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Saturday, January 17, 2009


The notion of hospitality is related to the word "hospital." It comes from Latin hospitālitās, from hospitālis (see hospital). In other words, we practice true hospitality when we generously and cordially throw open the doors of our homes to care for others. In hospitality, we nurture, strengthen and serve. The result is that others find physical, spiritual and emotional help. When they leave us, they are healthier and more whole than when they came.

So let's contrast that with today's version of hospitality. Does it match? What do you think of when you hear that word? There's a hospitality industry. Perhaps it could be considered to have these elements. (Of course it charges a fee for its caring and serving.) That seems like one legitimate definition. Hospitals provide similar services (for a fee), but in a different context. Still, it sounds pretty legitimate when compared to the original meaning and origin of the word.

What is it that causes me to pause and reflect on this word then? Why would I question our modern-day understanding of what hospitality is? Well, I just finished reading the local city magazine for our town. You know the type. They extol the virtues of cosmetic surgery and talk about how family-friendly the city is. There's often a feature story on some local household and how remarkable they are.

In our city, that story is most often centered around how they've bought or built a wonderful (huge) home. The story will go on about how they've meticulously imported antiques or some mirror or stairway spindles from Europe, hauled a rug from their travels to Asia, and spent $2 million designing a "magical garden" complete with foot paths and a koi pond. I'm not exaggerating here. There are stories like this in our local magazine several times each year.

Invariably, the proud homeowners will be quoted as saying something like, "We felt a little guilty having such a big and fabulous home. But we told the Lord we would surely use it to minister to others." Then they talk about the great parties they've thrown and the fun they've had throwing those parties. Ducky Bob's brought the tents. A terrific caterer that once catered for former President Bush did the food. Dozens of people came, including celebrities. This of course was the "ministry" that the homeowners dedicated their palace to God for.

Once some old acquaintances invited us to their home. It was one of those 'picture-perfect' magazine homes. (They had become quite wealthy.) I have to say that we felt anything but loved and nurtured while we were there. It seemed mostly they just liked to talk about their stuff. They boasted about all they had, put down people less fortunate than themselves, and even made fun of us in some ways. When we left, we were not (physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually) healthier or more whole than when we had arrived. Quite the opposite was true. Visiting them was stressful and felt like a chore that we would be glad to have out of the way.

What is happening here? Our modern-day culture is practicing a rather perverse form of hospitality. How can I say it's perverse? Because opening your mansion to the "little people" so they can admire your greatness and prosperity is not hospitality. Rather it is selfishness and pride. It displays greed. There is a significant difference between entertaining and hospitality. More often than not, people who think they are being hospitable are just entertaining.

So if you think you have "the gift of hospitality," ask yourself who is better off after you have hosted someone. Who feels better about it ... you or your guests? Perhaps those of us who "just love to entertain" need to realize that entertainment focuses all the attention on me. Hospitality focuses all my attention on you. And if I'm truly hospitable, you'll leave my home healthier and more whole than you were when you arrived!

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