I’ve been slacking in regards to my blogging lately, so to those of you who follow these posts, sorry. The last few months have just been very hectic, and writing is a luxury that I haven’t made time for of late.
Excuses aside, let me pick up where we left of a fortnight or so ago: Jesus’ invitation to be in the world, not of it. It seems especially relevant now seeing that there is a slight chance that the world may end tomorrow. Each era seems to produce a handful of Jesus-minded people that are very intent on trading this world for the sweet by and by.
To a certain extent I get this mindset, I really do. The world is a crazy place. Denial and escapism are very tempting alternatives to facing up to the hard realities of life. Still, as a follower of Jesus, I am called to participate in God’s ongoing redemption in this world. This, of course, cannot happen when I either deny the world’s need for redemption or when I am unwilling to get my hands dirty. To be the salt of this earth I need to both acknowledge the fact that the world needs salting and accept my role in this equation.
There are many ways in which Christians set out to salt the world so to speak. Today I want to write about one of them: hospitality. Strangely enough, it was Farida who once again made me aware on this reality when I spent some time with her in Beijing. I am going to tell you one more story from my time in China before I fast forward to the here and now, so just bear with me if you are tired of my China stories already.
As it turned out, Farida was a real includer, a people’s person of note. Sometime after dropping me off at the apartment she arranged for me, she bumped into another Russian traveller who happened to be in Beijing at that moment. In typical Farida fashion, she befriended him and helped him get accommodation as well.
To celebrate her new friends, she decided to take us out to a Russian nightclub for the evening. I wasn’t really in the mood for it seeing that I was tired from my long train ride, but I knew better than to offend a woman on a mission, so I decided to tag along. Before long, some of Farida’s lady friends joined us at the table. They also spoke Russian, seeing that they were from Uzbekistan. What’s more, these ladies were very friendly....like in, really friendly. It didn’t take me long to figure out that it wasn’t my charm that kept the conversation going: they were call-girls (hookers, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the euphemism), and I was a potential client. What did take long, though, was convincing them that I wasn’t interested.
This was just one of the many weird and wonderful experiences I had as I entered Farida’s world for a few days. People who know says that your attention span don’t allow me to write about the tea rooms, the street shops, the Buddhist temples, the Great Wall and the French bakery for the time being, so I will leave it at that. What I do want to point out, though, is how Farida let me enter into her world unashamedly and without reserve, regardless of how foreign or even disturbing at times I found it to be. In doing so, she was being hospitable in the truest sense of the word.
Hospitality is a word that is often lost in our individualistic cultures, partly because it is a word that demands us to let people into our personal space without us controlling or determining their actions within this space. Impersonal or forced hospitality are contradictions in terms. Henri Nouwen, in his book Reaching Out, describes hospitality as follows:
‘Hospitality 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. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit...The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.’
In a world where our church cultures are often imposing, demanding and geared towards conformity, we would be well advised to learn from the example of Farida and the words of Nouwen. Which brings me back to the rapture which some believe will happen tomorrow. I don’t know about you, but I am taking my chances and saying that the rapture will most probably not happen in the next 48 hours. If I am right, then I will have these words as a witness. And if I am wrong, well, either you or I or both of us won’t be here to read the evidence (unless there’s internet in the afterlife).
Still, my predictions are that a lot of folks who heeded the words of Harold Camping and the likes will wake up confused, angry and hurt on Sunday morning. The rest of us who didn’t get carried away by the woo-ha and fanfare will have one of two choices when this happens: we can either ridicule these people with a superior ‘I-told-you-so’ attitude, or we can extend hospitality to them so that they may enter into a safe place for grace and truth to heal their broken hearts and confused thoughts. One of these options, I think it is safe to say, will bring honour to Jesus’ prayer: ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’