From Service to Hospitality – a Community Conversion

Hospitality means primarily the creation of 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.
― Henri J.M. NouwenReaching Out

“Thank you for your hospitality” – a genuine statement I have been hearing a lot lately – seemingly a new phenomenon that’s happened since our most recent party on July 4th – where we hosted close to 200 of our neighbors for a family style BBQ. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone in the community use the word “hospitality” before now, or if I have, it’s been very rare.  Seems like I’ve heard it half a dozen times in half as many days.

1066486_10151670908058279_1535884240_o

In fact, I heard it again last night as one of our neighbors stopped by asking if I had any coffee to give him or anything to eat.  After coming home last week at 10pm from work and having another neighbor demand “go make me a snack!” I wasn’t so taken off guard by this request from a different neighbor. I shared with him (again) that we don’t really make pots of coffee on demand, so a cup of coffee at 9pm isn’t likely to happen. After asking me a few more times, just to be sure, he said “thank you for your hospitality,” and he meant it. He wasn’t being snarky or sarcastic since I was unable to grant his request.  It was almost as if this man was comforting me: although I wasn’t willing to meet his request, he acknowledged the presence of hospitality that we are committed to with this little house on this little block in this big city.

I’m not sure if we’ve planted the word unintentionally and it’s sprouted, or if it’s just fruiting itself from the hearts of welcomed people – either way, it’s blowing me away – and causing me to think some deep thoughts.

I made this statement on Facebook and was shocked how quickly the “likes” accumulated:

“Something is shifting in this neighborhood as people realize we are not here to serve out of our power and position, but to live among our neighbors as family. Gratitude of inclusion is not the same as gratitude for service.

I do not want to dismiss the word “service” just because I believe it has been tarnished. However, I don’t think when we talk about hospitality that we are not talking about service – in fact, I think we are.   Although I think often when we talk about service, hospitality isn’t involved at all.

For the purpose of this blog – when I talk about service, I am talking about the all-too-prevalent model that is about leveraging power instead of giving up power.  Service that is oriented on those with, giving to those without, while maintaining their power and comfort is a type of service that lacks hospitality.  The service of hospitality is by nature vulnerable and humble – in fact, the service of hospitality looks a lot like the incarnation – God forcing himself into the form of a baby, exiting the frame of a young woman, and growing into a man who had little to cling to as He modeled the fullness of hospitality – welcoming children, women, lepers, the poor, prostitutes, uneducated and untamed men – etc. The incarnation is about God contextualizing Divinity and limiting Himself so that He could be with us – eventually giving up his very life for the fullness of his presence to dwell among us.

Hospitality is about limiting ourselves – about risking and giving up and sacrificing our rights and entitlements in order to be with others.

When JUSTembrace talks about hospitality – we really are talking about a hospitality that is modeled after the incarnation – not limited to a well set table and a delicious meal.  We believe that all of us have the ability to be hospitable – even when we are away from home or even while being hosted by another or when we have nothing material to offer anyone.

Hospitality is the posture of offering ourselves to others.

In a neighborhood where social service agencies are in overabundance, JUSTembrace has always wanted to fill a different role – we’ve wanted to offer ourselves as friends, as a place of community and relationship, an extended family for a community that society as withdrawn the welcome mat from.

The quote I started with from Henri Nouwen – I first read back in 2009, a year before I moved to Chicago. I love how Nouwen’s description of Hospitality is exactly what JUSTembrace has sought to create:

Hospitality means primarily the creation of 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.

“Thank you for your hospitality” – packs a punch in light of this definition, right?

1062894_10151670914473279_863490434_o

It’s not that people haven’t said “thank you” before – I sense and hear the gratitude from our neighbors every single day. I think the change that is happening is our neighbors are finally understanding that our motivation for making a pot of coffee or throwing a holiday celebration in our yard – is not service-minded but rather, an act of hospitality. I believe my neighbors are so used to receiving services, that it has taken these two years for them to begin to collectively comprehend the difference found in a house of hospitality.

Service is a necessary and good thing for a lot of reasons – but service cannot do the restorative work of hospitality.

JUSTembrace’s mission is to equip people to live lifestyles of restoration through hospitality, inclusivity and generosity. As our neighbors continue to grow in trusting our hospitality – we believe we will see this restorative value spread from person to person – extending far beyond our home, into the shelters, SRO’s, soup kitchens and streets of Chicago.

Perhaps, even you, the reader, are considering how to live restoratively by transitioning from serving to offering yourself through a hospitable lifestyle.  Contact us and let us know if we can help – or if we already are helping – we’d love to hear how!

2 thoughts on “From Service to Hospitality – a Community Conversion

  1. Pingback: Gratitude of Inclusion | A Friendly Emptiness

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *