Tag Archives: Jesus

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.

The cult of celebrity and Christmas carols: some random thoughts on the implications of the incarnation

It has often been observed that our culture worships the “cult of celebrity.” The idea is that there are certain people we look up to, want to know about, want to be like, and want to meet. Whether that is because of certain abilities they display (sporting stars), or attributes they have (good looking actors), simple due to their visibility (Kim Kardashian) or even because of their family connections (Kate Middleton), the idea that would could in some way “get to know” these people drives a multi-billion dollar gossip magazine industry and results in large crowds gathering wherever these people go.

There’s an awful lot that could be said about that from a cultural-analysis perspective, and there’s a lot to dislike about it, but the reason I’m thinking about this today is entirely different. I’ve been listening to some of my favourite Christmas carols and wondering how these two thoughts connect.

So God imparts to human hearts                                                                   The blessings of His heaven

The cult of celebrity seems to suggest to me that there is something deep within us as human beings that wants to connect with those whom we look up to or admire. That somehow we feel like getting “close” to them elevates us in some way. A famous person who takes time to hang out with a sick child in hospital is universally admired. Throughout history there has been prestige ascribed to having any kind of connection with royalty. Associating with those who have status and value seems to bring a kind of status and value of its own. Perhaps it overcomes our insecurities: if they like us, well then, we really must be likeable and everyone else will know so.

Imagine if a really famous person joined one of the groups or clubs you belong to. Suddenly your whole group would be elevated by their presence. Your status and value would somehow go up.

What on earth does all this have to do with Christmas?

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see                                                                    Hail the incarnate deity                                                                            Pleased as man with men to dwell                                                                       Jesus our Immanuel

The incarnation of God as a human being elevates all of us. It brings us status and value.

At Christmas, we celebrate the miracle of God choosing to become a human being. The creator of the universe chose to become part of His creation. And not just any part but our part. God became one of us. The Godhead for all eternity now includes a human being. The ruler of all things is now a member of our group.

That is a truly incredible, astonishing, surprising, mind-blowing, shocking thing to believe.

And it changes everything.

It tells us that God loves us. Immensely. Enough to become one of us.

It tells us that we are loveable. There is no need for insecurity. The One of ultimate worth has found us worthwhile.

But even more than that, it calls us to love one another because every single other person we share this planet with is not only created in the image of God, but is a being whom God has chosen to become like.

Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother                               And in his name all oppression shall cease

One of the implications of the incarnation is that God becoming human elevates us all. The refugee and the billionaire, the inmate and the Kardashian, the lost child and the superstar … each and every one is one whom Jesus chose to become like.

Now that’s a cause for celebration.

And a call to compassion.

And a challenge to contemplate.

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Responding to evil in the world: do we accept what we expect or is there another way?

The last few days have seen some terrible things happen in various places around the world and many words written and spoken in response. Words of grief, words of fear, words asking questions, words expressing unease. I have hesitated to add my words for two reasons. The first is that I’m not sure I have much new to say. The second is that I worry that by saying something, assumptions will be made about all the things I leave unsaid.

But I called this blog “thinking  out loud” because for me it is often in sharing my questions that I begin to discover answers (or more questions!) So what I add here are not my first thoughts nor my final thoughts, not my only thoughts nor my complete thoughts. Just something I’m still working through and out …

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are some of the tragic events of the last month or so.

  • On October 5, 57 people were killed when a car bomb went off outside their local market.
  • On October 10, 102 people were killed as they attended a rally for peace in their capital city.
  • On October 14, 42 people were killed when suicide bombers entered their place of worship, and on October 23, another 27 were killed in similar circumstances in the same country.
  • On October 31, 224 people were killed when their aeroplane was brought down by an act of terrorism.
  • On November 12, 43 people were killed when suicide bombers detonated explosives in a suburban neighbourhood.
  • On November 13, over 129 people were killed due to a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in cafes and clubs.

By not including the places where these tragic events happened, they all sound the same. And on very many levels they are the same. All were acts of terrorism that resulted in the deaths of innocent people going about their daily lives. But in one important way, they are not the same at all.

One of the questions that is being asked is why only the last of these has generated wall to wall news coverage, the use of lights and flags on iconic buildings around the world as signs of solidarity, and statements of sympathy and determination to avenge by numerous western world leaders including the US President and the Australian Prime Minister.

I’m not sure there is a simple answer. I know there is no comfortable answer. Because for me, the question has to be personal. I could blame the media for making more of some things and not telling me about others, but I’m pretty sure their reasons are not that different from my own. Why did I have a stronger reaction to one event than I did to the others?

First, if I’m honest, there is the “it could have been me” factor. A place that I have recently been to, a place I am familiar with, a place that feels similar to where I live, people whom I somehow see as more “like” me… this is easier for me to sympathise with. I wish that was not true, but it is. I want to keep working hard to try to overcome that natural tendency I see within me. I need you to help me with this.

But the second thought I have had is about expectations. Are there some places in the world where these events feel unexpected to me? And therefore some where subconsciously they are, in contrast, “expected”? Have I somehow in my mind divided up the world into places where I think “this kind of thing happens” and places where I think it doesn’t?

And here’s the question that really horrifies me.

If there are places where I think these events are to be expected, does that lead me to assume that there are places where these events are to be accepted?

I hope not, but I fear if I’m not careful that may be my subconscious attitude. And I wonder what the alternative is.

Is it our level of expectation or our level or acceptance that needs to change? As a follower of Jesus,  I think, perhaps seemingly contradictorily, the answer is both. And that somehow, it is in living in the tension that expects evil and yet does not accept it, that hope is found.

Jesus teaches me that evil and the resultant suffering are to be expected everywhere. We live in a broken and hurting world and even the places we like to pretend are in some kind of protective, prosperous bubble are in reality fragile and vulnerable to the power of sin and darkness.

At the same time, Jesus calls me to act and speak out in a way that does not just accept evil and its resultant suffering anywhere. That works to overcome and respond with compassion and love to all people in all places so that His light might be seen where it is desperately needed … which is everywhere.

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