If you make a pot of soup (unlike a baseball field) people will not necessarily come, you have to invite folks to your table, especially if the invitation is a call to deeper truth and love. Yes, stay with me, I’m going there!
The word hospitality derives from the Latin word hospes, meaning host, guest, or stranger. The meaning of hospitality centers on the belief that strangers should be assisted and protected while traveling, but in the modern world it’s more about the generous entertainment, or reception of guests and visitors. Maybe we have hospitality all wrong? What if hospitality is not about serving but about finding kinship with those we are hosting?
Ironically I’m listening to a podcast on hospitality while cleaning the kitchen from the remnants of last night’s family dinner. The counter is stacked with greasy, food encrusted plates, trays, pots, and pans. This is the underbelly of dinner parties and one I never find immortalized on Instagram. Why is that?
I stand between my computer and the kitchen sink trying to decide what is less appealing?
Writing a new blog? Or cleaning the kitchen?
I decide to tackle the kitchen because I know there is no way I can focus on my writing while the house languishes in complete disarray, I can actually hear her bemoaning the wretchedness of her once gleaming counters, now laden with sticky debris, and I acquiesce to her needs. I make no excuses, it’s an ingrained response, I could invoke my beloved gender inequity jargon, but that would be trite, so I resist. You’re welcome.
While standing at the kitchen sink, methodically scrubbing the memories of last night off the plates, I listen attentively to three women (as if the trinity), Krista Tippett, Rev. Jennifer Bailey, and Lennon Flowers, discuss the topic of dinner parties, invitation, and the incredible power of enacting social change through our relationships. It’s beyond coincidence don’t you think? Totally.
“Relationships move at the speed of trust; social change moves at the speed of relationships.” Rev. Jennifer Bailey
Family dinners can run the gamut of stringent emotions, you’ll note laugher at one end of the table, commiserating tones at the other, snippets inspiring dialogue, informative speeches, the sharing of stories, along with a sprinkle of discord and conflict. This is what we do when we gather, maybe this is how we really see each other in the breaking of the bread, in the colloquial nature of an ordinary meal. The sharing of stories and ideas, some so repetitious we could scream, and others so novel it’s difficult to understand why this took so long to come to light.
But what is actually taking place around the dinner table?
Your personal ideology is irrelevant when it comes to hospitality, Krista Tippet adds, “it’s about inviting people to bring their best selves into the room.” That is so refreshing to my jaded ears, bringing our best selves means I get to leave the curmudgeonous parts of myself behind, and lead with that which I find most desirable, and developed. You know what I mean? The parts of me that delight in connecting with others, knowing I can’t fix someone else, because I’m not a therapist. Praise be to God.
If you’re not with me, get in the elevator, we’re going down, as if the Millennium Tower, because clearly we’re in need of stabilization, before we sink any further. Cheryl Oreglia
I think being our best selves involves listening respectfully, acknowledging one another as people with unique viewpoints, and diverse experiences. I for one shut down easily. If someone silences me at the table I stay there for quite some time, usually feeling rejected, schooled, or worse humiliated. I’m such a baby. There are ways to politely shift the conversation, or simply listen without comment, but why is that important?
One of the things I’ve noticed at many dinner parties is our inability to stay civil when we disagree with one another, as Jennifer Bailey describes, “if we are gonna do the work of what it means to grow into being fully human, to be in process, then we have to be teachable. We have to be moldable. We have to be willing to engage one another and be wrong sometimes.” This is difficult at any age but more so as we age.
I love how Lennon Flowers says, “that meals create a rhythm in a conversation.” I totally agree, she says the ability to pick up a fork or a glass, to take pauses that don’t feel awkward, because there is a difference between embracing silence as a gift versus being silenced. It seems evident that silence is not the enemy in conversations, James Robertson puts it this way, “there is something hugely civilized about allowing long pauses in a conversation. Very few people can stand that kind of silence.”
“Silence is such a lost art. Not every bait requires a response, and not every situation requires a status update.”
I think people are lonely and our social media habits are only exasperating this phenomenon. Relationships don’t just happen, you have to reach out, and invite others into your life. If you’re a fan of Jesus’ teaching this means making a place at your table for not only those who are marginalized, but isolated, who come with opposing political views, and religious persuasions, tax collectors included. This might include the cranky widowed neighbor? The recluse that rarely leaves his house? The neighborhood gossip that everyone avoids? Hospitality might be more about dismantling barriers even within our own families?
“Our common human hospitality longs to find room for those who are left out. It’s just who we are if allowed to foster something different, something more greatly resembling what God had in mind. Perhaps, together, we can teach each other how to bear the beams of love, persons becoming persons, right before our eyes.” Fr. Greg Boyle
I consider hospitality a unique form of art, it’s certainly creative, involves planning, shopping, preparing, and most importantly setting an attractive table, but then there’s the clean up. Some people seem to have a real knack for this type activity, I sort of wing it, and some (I won’t mention names) like to refer to me as Martha!
I love the story from the gospel of Luke where Jesus and his disciples come into town and a woman named Martha opens her home to this unexpected entourage. She has a sister named Mary, who sat at the Jesus’ feet listening to what he said. While Martha was distracted with all the preparations that had to be made, she came to Jesus and asked, “don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work? Tell her to help!” Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Again I might invoke my views on gender inequity here, but the point being listening to one another is transformative, leave the dishes for later.
My daughter Kelley who has situated herself in a new city has found a way to create community through dinner parties. She invites just about anyone she comes in contact with – neighbors, co-workers, people from the gym, travelers passing through, even the barista at the local coffee bar – and she brings them into her home for a family style meal as a way of curating community. She also hosts a popular Instagram Story called Dinner Unfiltered where she walks people through simple recipes that they too can use to bring people to their table. Check out Dinner Unfiltered, you won’t be disappointed.
A dinner table can be such a brave space don’t you think?
Recently I spent the weekend on the coast with dear friends. We have known each other for decades and I love the way we find ourselves in each others stories, how easily we bare our scars, support and heal one another. We’ve discovered that many of our best conversations start after dinner, after the food has been stored away, because sharing ones deeply embedded truth sometimes takes fermented grapes to bring forth. It’s a rare moment when our shared pain steps out into the open, but I’ve come to believe exposing our scars to each other is what allows them to fade, I love us.
“But nothing delights the mind so much as fond and loyal friendship. What a blessing it is to have hearts that are ready and willing to receive all your secrets in safety, with whom you are less afraid to share knowledge of something than keep it to yourself, whose conversation soothes your distress, whose advice helps you make up your mind, whose cheerfulness dissolves your sorrow, whose very appearance cheers you up!”
One of my best memories from the weekend was landing at Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero, for a bowl of artichoke soup, and some spicy Bloody Mary’s. We found a nice piece of real estate at the end of this enormous oak bar, and sort of took over the space, as the morning sifted into afternoon. In the best conversations, you don’t even remember what you talked about, only how it felt claims John Green. This is how I felt, as if wrapped in a soft blanket, swaddled if you will in mutual care, we often refer to this as belonging – safe, secure, beloved. There is a vastness in knowing you’re a person worth having.
I don’t think you can compel relationship, you can invite, and expect one to show up with their best self. It’s difficult to be human, we’re all struggling, find the courage to be kind.
I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, an open invitation to our bravest space.
he me much of what we understand and know about ourselves, our identity, are the stories we share
Together we will create brave space
Because there is no such thing as a ‘safe space’
We exist in the real world
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love”
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.
We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be
It will be our brave space together,
We will work on it side by side
Micky ScottBey Jones
- We’re all wireless communication devices, just like our phones. Martha Beck
- “Good conversation is the enemy of falsity, facade, and shallowness. It chases the truth of things, it demolishes the flimsy foundation of facade and it penetrates the depths so as to soar into unfolding possibility.”
- “Women speak because they wish to speak, whereas a man speaks only when driven to speak by something outside himself-like, for instance, he can’t find any clean socks.”