Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Part 1 of 3

FUELED BY NOUWEN. I’m not sure when my journey into hospitality as a primary practice for the intersection of spirituality and social work began. Whenever, however it was born, it was fueled by reading Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen. Particularly, Nouwen’s section “From Hostility to Hospitality” fascinated me. Nouwen described hospitality as I’d never before imagined it:

OFFERING A PLACE FOR FREEDOM. “Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment.”

UNLIKE ANTHING ELSE. This radical, risky kind of hospitality—along with its implications regarding Christian evangelism—pointed to something beyond what I was seeing in the practice of compassion in rescue missions and professional social work in our city. Rescue missions did the “soup, chapel, and bed” routine, but the line between evangelizing volunteers and “homeless people” was sharply drawn and relatively few escaped this system of compassion. Likewise, professional social workers in the community center I led at the time often felt trapped in merely dispensing demanded entitlements for persons defined almost entirely by their deficiencies, vulnerabilities, and at-risk lifestyles. Staff burned out quickly.

IS THERE A BETTER WAY? It was clear to me that in both typical rescue mission and professional social work, the givers felt taken and the takers were perceived to have nothing to give. There had to be more to compassion and the hope for personal and social transformation than that. Perhaps this idea of hospitality offered a better way.

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. John -- I hope there is another way. But I honestly feel very little hope about it these days. We, in the church, I'm afraid -- are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. I thank you for reminding us of Nouwen's words and challenge. He was a powerful influence on me. In many ways. He was the first Catholic priest that I ever received communion from...he was the first professor or priest that I was ever arrested with...He was so honest and open in talking about his sense of call and what was possible. Just writing about my experience of him now, gives me a sense of hope from where I started in typing this comment. Henri certainly lived his life as if -- even if things would not be different, even if hope was gone -- he would not bow and bend away from living the way he felt we were called to live. What a joy!


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