the weblog of Alan Knox

Hospitality and the Home

Posted by on Sep 26, 2008 in community, hospitality | 6 comments

Back in March 2007, I wrote a post called “Hospitality and the Home“. Our family has learned to be more hospitable in the last couple of years. There are many people who will drop by our house without notice – and we’re glad! In fact, I once wrote about a sign that I would like for our house: “If you are coming to see our house, please go home and make an appointment. If you are coming to see us, knock and come in.”

I think that hospitality is one of the most effective and least practiced means of building relationships with others – relationships with both believers and non-believers. The problem today is that people seldom spend time in their homes. This post examines that phenomenon.

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Roger Gehring has written an interesting book called House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity. Now, to be honest, this post is a little premature, because I have not read this book yet. But, as I was flipping through it, this paragraph jumped out at me:

With the catchword “hospitality” we are reminded of yet another benefit of the ancient oikos [household] for mission. The early Christian houses and house churches were places where Christian hospitality was practiced by and for Christians and non-Christians alike in a very concrete way. In house churches it was possible for both Christians and non-Christians to experience the safety and security of the familia Dei [family of God]. Closely connected with this was the early Christian brotherly love, which was able to unite radically different social groups into one community.

This passage alone makes me want to read this book. Unfortunately, it is currently far down on the reading list. I’m not sure why I tortured myself by picking it up and flipping through it, but at least this passage has given me something to think about.

According to Gehring, the early Christians demonstrated hospitality (literally, love for strangers) both to other Christians and to non-Christians. They demonstrated hospitality in a setting that was both familiar and comfortable – the household setting. We know from history that the family and the home was very important in the Greco-Roman world, though the importance of the home and family was declining. In fact, the Romans ate, studied, worked, and even worshiped out of their homes.

Today, the household setting is not the same as it was even fifty years ago. Many people only sleep and watch television in their homes. Their homes are places for showcase lawns, flower beds, home entertainment systems, and garages for their vehicles. Very little entertainment, communication, socialization, or even eating takes place in the average home today.

What does this mean? When I invite someone to my home – someone that I have never invited to my home before, or someone with whom I have not developed a relationship – that person probably assumes that I am inviting them to my home because I want something from them. Perhaps I am an Amway agent, or an insurance salesperson, or a politician, or – God forbid – an evangelical looking for another convert. So, when a person comes to my home for the first time – assuming they ever accept the invitation in the first place – their guard is up, and they’re waiting for the catch. Many times, even if we simply want to know them better, they assume that “religion” is the catch because we tend to want to talk about spiritual things.

Activities that once took place in the home, such as communication and socialization, now take place in the office or breakroom, the school hallway or cafeteria, the restaurant or bar or pub, or even the sports arena. These types of locations are often called “third spaces”. Perhaps, we as believers should think about building relationships with people through these types of locations – locations that are “familiar and comfortable” just as households were “familiar and comfortable” to Roman citizens.

Please, do not misunderstand me. There is something special about gathering with friends around a dining room table, or in a living room, or even in the backyard. But, just as unbelievers may not walk into our church buildings, they may not walk into our homes either. This brings up an interesting and important question – and I don’t know how Gehring answers this question (but I hope to find out soon):

Did the Christians practice hospitality in their homes because that was the social norm, or does this type of hospitality and home-based service transcend cultures and contexts?


6 Comments

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  1. 9-26-2008

    We, Phil and I, have found nearly the opposite from what you say we may expect with unbelievers, that might send us to a public place. We have an incredibly modest home, that we rent, but we have put love and joy into it, it is full of color and life, inside and out, in reality and spirit.

    Yes, often we do talk of spiritual things even with our unbelieving friends, they are aware of who we are because, your right, we can not help sharing ourselves, all of ourselves.

    People are not so far removed yet that they don’t understand what it is to be invited over to a home, and genuinely shown hospitality – same root as hospital. Maybe because it is out of today’s norm is why it is so healing to believer and unbeliever alike. People go home rested, loved and refreshed. Meeting in a restaurant often leaves us broke, jangled, interrupted and not very close.

    I also don’t think it is bad to go to a little extra for guests, not putting on the dog, but just a little extra. People, whether they can express it or not, like to know that they are worth something.

    A friend of mine spoke to me of when she went to an incredibly depressed country, no one had money. Their hosts pulled out all the stops they could. They put food on the table that they themselves hadn’t seen in months, in quantities they hadn’t seen in years. They were not out to impress, how do you impress people from the richest country? They wanted my friend and those traveling with her, too feel the love that they had for them. It was a good story. And it taught us much about hospitality.

    Do I open my door at any time and welcome someone in when I don’t even have a cup of coffee to offer them? (I keep meaning to have guest stash but my guest keep drinking it) Yes, I do, no matter what, no matter how I feel, because God sends them. But I also go out and buy wine that I would never buy for myself to share with them at a meal that my girls and I would spend all day or two days fussing over. Not to show off, but to show how much they mean to us. I will also drop everything and rush out of the house without decent (clean, up to date and coordinated) clothes and make-up to help someone in need.

    My husband taught me these things and I am grateful for learning what hospitality really is. He believes true hospitality and service are a lost art but we have a culture that craves it more than ever. Much like they crave sharing a meal with people. It isn’t an accident that we are called to share a supper with one another, to this day. It touches and heals and even more so when the bread and wine, body and blood, are central.

    But you have a lovely family and it is without a doubt you practice the art of true hospitality (I went to your family blog) so I am certainly not saying anything you do not know. Your questions just beg to be answered, you always elicit an answer from me, I just don’t always send it.

    I could talk forever on this subject, even the etymology of the word hospitality as we may find it in a lexicon but then to put it next to the verses that use the word hospitality. HMMM.

    Gotta wrap this up and get ready for another busy day on the farm.

    Just thinking…

  2. 9-26-2008

    Alan,

    Most definitely “this type of hospitality and home-based service transcend cultures and contexts?”!

    When we ministered in rural communities we found things to be the same as Ianny, yet, when we served urban communities, the opposite was true. Mostly the latter were new communities who had no established history.

  3. 9-26-2008

    The modern Christian sees the bread and wine in Jesus hands as a symbol of His crucifixion.Thus to pick up a symbol of the symbol, a cracker and a drop of juice is used to remember what Jesus did.

    Yet, Jesus did more than die on the Cross. He taught and modeled an accepting, non-condemning love. The bread and wine He held and is recorded in the scripture for us was within the context of a meal of fellowship. The atmosphere of such meals included John as being able to place his head on Jesus’ chest; and further examining the meal, Jesus eating with sinners.

    Could it be that Jesus was instructing us to remember Him and His attitudes among people, in addition to His work on the Cross, through meals shared together?

  4. 9-26-2008

    Alan you said and asked:

    Perhaps, we as believers should think about building relationships with people through these types of locations – locations that are “familiar and comfortable” just as households were “familiar and comfortable” to Roman citizens.

    Did the Christians practice hospitality in their homes because that was the social norm, or does this type of hospitality and home-based service transcend cultures and contexts?

    1. I think those third spaces, still have limitations. Though you can get some good work in them, it is hard to break into any real intimate conversations. I think guards are up more on average.

    2. I believe the home is transcedent. When someone is on your couch and their kids are running around, and you are at a dinner table, all guards are down. The homeowner is most vulnerable thus given a level of comfort to those in your prescence.

  5. 9-26-2008

    ded – I agree wholeheartedly “Could it be that Jesus was instructing us to remember Him and His attitudes among people, in addition to His work on the Cross, through meals shared together?”

    One of the things that my husband uses as an example as to why we now meet in homes with a full meal as the expression of the Lord’s Supper is what he heard had happened in neighborhoods all over New York after 9-11. He oft quotes an interview with some people on the first anniversary when they were asked what had changed in their lives, what they had used to help each other.

    Several people spoke of how they began gathering in at each other’s homes and sharing meals together. They made a point that it was meals served in homes. They noticed they were doing more and more of these and it was particularly these meals that they felt the best restoration came from.

    This was on secular TV and no one spoke of Jesus. But here they were expressing how healing home-centered hospitality with a full meal is.

    Not that we need to have modern day proof that what Jesus asks us to do or what the New Testament disciples modeled and spoke of is what we ought to be doing, but there you have it none the less, city folk, urban dwellers speaking of and doing what they are finding to be healing.

    I realize that perhaps the tragedy helped to break through the barriers that urban people have a tendency to build around themselves as protection, but I firmly believe that God calls us to this way of life no matter what the tough spots are in the culture we are in. And like the tragedy, Christ’s love can break down the barriers and open people up to soak in, heal in, the very love that softened them. But we have to be convinced to persevere where the Holy Spirit leads us to persevere and to dust our sandals off when we are shown that, and not second guess those times either.

    Just thinking…

  6. 9-26-2008

    Great comments again, everyone!

    Lanny,

    Hospitality is very important to us. Our family practices hospitality as much as possible – inviting both those we know and those we don’t know into our home. This post was an attempt to analyze what I see happening in our neighborhood.

    If someone used “third places” to begin to get to know someone else, then I would hope they would then move into the home in order to cultivate a more intimate relationship.

    Aussie John,

    I think you’re right. People in rural communities treat their homes differently than people in urban or suburban communities. I also agree that we should invite people into our homes in spite of the cultural norms.

    David (ded),

    Yes, sharing a meal together is a huge part of hospitality. The church has lost this aspect of its community life. We’ve missed the fact that Jesus dealt with people in the midst of their lives – in the common.

    Lionel,

    Yes, the “third spaces” have limitations. I think “third spaces” should be used only when necessary, such as with people who will not accept an invitation into your home. Then, once we get to know people through “third spaces”, we should invite them into our homes again so that we can continue to develop our relationship with them.

    People have learned alot about me by being in my home. Sometimes, I wish they didn’t learn as much. :)

    -Alan