Saturday morning, I was watching Windy City Rehab.
Let me back up.
Friday afternoon, I was watching Property Brothers.
Let me back up.
Monday evening, I was watching Home Town.
Let me back up.
Obviously I like home renovation shows—always have, probably always will.
So, Saturday morning I was watching Windy City Rehab and being extra critical, because I’ve watched A LOT of home reno shows over the years. (For the record, being critical isn’t the best attribute of hospitality…I’ve got space to grow, too.) Add to this the fact that my grandfather owned a custom home building business for years and my mom and grandmother were both realtors. I grew up wandering around job sites and open houses taking note of things I did and didn’t like and planning out where I would put my bed if this particular house contained my room.
I’ve got opinions about renovations. This main designer just wasn’t quite catching my ideal “Chicago-vibe” with her burlap wall coverings and reclaimed-barn-wood-built-in-entertainment-centers. You know what says Chicago to me? Industrial-chic. Concrete floors at the top of an old factory-turned-loft. Exposed ductwork sprayed a matte black. Giant floor to ceiling windows that let you look out over the city. Groceries delivered like Amazon-goods because there is no store nearby, or car to load up all your goodies.
Ok. So, I went to Chicago exactly once. And the loft I just described is the only Chicago dwelling I’ve been in. But I lived it up while I was there! I ate the pizza, I saw my reflection in the Bean (cloud gate?), I sipped tasty drinks and laughed heartily at Second City, I walked up and down Michigan Avenue, I visited the law schools at Northwestern and the University of Chicago. Why? Because when I was a junior in college at the rough-tough-real-stuff-Texas-A&M (have I mentioned I’m an Aggie?) I took a 10-day trip across the Northeast with a dozen or so of my classmates to look at law schools and wine and dine with other Aggies. (This was in 2011, long before Amazon was dropping groceries on the average American’s doorstep.)
I ended up going to seminary instead of law school, but I learned something about hospitality and the church while I was trying pizza in New York, Chicago, and Philly (I actually tried many cheesesteaks in Philly, not pizza; and many lobster rolls in Boston…but I digress).
What amazed me was that in every city we stopped in on this tour of the Northeast, Aggies let us stay with them in their homes. Our group would split up around the city because there were enough people willing to open their space and let college kids—we were strangers to them—sleep on their floor and eat their food simply because we went to the same university and knew some of the same people. The Chicago loft I described above belonged to an Aggie architect—she actually got engaged one of the nights I was sleeping on her couch.
Now, granted, Texas A&M is a special place. It’s a big deal to get an Aggie ring and I wear mine every single day. It’s how we recognize each other. I was walking into the YMCA the other day here in Charlottesville wearing an A&M t-shirt and an elderly gentleman behind me shouted “Gig ‘em!” repeatedly until I turned around and gave him a thumbs up (aka a “Gig ‘em”) and a smile.
A&M is a special community and I’ve felt its welcome extend to me literally around the globe. But the church is a special community, too. While I caught cabs and trains around the Northeast in 2011, I found myself wondering…would I be as comfortable showing up in an unfamiliar city, and staying with strangers only connected to me through the church? At that point in my life, my answer was no, I don’t think I would.
This trip was yet another taste of hospitality and it left me feeling welcome and hungry for more. It also left me wondering what the church might learn from my Texas A&M community.
I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for the welcome these strangers had offered me that when I got to seminary in the fall of 2012, I found myself thinking back on this trip and wondering what I could learn from my Aggie brothers and sisters that I might extend to my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I’m not sure of my Northeastern Aggie hosts political views or their religious views, but when a blizzard hit while we were in Boston my new friend kept us sheltered extra days in her home. She took us on walks in her neighborhood to her favorite grocery. She let a gaggle of Texans build snowpeople in her front yard and experience the “fun” of cleaning snow off the car. The most salient thing we had in common was our Aggie identity, and it was enough.
I wonder what our world would look like if we extended the same welcome to our brothers and sisters in Christ—regardless of particular theological and social views?
The truth is, we share an important identity: Children of God who are followers of Christ.
What if we showed up for each other, maybe not by sheltering through a blizzard but perhaps while eating a meal, and got to know one another? What if we created opportunities to ask each other questions and genuinely listen to the answers? What if we looked around our communities and discerned how we could meet needs together or celebrate together good work that is already happening?
I’m not suggesting this is the easiest thing in the world to do—there were certainly hosts and fellow travelers on my trip to the Northeast that got under my skin a bit, especially after we were together a while. A practice like this can be uncomfortable at times and interrupt our routines, but what I’ve found is that it’s worth the effort.
I’ve learned a lot over the years from Christians who worship and believe differently than I do. Next week I am going to explore the beauty of connecting deeply with people of different religions, or those who are not religious. But for now, I’d like to invite you to consider what it could look like for you to offer hospitality to someone who doesn’t believe exactly what you believe. For many of us this could mean reading a book or article by someone with a different viewpoint or perhaps it means scheduling a phone call or coffee date.
What I’ve learned of hospitality is that I feel most welcome when someone makes an effort to get to know me and not try to change me. Maybe you have found, or will find, the same to be true.
Want to read more of my writing on hospitality? Check out the first post in this series: hospitable spaces