacs are tied up in concepts like mateship and loyalty, with hints of larrikinism and good humour, and ultimately the willingness to give one’s life for others. This is our national story. And I think it provides a fascinating window into our culture.

The thing about national myths or stories is that they are both inspirational and aspirational.

They tell us what we value, and they tell us how we would like to see ourselves. This is who we as Australians would like to be. We know that on the world stage we are not the most powerful, or the most efficient. But we do want to be the ones who will always play fair, have a go, stand up for one another, and give all we have to give. These are human qualities to be admired by everyone, but there is something quite unique in our Australian culture that prizes them in a way that not all other nations do.

When people prepare to serve in other cultures, they learn about ‘contextualisation,’ which is basically trying to find ways to share God’s love that are particularly relevant and connected to the culture in which they find themselves. So I find it interesting on this day to think about how we might find ways to express and share God’s love that are contextualised to our Australian culture. How might the good news of Jesus resonate with people who value ideals like mateship, loyalty, egalitarianism and sacrifice?

The truth is that there is always a gap between how we would like to see ourselves & how we actually are.

We do not live up to our own ideals. We want to value mateship, but there are times when life gets busy and we lose touch with our friends. We want to value loyalty, but there are times when we are pushed by our own needs to put ourselves first. We want to value equality and egalitarianism, but deep down we often treat those who are like us better than we treat those who are different. And we’d all like to think that in extreme circumstances we’d be willing to lay down our lives for our family & friends, but in our everyday mundane circumstances we sometimes find it difficult to lay down just a bit of our time or money for their benefit.

But still we remember and celebrate and aspire. We esteem and honour the ideal of what we hope we could be. And what many Australians respect and revere as the ideals and values of the Anzacs, are actually what Christians believe are ideals and values ultimately found in Jesus Christ alone.

We believe there is a man who values mateship, who is the best friend anyone in this world will ever know. There is a man who values loyalty, who has promised to stick by us through thick and thin & will never renege on that promise. There is a man who values equality, who treats each one of as valuable & worthwhile regardless of where we come from or what we have achieved.

And there is a man who was willing to lay down His life in our place.

The gospel declares that Jesus is the One who fulfils all of our aspirations. That what we are looking for in others, what we would like to think we can find in ourselves, ultimately we will only find in Him.

It seems to me that the Anzac story provides a window into our own culture, a culture that still longs to find meaning and hope and values, but which is unaware of the true source of all that it is looking for. For those who know Jesus Christ, this puts us in the same situation that the apostle Paul found himself in when he visited Athens. Paul commended the Athenians for their worship of an unknown God. He recognised that they were seeking, hoping, aspiring to something greater than themselves. But he also wanted to tell them the truth: that what they were looking for could be found in Jesus.

So too, we can commend and affirm the desire in Australian culture to remember and to celebrate the values that the “Anzac spirit” seeks to encapsulate. But the challenge for followers of Jesus is to find ways to proclaim the truth that these values and aspirations point us to the need for someone who can fulfil them in a way that no one else ever has or ever can. That Jesus, dare I say it, is the true Anzac, the one we should be remembering and worshipping. Perhaps that’s a risky image to use, but the Bible uses risky pictures and metaphors for God all the time as it seeks to find ways for people to understand who God is and how He wants to relate to them.

Perhaps I’ll be accused of hijacking a secular event and trying to bring religion into it. If so, I make no apologies for that. Because as a follower of Jesus, as a Christian first and foremost, I believe that Jesus is the only hope for the whole world. And He calls me to bring His good news into the lives and worlds of my friends, and my neighbours, and my nation.