Posted on 04 September 2015.
By Ronnie McBrayer
Sociologist Robert Putnam wrote a book some years ago entitled, “Bowling Alone.” Bowling, unbelievably, is the most participated in sport in America. Annually, more people bowl than any other single sport. But, fewer people are bowling in leagues than any other time in US history. Thus, people are “bowling alone,” in isolation, not in community and connection with others.
Putnam uses this as a metaphor for our society. While technologically linked (more than ever), we interact far less with people, and are more disconnected, than at any other time in human history. The result is less and less social cohesiveness and civility, breeding conflict, distrust, hostility, and competition.
People of faith, ironically enough, have a solution for this problem. In a word, it is hospitality. Hospitality, as used in the New Testament, is not the act of being nice, though a little kindness would go a long way in this world. Rather, hospitality is openness to the stranger. William Tyndale, one of the first persons to translate the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible into English, translated hospitality as, “a harborous disposition.” To create safe harbors, safe places for others to come in from the storm and find safety, wholeness, and welcome—this is hospitality.
A cursory look at the word hospitality shows that Tyndale was on track. Hospital is the root of the word, and a hospital, originally, wasn’t a high-tech medical facility. A hospital was a guesthouse for pilgrims, who were traveling long journeys. These were hostels, hospitals, or hospices, which is the Latin root.
Obviously, hospice has been transliterated directly into English. But hospices, in the original sense of the word, don’t belong exclusively to the healthcare industry; and it’s not just for the dying. Hospitality is a requirement for all weary travelers on their long, varied journeys; and that is, indeed, the work of the church.
Hospitality is an invitation for the stranger to feel welcomed; for the outlier to find a home; for the exhausted to find rest; and for the traveler to resupply for the trail ahead. Hospitality, practiced properly, is to do no less than fulfill the words of Jesus who said, “As you do for the least of these, you do for me. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me in.”
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.