Jesus, the Dalai Lama, and Hospitality

If you are brand new to Unitarian Universalism, bring your hospitality. If you have been a member of one of our congregations for sixty years, you have a special responsibility to demonstrate hospitality for the newer folk.

Radical hospitality goes beyond coffee and donuts and a greeter at the door. It is an orientation of our being that sees everyone as a valued guest.

In Luke, Jesus says: when we are to have a dinner, do not invite your friends or the rich folk.
“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” (Luke 14: 12-14)
Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. We are here to serve.

I was at a talk once by Sharon Salzberg. She's a spiritual leader and teacher who, in the course of her training and travels, has had occasion to spend a fair amount of time with the Dalai Lama. They’ve gotten to know each other. She spoke of how the Dalai Lama seems to have an almost-magical radar for suffering – and he goes to it. Once, she said, she had had an accident and broken her leg, and was attending an event on crutches and cast. She reported that the room was full of a hundred or two people gnoshing and talking. The Dalai Lama entered, paused just a moment, then made his way straight to her. He was drawn as if by a magnet to wherever the need for care was greatest. So with a room full of various dignitaries and spiritual leaders, he went right to where the injury was. He held her in the embrace of his gentle attention, and said, “What happened?”

Hospitality is responding to the need. It can start with seeing a coffee cup that needs refilling. In its radical form, hospitality goes to the greatest needs. So Jesus, being the radical he was, told us that it’s not about tending to your friends, tending to the wealthy who can help you get or remain wealthy. It’s about the the poor, the crippled, the blind, the hurt, the outcast.

Go to the need. Go to be with it in care. Love the stranger into the family of belonging.

This is a radically anti-consumerist approach to congregational life. On the consumerist model, the members of a congregation are essentially customers. They pay a percentage of their income – and get a product, a service, in return. They get to see a nice show on Sunday morning, nice classes for the kids, a minister to talk to when you’re troubled. Fee for service. The radical hospitality perspective is completely opposite. The building and grounds legally belong to the membership, but spiritually a congregation belongs not to its present members. It belongs to those who aren’t members – not yet, and maybe never will be – but who need it.

Our message to visitors, first-time or any-time, is: We belong to you. Maybe you only need us for one day, one hour. Or maybe for a couple weeks. Or maybe for the rest of your life. Doesn’t matter. We belong to you. One way of putting that is to say, the church is not ours, it is God’s. Another way is to say, we are not here for our own self-interests. There is something beyond, or deeper, or higher, or wider, than gratification of our own passing impulses. There is a love not encapsulated within our own tastes and pleasures, and we are here to serve love.

In a manner of speaking, it is a fee for service deal after all -- only, the service we're talking about is not the service you get. It's the service you give, the service we give which your financial contribution helps enable this congregation to offer to others.

To get ourselves into that welcoming state of being requires making time, making space, slowing down, and listening to one another. Listening is a healing art. There are books you can read, seminars and trainings you can go to, skills to build for the practice of the healing art of listening. And they’re great. For right now, though, I just want to ask you simply breathe into those words for a moment:

Listening is a healing art.

Do you feel the opening, the spaciousness that comes from that orientation?

Go to the need, go to the other, the stranger, the visitor, the guest. Ask, “what happened?” – or just “how are you?” “What is your quest?” – and listen. That’s giving the gift of hospitality.

What we get in return is that hospitality to others helps make ourselves whole, free from the self-preoccupation and narcissism that flesh is heir to. Hospitality asks, “May I know you better and break down my judgment and categorization of you so that my tight little heart stretches a bit?” In the stretching we make room for the deep longing of our hearts, to build and live in a world where no one is excluded, where all are heard, where no one’s tears go unnoticed.

* * *
This is part 2 of 3 of "Radical Hospitality."
See also
Part 1: This Being Human is a Guest House
Part 3: Hospitality is Risky

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