I visited a nearby Hindu temple earlier this week, for a wide variety of reasons. I suppose in part I went to learn something new, or to make a new friend, but I suspect I also wanted to re-experience being an outsider at a place of worship.
I ended up having a wonderful time talking with one of their priests. We talked about how our communities worship, our differing roles as religious leaders, and chuckled at the similar expectations and demands we both experienced.
When the time came for me to leave my host pulled me aside, dropped an apple in my hand, and wished me well.
Just a simple gesture, but it carried a profound reminder: I was an honored guest. It reminded me of my experiences growing up in Japan, where I learned that most Eastern religions cannot be separated from the Eastern practice of hospitality. I don’t mean merely giving away apples or adhering to etiquette. Hospitality, for most of the Eastern people I’ve come to know, runs far deeper.
Hospitality is consumed with blessing the person in front of you.
Which has been a part of my Christian tradition since Abraham and Genesis 12. The parallel shouldn’t surprise me, since Christianity was an Eastern religion before it was a Western one. But the apple in my hand brought the question to my mind: Is hospitality as deeply ingrained in my faith as it was for my Eastern forefathers (Old Testament Jews and 1st century Christians)?
I’m afraid the answer is no.
This matters to me because it impacts my posture towards everyone I come into contact with… especially those who don’t share my beliefs.
When evangelism is practiced apart from rich hospitality love is reduced to going through the motions. Doctrine is divorced from blessing, and truth is torn from grace. People become numbers, conversations become a means to an end, and everything but conversion (conquest?) becomes frustration. Our friends often feel used, and we feel trapped by the guilt of our own incompetence.
My Hindu friend, likely without even meaning to, reminded me of a still more excellent way.
The way that pairs evangelism with hospitality, that restores love to full-bodied practice, where doctrine conveys blessing, and truth and grace arrive hand-in-hand. The way where people bear God’s image, conversations matter, and conversion is a process, not an end. Our friends often feel honored, and we are freed to see God move.
We would do well to return to the rich practice of hospitality, of blessing others. We need not worry that the word “bless” sounds awkwardly archaic, best suited for grandmothers or elderly priests. We simply need to ask ourselves simple questions like these:
Who have I affirmed today?
How did I show kindness today?
What gift did I give today?
May we be consumed with blessing the person in front of us.