Sunday, November 16, 2008

Radical hospitality

As a card-carrying member of the United Methodist Church I have been "indoctrinated" into the concept of radical hospitality by our current bishop, Janice Riggle Huie. She put forth a challenge to churches in the Texas Annual Conference to express, share, extend (pick your favorite word) radical hospitality to others as a means of sharing the love of Jesus Christ.

I think our church does a pretty good job of practicing radical hospitality through our outreach ministry efforts. However, the greatest challenge remains. It's not enough to practice radical hospitality, but to resist saying to ourselves in the process, "Well, here we are practicing radical hospitality toward those people again."

Most of us have read Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winning book, To Kill a Mockingbird -- a coming-of-age story of Scout Finch and her brother, Jem, who come to learn that prejudice is a very real aspect of their world in 1930's Alabama, no matter how subtle it seems. Yes, nearly everyone is familiar with the story of a black man accused of raping a white woman, but there are many classic scenes -- stories within the story -- that are worth noting. One of them, in my opinion, conveys the heart of radical hospitality.

It occurs in chapter 3 of the book. Jem and Scout come home from school to eat lunch with their lawyer father, Atticus Finch. Another boy from school, Walter Cunningham, whose family is terribly poor, comes with them. Here's what happens:

"While Walter piled food on his plate, he and Atticus talked together like two men, to the wonderment of Jem and me. Atticus was expounding upon farm problems when Walter interrupted to ask if there was any molasses in the house. Atticus summoned Calpurnia, who returned bearing the syrup pitcher. She stood waiting for Walter to help himself. Walter poured syrup on his vegetables and meat with a generous hand. He would probably have poured it into his milk glass had I not asked what the sam hill he was doing.

"The silver saucer clattered when he replaced the pitcher, and he quickly put his hands in his lap. Then he ducked his head.

"Atticus shook his head at me again. 'But he's gone and drowned his dinner in syrup,' I protested. 'He's poured it all over---'

"It was then that Calpurnia requested my presence in the kitchen. She was furious, and when she was furious Calpurnia's grammar became erratic. When in tranquility, her grammar was as good as anybody's in Maycomb. Atticus said Calpurnia had more education than most colored folks.

"When she squinted down at me the tiny lines around her eyes deepened. 'There's some folks who don't eat like us,' she whispered fiercely, 'but you ain't called on to contradict 'em at the table when they don't. That boy's yo' comp'ny and if he wants to eat up the table cloth you let him, you hear?'

"'He ain't company, Cal, he's just a Cunningham--'

"'Hush your mouth! Don't matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house's yo' comp'ny, and don't you let me catch you remarkin' on their ways like you was so high and mighty! Yo' folks might be better'n the Cunninghams but it don't count for nothin' the way you're disgracin' 'em -- if you can't act fit to eat at the table you can just set here and eat in the kitchen!'"

Well said, Calpurnia.

No comments: