A decade ago I lived and studied in Vancouver. Like all of the students I knew, we were on a budget and Kraft Dinner was often the go-to feast on any given evening. Every so often we would, with barely a moment’s notice, call around to our friends and neighbours and invite them down to the beach to share our supper together. The rule was simple, bring what you’re about to eat that night, even if it was Kraft Dinner or hot dogs, and make a little extra to share. Within an hour we’d have a pile of food and a gathering of friends enjoying a picnic overlooking the ocean. It was perfect.
Martha Stewart raised the bar when it comes to hospitality. It would be unthinkable, in her mind, to serve dinner guests anything less than top-shelf foods, drinks and desserts. Entertaining guests has become an expensive activity, planned weeks in advance, and reserved for our very best guests. We seldom see Martha receive hospitality, stepping into another person’s home life and eating with them. She is always the party planner, the perfect host. Today we’re encouraged to be the same, perfect hosts, and if you’re like me you discover that you’re nowhere near living up to Martha’s standard. Instead of creating a culture of hospitality, this Martha Stewart vision of perfection has actually caused many people to forego being hospitable altogether. In the midst of our busy and hectic lives, hospitality may be seen as a needless bonus activity, not as the life-giving gatherings that bring joy and connectivity to our lives.
Hospitality, in it’s true form, is a sharing of life together. When we eat together, build friendships, and enter into each other’s homes, we discover that resources just don’t go in one direction, from host to guest. Rather we see that hospitality is a way of life, providing for each other out of sheer generosity, and accepting the generosity of others. Humans were made with the need for togetherness. We are wired to know and be known. God’s picture of peace is a world where people draw closer together, not further apart, and shared hospitality is a taste of God’s love for us.
When I was in Nairobi, Kenya, I spent time in a deeply impoverished slum. We were helping build a local school and were invited by local families into their homes. I had to learn quickly that although I was in Nairobi to give, hospitality was not a one-way street. I knew the bottle of Coca-Cola they bought to celebrate our visit was a pricey expense, but it was given as a welcoming gesture among friends and equals. Hospitality was not measured, it was not a transaction, it was a moment of friendship and grace.
What would it look like if Chestermere was a city of gracious hospitality? Not the Martha Stewart or Pinterest kind of hosting perfection, but the kind where we give and receive in simple and spontaneous ways. Whether you eat Kraft Dinner or steak, to be able to share our homes and resources in a way that welcomes others into your life, or opens the possibility for you to enter into the lives of those living on your street, would transform the way we live and care for each other.