Choose Hospitality

   On November 6, 2010 I tweeted the Most Regrettable Tweet of my mediocre social media career. In anticipation of the holiday season, I decided to weigh in on hospitality. The tweet was a flawless blend of selective memory and self-righteousness, designed to heap condemnation on the heads of my followers under the guise of offering wise counsel. It was a verbal “selfie” snapped from my best angle, positioned to make me look very, very good. Let’s have a look at it, shall we?
 “Moms: keeping an orderly house frees you to exercise hospitality at will. Both the order and the hospitality are examples to your children.”
   Note the double-whammy: if your house isn’t orderly on a daily basis, you will withhold hospitality from others and set a bad example for your children. Moms everywhere, be encouraged!
   Three years later, I still cringe remembering that tweet, mainly because I have failed to live up to it repeatedly ever since. I presume my house was clean on November 6, 2010, but it has rarely been so in recent months. Even as I type, I am looking out across a disordered landscape of scattered laundry, schoolbooks, dusty baseboards and chipped paint. That tweet neglected to mention what my house looked like when my children were small, how I would hide clutter in the dryer when guests came, how hard I found it just to get dinner on the table for my own family, much less for someone else’s. So I regret that I proposed to moms a standard to which I could not hold myself.
   But more importantly, I regret that tweet because I have come to recognize that the standard it proposed is flawed. It revealed my own lack of understanding about the nature and purpose of hospitality. In my self-righteous desire to offer advice, I had confused hospitality with its evil twin, entertaining. The two ideas could not be more different.
entertaining versus hospitality: what’s the difference?
   Entertaining involves setting the perfect tablescape after an exhaustive search on Pinterest. It chooses a menu that will impress, and then frets its way through each stage of preparation. It requires every throw pillow to be in place, every cobweb to be eradicated, every child to be neat and orderly. It plans extra time to don the perfect outfit before the first guest touches the doorbell on the seasonally decorated doorstep. And should any element of the plan fall short, entertaining perceives the entire evening to have been tainted. Entertaining focuses attention on self.
   Hospitality involves setting a table that makes everyone feel comfortable. It chooses a menu that allows face time with guests instead of being chained to the cook top. It picks up the house to make things pleasant, but doesn’t feel the need to conceal evidences of everyday life. It sometimes sits down to dinner with flour in its hair. It allows the gathering to be shaped by the quality of the conversation rather than the cuisine. Hospitality shows interest in the thoughts, feelings, pursuits and preferences of its guests. It is good at asking questions and listening intently to answers. Hospitality focuses attention on others.
  • Entertaining is always thinking about the next course. Hospitality burns the rolls because it was listening to a story.
  • Entertaining obsesses over what went wrong. Hospitality savors what was shared.
  • Entertaining, exhausted, says “It was nothing, really!” Hospitality thinks it was nothing. Really.
  • Entertaining seeks to impress. Hospitality seeks to bless.
   But the two practices can look so similar. Two people can set the same beautiful tablescape and serve the same gourmet meal, one with a motive to impress, the other with a motive to bless. How can we know the difference? Only the second of the two would invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind to pull up a chair and sip from the stemware. Our motives are revealed not just in how we set our tables, but in who we invite to join us at the feast. Entertaining invites those whom it will enjoy. Hospitality takes all comers.
why be hospitable?
   Hospitality is about many things, but it is not about keeping a perpetually orderly home. So, forgive me, Twitterverse, for my deplorable tweet. I could not have been more wrong. And may I have a do-over?
 “Moms: Exercise hospitality freely, clean house or not, to any and all. Willingness and generosity are the hallmarks of a hospitable home.”
   Orderly house or not, hospitality throws wide the doors. It offers itself expecting nothing in return. It keeps no record of its service, counts no cost, craves no thanks. It is nothing less than the joyous, habitual offering of those who recall a gracious table set before them in the presence of their enemies, of those who look forward to a glorious table yet to come.
   It is a means by which we imitate our infinitely hospitable God.
   So, three years later, here is my advice to myself as the holiday season begins: Forgo the empty pleasure of entertaining. Serve instead the high-heaped feast of hospitality, even as it has been served to you.
Sacred Story is honored to have Jen Wilkin as a guest contributor in December. She is a wife, mother of four, and advocate for women to love God with their minds through the faithful study of His word. Jen writes, speaks, and teaches women from the Bible.  Visit Jen’s blog.

Preparing a Place at the Table

“. . .and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you, this do in remembrance of me.'” I Corinthians 11:24

To get in step with the spirit of Advent, I went to a Presbyterian Women’s Christmas Communion Service today. It was over the lunch hour and I decided to meet a friend there. It was her church and we longed to connect afterwards. She met me at the grand old building with wooden pews, a stained-glass Savior and a narthex. (How often do you get to use the word “narthex” anymore?)

Ivy greens and red ribbons already encircled the marble columns outside and mocked the dreary day with their announcement: It’s Christmas time! It felt right to sit in pews and before the communion table, something my auditorium-style church supplanted. I hungered to take communion, as I did regularly in my old church—before I got married two years ago, and moved to Atlanta and followed my new family to their church. I missed it desperately, the bread and wine, and coming to the table.

My friend and I were easily the youngest Presbyterian Women at the Christmas Communion Service today. (And I’m 45.) Most were gray, some bent over their walkers, and all dressed in their proud red Christmas sweaters. Your mother was there with your grandmother and your great aunt, sitting before the table. My friend and I were surrounded. Deep wrinkles and welcome smiles. Eyes that sparkled. We were happily surrounded by red Christmas sweaters.

As a fairly new wife and step-mom (who didn’t do much cooking before I married), I began to consider all the tables these Presbyterian Women had prepared. All the meals, all the dishes, the endless preparation and repetition in care of her family. I pictured each one of the Presbyterian Women carefully planning their recent Thanksgiving, what to buy, and when. Who likes what and who doesn’t like what. My own mother had done this for our family again this year—the preparation for the table.

And I considered the anticipation. Something in a woman’s heart treasures the thought of her family crossing the threshold of her front door and sitting themselves at her table. The center of all the anticipation and preparation is her table, where she can nourish and delight her loved ones. It’s set with planning and love, considering the needs of each of her guests.

And now, we sat before the Lord’s table. And I heard Him whisper to the Presbyterian Women in their red sweaters, I prepared this for you. I have been thinking about you and anticipating the moment you’d be here. I planned to cross the threshold of your life and to welcome you to this table with love. I long to nourish and delight you. Come, eat. 

~Judy

 

 

The Heart of Hospitality

Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. (Romans 12:11-13, The Message) (Italics Mine)

What do you think of when someone says the word “hospitality,” especially during the holiday season? Something everyone else does perfectly? You can do it as long as it doesn’t involve family? Stressful?

Many people groan at the idea of hosting family or friends during the Christmas season. I’m not any different. Honestly, I prefer to avoid the anxiety that comes with hosting people. I dread all the cleaning before guests arrive and after they leave. Seriously, I come up with every excuse just like everyone else. I’m not in the mood for a party. I don’t have time to plan. How come we’re always the ones who host people? When is someone going to invite us for a change?

For most of us, when we think of hospitality we look at our boards on Pinterest. We see clean homes, perfectly set tables and amazing recipes. We look at all of the pictures and we tell ourselves, “We can never do that!”

The Bible looks at hospitality differently. Hospitality in Scripture means inviting people into our space — opening the doors of our homes to invite them into our lives and hearts. Think of Jesus’ ministry. During His life, hospitality provided a place for Him to teach, to rest and relax. During the early church, Christians opened their homes to provide a meeting place for worship and teaching. Scripture encourages hospitality for meeting the needs of the lost and hurting, demonstrating to them the love of Christ.

If we focus on the details of hospitality we miss the real purpose behind it. In fact, when we only see those details, we might miss the heart of hospitality altogether. If we focus on the condition of our homes, we miss sharing the truth that life is messy. If we stress about how people will fit into our home, we miss the opportunity to make room in our lives for others. If we worry about providing the perfect meal to serve, we miss the fellowship that comes with dining with friends and family.

Through hospitality, we share the love of Christ with others. God calls us to practice hospitality, whether it comes easy or not.  It’s an act of obedience to our Savior who made it possible to for us to have fellowship with our heavenly Father.

How are you responding to hosting family and friends during this Christmas season? What can you do today to focus on the heart of hospitality? God wants us to love one another because He first loved us. If you’re in the midst of hosting, planning or getting ready for people to come over, take heart! So be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord!” (Psalm 31:24, NLT) (Italics Mine). ~Raquel

 

Prepare A Room

“Let every heart prepare him room.” We sing this line from “Joy to the World” during Advent, the season set apart for celebrating the first coming of Jesus in the Incarnation. Yet often we forget that the way we receive our guests—the very act of feeding the hungry and giving a cup of water to the thirsty—is equivalent to welcoming Christ (see Matt. 25:38).

 Unfortunately, our own impossible standards of entertainment get in the way of reaching out. We might feel we have to have spotless kitchen counters. Or that we must set the perfect holiday table and serve our own homegrown artichokes, like Martha Stewart. Or perhaps we think we must create the perfect Pinterest version of soft gingerbread cake with cream cheese frosting and sugar-frosted cranberry garnish. Such standards often keep us from opening our homes and hearts to guests, friends and strangers. More damaging still is the idea that we must neglect our visitors in order to give them the perfect meal; here another Martha, the one in the Bible, comes to mind. But hospitality is primarily about people, not showmanship.

The scriptures have much to say about hospitality. While we might think of entertaining guests as a luxury, the Bible treats such generosity as a mark of true Christianity. That is, a Spirit-filled person opens his or her home.

To the first-century Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul said to “pursue hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). That’s active, not passive. And in personal missives to Titus and Timothy, he insisted that a male church leader “must be hospitable” (Tit. 1:8; 1 Tim. 3:2). Additionally, a paid widow was also to have “practiced hospitality.”

Elsewhere, the writer of Hebrews exhorted his audience with “Do not neglect hospitality, because through it some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2). I suspect he had in mind Sarah and Abraham, who fed some travelers before they had any idea these laughter-evoking visitors were heavenly beings. Finally, the apostle Peter said, “Show hospitality to one another without complaining.”

Ouch. That last admonition can hurt. That means when we open our homes, we mustn’t fuss when they drink all the milk we were saving to use on our cereal. Or when they take too long in the bathroom when we need to get ready for work. Or they talk too loudly on their cell phones late at night. Accommodation goes with the territory. But it’s worth it.

Recently I made a business trip to Baltimore, and instead of staying in a hotel, I lodged with my niece. She and her husband have three small boys who loved scaring and tackling “Aunt Sandi.” These relatives also had a delightful houseguest who’s a don at Cambridge, so our little Anglican-Episcopalian-evangelical group spent the last night at their dining table spread with Girl Scout cookies and home-brewed ale discussing everything from the new pope to the filioque clause to salted caramel ice cream to sweater-knitting. I came away thinking what a lovely family we have, and I mean that in both senses. Instead of watching CNN and answering endless email messages alone in my hotel room, I got a little taste of heaven. Letty M. Russell said, “Hospitality is the practice of God’s welcome by reaching across difference to participate in God’s actions.” As a recipient of someone else’s hospitality, I certainly came away feeling I had received God’s welcome as others reached across difference to make room for me.

Some of the members of our church spent Thanksgiving Day among the homeless. But instead of having them line up in an impersonal line, these believers loaded up their kids and their nice dishes, set tables, and had conversations with strangers over a meal with these guests.

Years ago, I read a thick tome about the political legacy of Lyndon B. Johnson titled Master of the Senate. Though not a big fan of the man, I came away with an appreciation for his valuing of facetime. Part of Johnson’s political mastery was in walking down the hall when others would have used less personal methods of communication. He believed that the strongest alliances can be formed in person. Enemies can become friends when they have to face each other. In this Johnson was right. And his wisdom illustrates one of the many benefits of sharing our homes.

When our Lord came to earth, he had no crib for a bed. And he continues to manifest himself through those in need of our open doors: The international student who would love to enter an American home or accompany a family to a Christmas musical. The shut-in who can’t travel and needs someone to come to her. And annoying Uncle Bubba who needs us to practice hospitality again this year—only this time, without complaint.

Why? “For the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these …you have done it unto me.’” Let every home prepare a room.

Sacred Story is honored to have Dr. Sandra Glahn as a guest contributor in December. She is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and the author of eighteen books, including the Coffee Cup Bible Study series. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sandraglahn.

O Holy Hospitality

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. I Peter 4:8-10 NIV

What does it mean for the single woman to practice hospitality? I find it a bit confusing at times. Is it inviting people over for a meal? If so, I face the barriers of not having a home and a spouse. I also encounter insecurity about appearing “grown up” to those who have children and husbands.

Is there more to being hospitable as a single woman and for that matter, women in every stage of life, than baked chicken, matching plates, and fresh flowers on the table? I looked up the word “hospitality” and the Greek word literally means “love of strangers.” Another definition I found helpful is “the quality or disposition of receiving or treating guests in a warm, friendly, generous manner.” Warm, friendly, and generous? Now those are worth pondering.

I started to think about how God shows hospitable qualities toward us. As guests in the world He created, we are strangers to His love because of our rebellion against Him. In spite of our brokenness, God’s heart doesn’t recoil from us because our indifference, hatred, and lack of belief. The Christmas message reveals His warmth of heart and compassion for our confusion and insecurity.

As the baby Jesus let out his first cry, God reached into our world by showing us that our friendship is worth everything to Him. He sent Jesus as tangible evidence. He is a God who wants to interact about what concerns us, brings a smile to our faces, and makes us feel like we are making a difference. He makes the sacrifice to restore our friendship.

God’s generosity demonstrates His hospitality. Even when we are unable to respond, He gives beyond what we can wrap our brains around. He generously gave His son, as a helpless infant into the arms of godly yet flawed parents and a turbulent society. He knew Jesus’ road of misunderstanding, suffering, and a painful death. God took the ultimate risk to give and experience loss for the sake of infinite gain.

When I consider the hospitality of God, I want to be a conduit of His love for strangers. Instead of the attitude, “I don’t have time. The person doesn’t seem interested anyway. I’m sure they have people who care about them.” I want to pray for warmth of heart toward people and a genuine desire to enter into their stories.

I want to move toward people in friendship by making sacrifices. It may sometimes mean giving up spending as much time with people who I feel more comfortable with. It may mean sacrificing what I feel like is the “right” setting to embrace a guest. It may mean looking beyond responses which feel like the person doesn’t care as much about me.

Sister, what barriers do you face to hospitality? How does God’s hospitality toward us in the birth of Christ make a difference to you?  ~Laura

Shaken by Circumstances

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”

Hebrews 12:28

The Thanksgiving holiday is in sight and we are called to be thankful.  There are seasons when it seems almost impossible to practice gratitude. Things are falling apart, and maybe have been for awhile. Your job is not what you thought it would be. Your kids are not obedient. Your marriage is suffering. You are struggling with your health. You are single—still.

And then there are greater, bigger picture things going on in the world that grab your attention. Horrible atrocities, people dying, social injustice, poverty, and the orphan crisis.

How can we practice being thankful when everywhere we look there is something hard to bear? What can we stand on if everything around us is falling apart?

A few years ago my husband and I were simultaneously facing the heartbreak of  infertility and a major job crisis. One would have been enough to deal with but the Lord, in his providence, allowed us to face both at the same time. There were days when we wondered if we would ever be through that dark valley. Our circumstances shook us on a daily basis; however there is a reason why Paul writes in Philippians to think on what is true (Phil. 4:8).

Meditating on what is true is a powerful remedy when we cannot stand. It certainly gave us hope when everything around us caused us despair. When we fix our eyes on what is true, it changes the way we see our circumstances. The circumstances themselves may not change but we know that God’s Word tells us that those who hope in the Lord will not be disappointed. (Is. 49:23)

Hebrews 12:28 tells us that in Christ we have received a “kingdom that cannot be shaken.”  That, my friend, is truth to stand on. What glorious hope is found in this verse! Circumstances will shake us. But in Christ we are never shaken. In Him we can bear whatever He allows us to walk through because He has triumphed over sin and we can have fellowship with God. We might feel shaken in this world but that does not change the truth. Once we understand that Christ is our only hope that saves us from the penalty of sin, we can stand firm and trust that He has purposes even in the suffering.

This Thanksgiving are you finding it hard to be thankful? Try fixing your eyes on Christ and what He has accomplished, and you will move from a shaky place into a place of worship and gratitude. ~Courtney

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace
.  -Helen H. Lemmel (1922)

Green Beans with Smoke, Spice and Everything Nice

“Everything nice” sounds like an inviting recipe, right?  Truly, it’s a tasty combination of flavors, especially if you enjoy a Southwestern palate.  How then do the green beans go from being plain to smoky and spicy and everything nice?  Simple: the cook adds the seasoning.  Such a profound concept of grace imbedded in a recipe!   The green beans are unable to become seasoned on their own.

As you sink your teeth into this dynamic combination of flavors, consider Ephesians 2:8-9…”For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Now, that is something amazing to give thanks for during this season of gratitude – I mean, “seasoning” of gratitude.  ~Lauren

1 1/2 lbs. green beans (as thin and tiny as possible), washed and ends trimmed

4 slices of thick-cut bacon, diced evenly

2 large shallots, halved lengthwise, peeled, and thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (more or less to your taste)

* optional: 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Put a skillet over medium heat and add bacon.  Cook until bacon fat has rendered and pieces are crispy to your liking.  Set aside.  (At this time, you may drain some of the fat off if you desire but leave at least 2 tablespoons.)

3. Blanch the beans in the boiling water for about 3 minutes or until beans or tender and bright green in color, not mushy and army green.

4. While green beans are cooking, return to the skillet to finish the sauce.  Place skillet over medium heat again and add shallots.  Cook until soft.  Turn up heat to medium high and add minced garlic.  Once it sizzles (being careful not to let it brown), add tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, chipotles, a generous pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper.  Stir ingredients and allow tomatoes to become soft.

5. Drain green beans and add to the hot skillet and toss.  Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

Serves 6-8

Cauliflower Puree

1/2 pound cauliflower florets, stems trimmed

3 cups water

Salt

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup heavy cream

2-3 tablespoons or more to taste grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Freshly ground pepper (white or black) to taste

Splash of fresh lemon juice, to taste

In a large saucepan, combine the cauliflower, water and salt over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook until the cauliflower is very soft, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain. Put the cauliflower, butter, cream, and cheese in a food processor and puree until smooth – like creamed potatoes.  Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

~Lauren

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

I am excited to share this side dish. By the way, each recipe is meant to tweak for your family and friends. If you like it spicy, add more spice. If you like bacon, pile it on. Enjoy! ~ Lauren

6 sweet potatoes, even in size and scrubbed

4 tablespoons brown sugar

4 tablespoons butter, room temperature

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

¼- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

* Optional garnish: ½ cup pecan halves, 1 tablespoon melted butter, 1 tablespoon white or brown sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Place sweet potatoes on sheet tray or in a baking dish and bake for 1 hour or until soft. Remove from oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.

3. Split the potatoes lengthwise (not in half, but only on one side) and remove the flesh to a medium sized bowl, reserving skins. In another bowl, add brown sugar, butter and cream cheese and the all of the spices and mash and mix with a wire whisk or fork.

4. With a rubber spatula, add the sweetened butter and cream cheese mixture to the sweet potato flesh and fold in completely. Add the filling back to the potato skins and place on a half sheet tray. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

5. Optional: If using pecans, toss pecans in a small bowl with melted butter, followed by sugar and salt and place on a small baking tray or into a small dish so that nuts are evenly spread but close and touching. Then put them into the oven on the lower rack for about 3-5 minutes, or until fragrant and lightly toasted.  Once cooled enough to handle, remove from tray and use whole or chop roughly and sprinkle over baked sweet potatoes when ready to serve.

Serves 6

Red Wine Braised Cabbage

You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.  I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.  –Psalm 4:7-8

As a trained chef, I realize that I speak two languages:  English and Food.  I hope you will feel welcome and enjoy reflecting in my kitchen.

Cooking is a beautiful and truth-revealing process when we take the time to reflect on what’s happening before our very eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.  If God truly created plants for us to eat, enjoy, and be nourished by, how then does the cooking process connect with Him and His words?  Looking for God in the everyday activities like cooking brings the fullness of joy.

As you make your plans to gather around a Thanksgiving table, may I suggest that you volunteer to bring “Red Wine Braised Cabbage” and consider it an exercise to reflect on the Lord’s safety.

While you are cooking, consider some thoughts:

What if our hearts were placed safely in a heavy cast iron pot with the intention of turning our bitter and sulfur smelling self into something tender and healthy?  What if we think about the Lord himself as having the ability like the cast iron pot to evenly distribute heat so that our bottoms do not burn! What if we think about the Lord providing His protection to us from ourselves through that enamel coating? We would rust without it!  Because we can’t properly “season” ourselves, he put His “coat” around us. What a visual for his promises of true safety as we give thanks at Thanksgiving.

Red Wine Braised Cabbage:

1 head of red cabbage, outer leaves removed, quartered, cored, and

sliced thinly

4 large firm and sweet apples

2 lemons, juiced

1 bottle of dry red wine

3 red or yellow onions, peeled and sliced thinly

6 tablespoons butter

¼ cup brown sugar

1 cup red wine vinegar

4 coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cinnamon (or a small cinnamon stick)

1 teaspoon dried thyme

pinch of nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy stew pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onions.  Stir while onions caramelize.  Once they are golden brown, add sugar and continue cooking and stirring until onions become dark brown but not burned.  This process should take about 15 minutes or so.
  3. Add the sliced cabbage, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the vinegar, and cook until dry, about 5 minutes.
  4. Pour the red wine into the pot and bring everything to a boil.  Add the coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon (or whole stick), thyme, and the juice of the lemons.  Add a generous pinch of salt and pepper.  Cover, and bake in oven for 1-1 ½ hours, until liquid is almost absorbed.
  5. While cabbage is cooking, peel, quarter, and slice apples thinly (about 1/8 inch thick).  Place the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan over high heat.  Once butter is melted, add apple slices.  Sprinkle lightly with salt.  Allow them to soften and brown a little.
  6. Remove cabbage from the oven and toss with the cooked apples.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 8-10. I’m eager to hear thoughts or questions you may have as you reflect and cook. ~ Lauren