Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hospitality from the margins

Throughout Lent, we’ve been exploring hospitality at the Minster, through our sermon series and accompanying discussion group, and through the unexpected opportunity that arose when the people who were running a café in our building decided to move on to other things – we’re filling the gap with friends and volunteers until we can appoint a new manager, to be an integral part of our staff team.

This past Sunday I introduced the idea of hospitality from the margins, or how the opportunity to extend hospitality can empower people who lack power in society.

At our Tuesday evening conversation, we reflected on the story, told in 1 Kings 17, of Elijah receiving hospitality from a widow. Our reflections included:

[1] the possibility that she is a widow because her husband had died as a result of the drought, which would make Elijah complicit in her situation – and even if not, we find ourselves complicit in the issues of in/justice in our society.

[2] Elijah addresses the widow in very direct terms – not tentatively, and without (our) cultural niceties. Is he guilty of a sense of entitlement; or is he, by being so direct, demonstrating a confidence in the widow’s ability to provide that she herself lacks? And are we aware of the ways in which our words, spoken with a particular intent, can be taken as having a very different value-judgement?

[3] Elijah’s presence results in the widow being painfully reminded of her failings; indeed, she labours under the belief that God might be punishing her. Despite the miraculous provision she has seen, and participated in as someone with agency, she falls back on a lack of confidence in herself and in God when presented with a new crisis. Are we aware that our best intentions to empower others can also result in disempowerment? Not that this is reason to do nothing, but rather invitation and opportunity lead on to further challenges to be addressed.

We also reflected on our own personal experiences of receiving hospitality from the hands of someone with fewer resources than us – my experience of staying in the home of a Zambian widow; my conversation partner’s experience of working alongside a homeless man in a soup kitchen.

Have you experienced hospitality from the margins? (Where? When? Who? How? Why?)

Can you describe the impact, both intended and unintended?

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