Subversive hospitality

Hospitality. I feel it may be a lost art. In the busy chaos of life, frenetic schedules, and individual pursuits, is there truly any space for opening our homes and our lives? Too few meals are shared with beauty, feasting, and wine over meaningful conversation that lingers on well into the night. But this makes sense. After cramming like a maniac to meet the deadline at work, surviving the two-year-old’s birthday party, running a load of laundry with what appears to be all the underwear one owns, somehow remembering to pay the AT&T bill that is five days overdue, and finally picking up a roasted chicken and bagged salad before collapsing in front of the latest episode of The Bachelor—is there really anything left?

And what about community and the sense that we are a part of something far bigger than ourselves? Sometimes I fear we have lost this as well. In the midst of a culture built on fierce individualism and personal freedom that trumps the common good. In the relentless barrage of technology and information that surely is a poor substitute for true friendship and connection. In the fragmentation of life where we often travel in isolation cages with wheels from garage to work and then back to garage again.

I find myself longing for the good old days. A place in time where everybody knows your name, where the pace of life slows, where conversations over meals are savored, and where there is dancing, storytelling, feasting, and laughter. Where communities gather regularly to share in worship, commerce, socials, barn raisings, and harvesting. Of course, I’ve never lived in such a time. My limited knowledge comes merely from the books I devoured as a freckle-faced, red-haired kid. Along with the delectable indulgence of watching my weekly allowance of television, which was either the more scandalous The Waltons or the more genteel Little House on the Prairie. My own history only goes as far back as the ’70s, but I guess I can thank my Jesus-crazed hippie parents and those formative years in the commune for my freakishly abnormal value for community. In fact, I don’t know how to do life any other way.

Going against the status quo might come from the hippie parents as well. For it bothers me that life today is organized around the economics of capitalism. At the expense of our own well-being, our children, our communities, not to mention those whose backs our “happiness” has been built upon. Don’t get me started. Just. Don’t get me started. From our food sources to our housing, healthcare, prisons, and education systems. It’s not that we are without the intellect, resources, or creativity to fix them. It is just that it simply costs too much.

But I fear my rant is dismal and bordering on the catastrophic when I consider myself to be an optimist. But this I do believe with all my heart. With all my hippie-loving-communal heart. In these uncertain times when we can’t help but feel disillusioned and demoralized with the constant onslaught of politics, injustice, war, and violence, there is one thing we can do.

One amazing, defiant, subversive thing.

Practice hospitality.

If you are looking to “stick it to the man” (and most likely you are in our current climate), get to know your neighbors. Yes, your actual neighbors. And no, I am not kidding. Even the neighbor in the sketchy house with the overgrown yard. Go over and introduce yourself. You might find out a thing or two, not the least of which that your elderly neighbor’s been ill and shut in. Get to know your neighbors—the master gardener next door, the plumber who insists on parking his truck in front of your house, and the single mom across the street. This simple act has the power to transform your community.

If you are hoping to make a difference in the midst of rampant racism, bigotry, and wall-building, welcome others different from you into your home. Share a meal and hear their stories. You just might find out that these new friends are the most courageous and resilient people you know. Invite the stranger. Welcome the outsider. It’s the most subversive act you can do.

If you are longing for meaning and connection, invite others to your table. Eat together. Share wine or a book or a cup of coffee. Feast together. Share a meal, share your presence, and share your life. Yes, this will require slowing down, saying no to some good things, letting go of perfection, and being vulnerable. But it’s worth it. Being present to others invites the best of what it means to be human. So go on and be subversive. Invite. Feast. Tell stories. Listen. Connect. Learn. Laugh. Empower. Transform.

Practice hospitality.

Jessica Ketola is an artist, neighborhood curator, spiritual director, party host, and blogger. Mother to four mostly grown children, Jessica pastors The Practicing Church as she, her husband, and their community join in God’s dream for their neighborhood.

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