Tag Archives: Questions

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.

Some questions about violence, suffering, and the reason for Christmas

It has been a bad week. The Sydney hostage crisis, the Peshawar school massacre, the murder of eight children in one family in Cairns. These tragedies have been publicly watched, mourned and analysed. And some common sentiments I’ve seen expressed on social media are things along the lines of “It’s all too much.” “Why do so many terrible things happen at once?” I can’t take any more tragedy or bad news this week.” “Not this week – it’s Christmas!”

Without in any way wanting to downplay these tragedies – which I too have struggled to comprehend – I’m left asking a number of questions.

Has this week been a worse week than usual?

Is the world getting more violent?

Or are we just more aware of and more connected to terrible things happening than ever before?

Is terrorism somehow worse when it happens to people like me?

And why do we kind of seem to think tragedies are greater when they happen close to Christmas?

For people directly affected by these terrible events, I’m not sure whether either the time of year or the size of the social media response makes much difference to their grief and loss. I certainly don’t think it matters where in the world they are or what colour their skin is. The pain for those who have lost loved ones in senseless violence must be overwhelming.

For the rest of us, however, I’m intrigued by what we might learn about ourselves in weeks like this. For starters, if I’m honest, I have to wonder how much my reactions (and those of people I know and follow) are often really about the “it could have been me” factor.

But I also wonder what it shows up about our assumptions about pain and violence and suffering. It seems that we have certain expectations about where terror and violence “shouldn’t” happen … does that mean that subconsciously we think there are therefore places where it “should”?

Are those who feel these things shouldn’t happen this week because “it’s Christmas” unknowingly implying that any other time of the year is … well, if not ok, at least a bit better?

I don’t quite know where to go with these questions of mine. I realise they might sound impertinent, insensitive, or even offensive.

But what I do know is this. That deep down I am not surprised by violence and terror and suffering in this world. Because the biblical story tells me that this world is a broken, hurting, messed up place. We are broken, hurting, messed up people.

And maybe as a Christian, I should actually be less surprised about these things at this time of year. Perhaps part of celebrating Christmas is remembering why we need Christmas in the first place.

I want to push back against a culture which is telling me that Christmas is all about happiness and family and harmony and feeling good and buying stuff. But you might then think I am going to get all cliched and talk about how “Jesus is the reason for the season.” I’m not. Because I don’t think He is. (I hope that’s not considered blasphemy!) Yes, Jesus is the One whose birth we celebrate this time of year.

But the reason He was born?

Can I suggest to you that it is the precisely the fact that this world is so messed up, so broken, so desperately in need of salvation, that the God of the universe stepped in and became one of us?

That the reason we need Christmas is because the world has long been a place of violence and terror and pain and grief. Maybe we see it on our screens with more immediacy than ever before, or maybe we’ve just been the privileged few who have been protected from the harsh realities for too long. But throughout history and around the world, people have been and are hurting and abusing and terrorising and warring against and inflicting suffering upon one another every single day. We desperately need a Saviour. I don’t know about you, but watching the news this week has again reminded me of that simple fact.

So this week, as we celebrate Christmas, we can try to see it as a time where we forget about all the terrible, messed up, broken and imperfect things going on in the world, or perhaps in our own lives, and on Thursday we can work really hard to have that one perfect day which is nothing but peace and harmony and happiness.

Or, we can choose to acknowledge that it is into the midst of the suffering and brokenness and violence of our world that Jesus comes, and that we need Him to come. We can set aside time this Christmas to include space for mourning and longing and crying out that the world is not all as it should be.

We can enter into the ancient cry of God’s people, desperately seeking the one thing that I believe can truly make a difference in this broken, hurting, messed up world:

O come, O come, Emmanuel. God with us. We need you.

Is the Bible a Book?

The Ministry, Theology and Culture faculty (of which I am a part) at Tabor Adelaide has recently started a blog called “Manna” seeking to provide ideas, resources, and challenges to thinking for those in ministry.

This is an article I wrote earlier this week, as I continue to think about the assumptions and presuppositions many people have about the Bible and how they might help or hinder our engagement with it. I’d love to hear what you think, and you might also like to check out some of the other posts at Manna written by my wonderful colleagues on a whole range of topics.

Bible By Rev Melinda Cousins, Biblical Studies Lecturer, Tabor Adelaide

That might seem like a question with a very obvious answer. I’m holding a copy of the Bible in my hands right now. It sure looks like a book. It has pages and everything. But I wonder what unspoken assumptions viewing the Bible as a book might have on how we engage with it. In my experience of reading books, they generally work something like this:

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