Editor’s Note: It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or apathetic when faced with the sheer volume of need in our world. Writing a check or volunteering with a local organization are important steps to walking in justice, but they’re not the only steps. “Alternate Routes” is a blog series that explores imaginative ways of cultivating empathy and restoring the cracked pieces of the world—in other words, alternate routes to living justly. Read the first post here. Up next: Hospitality.
I recently attended a wedding in Tétouan, Morocco. I didn’t know the bride or groom, or for that matter any of the guests, save for my one friend who let me tag along as her travel companion. I found myself swimming amidst the effervescent finery of hundreds with whom I could converse only through floundering body movements and exaggerated head nods. My self-conscious mind told me, “Lay low, stand back and observe, and smile.” This was not my place to participate. But next thing I knew I was being pulled onto the dance floor by the groom’s cousins. His aunt insisted I taste every decadent cookie, and his mother made sure my tiny chalice of aromatic mint tea never emptied.
I was merely supposed to accompany my friend and witness this momentous familial celebration from afar. Yet I was invited in as a member of the family, someone who had a right to be there and who would be missed if absent. There I was wearing a traditional Moroccan caftan, swept up in the celebration as a guest of honor, and so deeply confused. Why did I enter the scene ready to play the timid stranger, while everyone else entered barreling toward me with bear hugs at the ready? What created this disconnect in our expectations?
At the union of this traditional Moroccan Muslim family with a traditional American Catholic family, what mattered was that everyone was treated with utmost kindness and love. Both families understood hospitality in its truest form. This kind of hospitality looks different from that required by any respectable hotel, or the kind we expect when invited over to a good friend’s house. It is an outpouring of welcome, kindness, and selfless service that is completely unmerited. It is, in other words, grace.
A natural human instinct is to fear the unknown. We fear what we cannot see or foresee because unpredictability makes us vulnerable to hurt. Throw into the mix that we, as humans, are masters of unpredictability. To protect ourselves, we build walls with foundations cemented in fear. These walls perpetuate a lack of understanding and division.
A brilliant musician, Mimi Gilbert, wrote a song entitled Strangers Won’t Exist. Her lyrics elucidate this idea perfectly:
“Things move at the speed of trust / and mankind is so damn slow…
One day strangers won’t exist / so many people on the street / why are we so all afraid / that our hearts are gonna meet”
Before performing this song Mimi once said, “I think we bring a little bit of heaven to earth when we treat each other like we already know each other.” She is tapping into something monumental and reformative. To treat someone we don’t know with the same amount of love we would give to our family is declarative. It shouts to humankind that goodness and kindness can abound, that grace is alive now.
It is not that hospitality sees no divisions, but rather sees them and does everything in its power to make any separation inconsequential. This hospitality affirms that whether you are Muslim or Christian or Hindu, we can share a meal together. If we have argued our opposing views till we are out of breath but you need a place to lay your head tonight, I can lovingly offer a bed. We are unified on the grounds that we are human and no better than another. True hospitality doesn’t act on etiquette and pleasantries; it acts on the basic commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. Hospitality doesn’t shy away for fear of being burned, misunderstood, or inconvenienced because it trusts love to bear all things.
If there were ever a time we needed to experience and give hospitality in this way it is now—now, when our nation is reeling from divisive politics; now, when there are thousands of people seeking refuge from oppressive home countries; now, when racism is rearing its devastating head; now, when confusion, demoralization, anger, and fear have become normative emotions; now, when it all feels too heavy to bear alone. Inviting those knocking in need into our homes and our lives changes the rules of the game. It is no longer about “us and them”—it is about how we are equally indispensable souls to a gracious Maker.
One day Mimi’s lyrics will ring true; one day strangers won’t exist. One day “…a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will stand before the throne of the Lamb and worship a sovereign God who has shown grace upon grace to His people (Revelation 7:9).
Let us hasten that day through simple, monumental acts of hospitality.
You can listen to Mimi Gilbert’s song Strangers Won’t Exist HERE.
By Megan Sexton