Mistakes in Hospitality

If the churches don’t come up with a better definition and understanding of hospitality, I think we will continue to have problems as happened recently in Toronto. (Sorry to those involved that I am dragging this out in the light again, but I really don’t think it’s been addressed adequately.)

A man came to church with his dog. That’s not the problem. I’ve taken animals to church myself, including a just-born lamb. He was new to the church, but was an acquaintance of the interim priest in some way. He came forward to the altar rail for communion and the dog came, too. The priest, for whatever motivation, deliberately gave the dog a consecrated wafer. That poor priest didn’t get home, I bet, before someone called her bishop. (This is an Anglican church, obviously!)

We don’t give consecrated bread to animals.

There are many reasons why she might have given the wafer to the dog – St. Francis gave consecrated host to the birds, and in some places, consecrated wafers may be spread on the ground for God’s creatures to take, if the wafers are unusable. This does happen: I’ve had to do it myself, when someone spilled water into the ciborium, when reserved sacrament had become so stale that it was inedible, and when a nursing home patient spat the host back at me. Burning the unusable host is preferable but not always practical. So it isn’t wrong for an animal to eat the host, but only if it is incidental.

She may have thought it was hospitable to the guest and the dog to give the animal what the people were getting. It was the deliberate nature of the act that caused her trouble.

On the flippant side, we could argue that the dog isn’t baptized and shouldn’t receive the sacrament of communion. This is a rather important point in Anglicanism. First one, then the other.  Anglicans do not have confirmation firmly tied into communion as other faith groups do, but baptism is pretty much non-negotiable. First you must be washed, then you are clean for the table. We are baptized but once: As we are physically born but once, so our spiritual birth is but once. And as we need our daily bread at home, so we go to the Lord’s Table frequently and in the company of others, our spiritual family.

To get serious: Animals are not in need of atonement. Although they, as with all creation, are groaning for the consummation of the Day of Judgment, they are not fallen in soul and are sinless. Animals can appear vicious to us in how they obtain their food and when they attack or defend, but it is not in a state of sin and willfulness that they kill. They are acting under instinct and it is our interpretation that it is vicious. So the sacraments are reserved for humans in our sinfulness. We are made in the likeness of the Creator, and can be fallen in sin and willfulness; we require atonement. We require grace.

The priest’s error was to perhaps impulsively offer the consecrated sacrament to an animal, thinking that she was hospitable.  The metaphor Jesus used in his conversation with the foreign woman about the crumbs falling from the table and eaten by the little dogs was not meant to be taken literally. (Jesus said to the woman asking for healing for her daughter: “We don’t give the children’s bread to the dogs.” She answered, with a lot of faith and courage: “But the littel dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.” And her daughter was healed; Jesus did not come just for Israel, but for the whole world, even those Israel considered unclean and beyond the pale. He used that old insult to test her faith, so that grace might be abounding.)

It is not true hospitality to hand out communion wafers to every mouth that opens. Human food is not appropriate for dogs, especially the food we eat these days. A communion wafer is nothing more than a little bit of white flour and water. It did the dog no harm, but it didn’t do any good. The larger issue is our vocation to feed the world. We are certainly not doing that, and we don’t even feed ouselves well. We prefer the depraved foods we invented in the last century, the foods lacking real nutrition- white sugar and flour, hydrogenated fats. We allow multi-national corporations to ship these foods to other countries, where they entice the population away from their native foods. We then do not have enough whole foods to share because we have refined them for our spoiled appetites. We have ruined irrevocably large tracts of wilderness and animal habitat, so that God’s creatures may not feed themselves. We have been poor stewards and unable to show God’s hospitality.

Real hospitality has nothing to do with who gets that poor substitute for bread we serve at the altar; it has to do with real bread, and the real love of Christ.  We get very caught up in the show of sacramentality while forgetting or ignoring the sacramentality of love Christ gave us.

After the communion was over, did anyone invite that visitor and his dog home for a meal?

Modest Brides, Modest Women, The Best of Hospitality

I don’t think we can expect young women (and some older ones) to suddenly decide that they are modest after all, just because they are getting married. “Raise them up in the way that they should go.”  And if we, their elders, have not given them much of an example (and I shake my head when I think of my past) then why do we demand it now? So, physician, heal thyself!

To me it is more than a matter of physical modesty; an expensive stylish outfit that shows no leg below the knee or doesn’t accentuate the bosom, paired with gold jewelry, a flattering haircut and a bit of colour to hide the grey, is still not saying to the world that a Christian woman is standing before them. Of course, the Plainest of Plain dresses, the severest of headcovering, and a sharp temper with a rough tongue doesn’t either. Modest, simple, headcovering dress and a meek temperment tell the world that thee is a Christian!

I know many will disagree with that, that they don’t think headcovering is required, that it is oppressive and outdated. I say it is back in date, even if it dropped out for a while. The world needs the Christian witness more than ever, and if we do not make that witness, if we are not living martyrs to the ways of the world, then we are not listening to what the world needs, which is the Way of Christ. We are called to be prophets of a different sort, living out our faith by example rather than words.

Nor is it enough to marry in a modest dress, live modestly and covered, and never give of our hearts. Marriage is more than the binding of two into one and the establishment of a household. It is also living out the mission of the little family church that you have become. Marriage is a mission to the world. It is a way to show how God loves us, how Jesus saves us. It is a place of extravagant hospitality in the humblest of settings.

This does not mean that the wedding reception has to be an extravagant waste of money and resources, the most expensive of everything in order to impress one’s friends. The party can be quite modest in budget, and simple in taste, while providing the guests with a wonderful time of food and fellowship.  It can be as simple as cheese, fruit and lemonade, a barbecue of burgers and sausage and salads, or a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and juice. The wedding cake should be good cake, and if it is homemade, all the better, without the over-the-top decorations of the expensive cakes we see on television. (Not that I don’t love seeing the artistic creations, but what used to be ordered only on the corporate level for huge business parties is now expected at little suburban weddings.)

That’s the beginning of family hospitality. I don’t believe in head tables, special wines for the wedding party, or the horrid habit of numbering the tables for the buffet line. Have two buffets set up or have waiters, or keep the meal so simple that there is not a backup at the buffet. The food should be well-prepared, and most multi-item buffets just don’t meet that standard. It used to be a custom in some places for the wedding attendants or the bride’s family to serve the tables, and special aprons were made by the bride for that purpose.

And that’s just the beginning. Christian hospitality is not about entertaining friends and family every Sunday, though.  It goes well beyond that. The new family – this little church – has a mission in the world, to serve the hungry, provide for the needy, to reach out and love as Christ has loved us.  Activity in outreach, the food bank, the soup kitchen, the homeless shelter, or raising money for and even serving in mission beyond our own walls is part of the Christian family life. We will have no trouble practicing modesty if that is the mission we fulfill, because we will have little time for mirror gazing and contemplation of our own desires.

Hospitality and the Church

We can call the virtue of hospitality in the Church either radical hospitality or faithful hospitality. I use “radical” here not to evoke some wild, anarchist kind of hospitality, but that is the root (radix) of what we do. Hospitality is “faithful” because we do it under command.

God gave us hospitality in Eden. The first created humans lived entirely in God’s hospitality. All was love and generosity, care and nurturing. The earth itself was hospitable, sheltering, warm and nourishing. Why did Adam and Eve ever envy God? They had all that he had. But envy was their sin – they desired to be as God, thinking that it would somehow be better than what they had. (Obviously, Satan has already fallen- literally – into the sin of pride. Pride and envy are closely related.)

Is lack of hospitality a sin of envy and pride? We call it selfishness, but isn’t that a kind of pride? “I deserve to have this for myself, and not share it with someone of lesser value.”

Is there more to the myth of Eden than we think?

Christians and Hospitality, Part One

I was struggling along with this topic – I know what it is, but how do I define it? – when I read this over at Sustainable Traditions  by Ricci Kilmer – http://sustainabletraditions.com/2010/07/justice-at-christs-table. Ricci is asking the same questions we all are.

Our hospitality as Christians (little Christs) is more than a shared meal, a donation to the soup kitchen or volunteer work at the food bank, and it is even more than the hospitality of good sustainable practice in caring for the earth. It’s all about that, but all that is as straw if we do not start from the basic act of hospitality – the Lord’s Supper.

Most of us experience the Eucharist (the thank offering) as a formal rite. We listen to the priest/minister, the actions are taken, the words said, the congregants march forward and kneel or stand (or the bits are passed along the pew) and we get a mere taste of thin wafer and a sip of possibly not very good wine.

These seems as hospitable as receiving a measles vaccine in the school cafeteria.

Before we get into a bunch of liturgical/theological debates: The words of institution must be said. Those who receive it must be baptized – washed clean for the feast. (How these are done, by whom and when is not part of this discussion.) We are there to share this feast with Jesus Christ and all the faithful everywhere and throughout time. It does take some preparation.

Have you ever experienced this? People have gathered for an evening meal. They are friends, family, even strangers who have joined the others on a moment’s invitation. The dishes are served, wine is poured, conversation is general and happy. The last dish is taken from the cloth, with just the basket of bread and the bottle of wine remaining. And someone stands up – the householder, his wife, a guest – and says to all, “In the night in which He died, Our Lord Jesus Christ took bread…” and the rest of that story is told. The bread is passed from the common loaf (real bread, baked that day) and the cup of wine is passed hand to hand, a full cup that is renewed as needed (real wine, local, organic, fit to drink.) Everyone says together, “Maranatha, Lord Jesus, come.”

That’s Christian hospitality.

In it we not only re-enact and take part in the first Great Feast, but we enter and remain in His Kingdom, sustained by food, prayer and mutual love in Him.

Pinball Wizards and the Church, But Mostly about Hospitality

Mother Kay and I watched an old episode of the reality show “Ace of Cakes” last night. (We are cake voyeurs.) Duff, the owner and head chef at Charm City Cakes, brought a pinball machine to the bakery to inspire a commissioned cake.  (Which was really a set display piece and not a cake, which must have been very disappointing to people who saw Duff deliver the cake at the pinball convention.)  Then the Stanley Cup came for a visit. The bakers play with light swords and helmets when they make Stars Wars cakes. They really get into their work.

I’m not a culture junkie, but let’s face the facts – we all want to have some fun at work. We all want to laugh a bit. We all like some games and a modicum of silliness. The great saints weren’t dead serious all the the time. They had a glass of wine with the monks, told jokes and ridiculous stories, and even Mother Teresa laughed and joked and hugged and partied a bit, in the midst of the tragedies that surrounded her in Calcutta. Fun and laughter engender creativity, which is part of our holy image.

I encourage churches to plant gardens. There’s a great deal of God-partnering creativity there, and who doesn’t laugh and smile when they see a garden growing and blooming? I used to have my confirmation students take on craft and art projects – big paper banners to hang in the church on special occasions. It wasn’t expensive, it wasn’t anything to last forever, but they got to contribute to the liturgy and the church environment. They had fun doing it.

I think the church hall could use a pinball machine. The hall could use a glass of wine and some music, too. Our hospitality to others and to ourselves is so weak. Don’t just serve lemonade on the lawn, serve it on the sidewalk! Have a meal after church service, a good meal, not a cheap meal, and put up signs all over the town “Join us at NOON Sunday for a celebration of joy!” If people know we are joyous and a fun bunch of people, who are that way because we love God and each other, they may join us at 11 am on Sunday. And if they don’t, well, they got to see a group of Christians who care.

All those meetings we have in the church – oh, lots of them, too many to count – they need to involve some fun components. Serve good coffee and snacks, creative snacks, not just the box of Tim’s doughnuts or the fruit tray. Bowls of yummy home-made granola. Fresh-baked bread and good cheese. Chocolate dipped strawberries.  (As an aside, seminarians learn to find the free food, usually laid on for the higher-ups like board members. And the skill persists. Nicholas and I were at someone else’s seminary a couple of years ago, working in their library. This wasn’t even our denomination; I was cataloguing a unique collection and he was reading John Howard Yoder. Their local clergy had sponsored a seminar and they left an unattended coffee buffet outside the auditorium. A quick glance up and down the corridor, and several muffins and a couple of cups of coffee walked away. At university, we theology students found that the business department that bordered our wing sponsored occasional buffet brunches.  They had chandeliers and couches in their lounge. We had plastic chairs out in the hall. We paid as much in tuition, so we felt no qualms about walking through the adjoining door and helping ourselves to the Friday fruit salad and danish.)

I’m not sure why we make people sit through church before we reward them with coffee and stale mini-donuts. Shouldn’t we set up a coffee and tea service in the narthex so people can refresh themselves through the sermon and the choir anthem?

I could say something here about food charity. Okay, I will. When buying for the food bank, don’t be stingy. There are just pennies difference between the cheap soup and the good soup, between oatie-o’s and the Gen’ral Mills brand that rhymes with Tear-ios. Poor people are always having to buy the cheaper brand. Buy them the good one! (And please stop donating the cans of black olives. You don’t like them, either.)

As for distant hospitality – why aren’t we fighting harder for food and water aid in places that have neither? Are we keeping it for ourselves, as if we needed all of it? We don’t. There are surpluses. Maybe I’ve said this before. If the U.S. Army can move entire military bases thousands of miles and set them up in hostile territory, why can’t they set up aid bases where they are needed? The “local corruption and war lords” argument is not working for me. There’s no money in it for oil companies, armament suppliers and the Pentagon overlords, so it doesn’t get done. Fight for it, out there! Write letters, email your bishop, throw some good demonstrations when and where they count. Forget the G8/G20 conferences. They never see the protesters, who now are known as thugs and troublemakers. (Fair or not, that’s how they are viewed.) How about a big sit-down protest at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC? Or in front of Westminster Abbey, or Notre Dame? Lots of signs saying “Feed the world now,” some speeches by celebrities, and don’t move for three or four days.

Hospitality is more than coffee after church; it is everything from a cup of cold water given in love to massive movements of rice and medicine in the name of the Lord. Are we stingy? Are we cheap?

If it were Jesus asking for bread, would you give Him a stale crust, or reach for the freshly baked whole wheat loaf?