Hospitality in a Time of Coronavirus
The Gospel of Luke tells many stories about meals. Jesus dines regularly throughout the Gospel, and a good portion of his teaching either occurs in meal settings or references meals. This emphasis on meals is part of a larger theme of the all-inclusive, boundary-breaking hospitality of God, lived out by Jesus, who welcomes all.
In chapter 14 of Luke, meals are front and center. Observing how guests at a meal seek places of honor, Jesus tells a parable about humility: take "the lowest place," he says, so that when your host comes, he might move you into a place of honor rather than the other way around (14:8-11). He instructs the hosts of banquets to invite socially marginalized guests, who cannot repay them, rather than friends and family or the rich who can (14:12-14). Then in response to a comment about a hoped-for banquet of God (14:15), he tells a parable—often referred to as the Parable of the Great Feast. People who are first invited by the host defer, so the host sends invitations to "the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame" and then to those far afield, outside the town on the highways and hedged roads (14:16-24). These teachings sum up the wide-open table in Luke-Acts: hospitality is about creating a space of belonging and welcome for all, not just the people who are closest to us or who are likely to invite us back in return.
How do we practice hospitality in a time of COVID-19, when we are sequestered in our homes? Many of us have dived into virtual hospitality, hosting gatherings, reunions, and Bible studies in Brady-Bunch squares. We've edited together short clips by well-wishers for celebrations and used social media groups to create community.
Beyond virtual hospitality, people are finding inventive ways to keep open to others in this strange time. We are meeting for meals or conversation outside, with appropriate space in between. I have been touched to see teachers driving by the homes of the children in their classes, and folks organizing celebratory supportive car parades for friends. People are contributing to food banks and donating to organizations, such as our local Malibu Labor Exchange, to support others who are out of work. We are making and sharing masks, dropping off care packages for health-care professionals, and shopping for senior neighbors. A friend told me that her college ministry was meeting virtually but missed their normal meals together. One member of the congregation took it upon herself to make and deliver dinner for all twelve college students, as well as ministry leaders, so that everyone could eat the same meal together when they met online.
A desire to create larger spaces of welcome has resulted in fun and creative ideas. Coloradans come outside every night at 8 a.m. to howl together, which one participant described as "an oddly good feeling of community." Musicians are sharing music from their balconies or porches. Quarantine chalk art has been popping up on driveways, sidewalks, and fences all over the U.S. Mother-daughter duo Jan and Olivia Riggins in Forth Worth, Texas, have chalked beautiful, three-dimensional animals all over their neighborhood. After creating a chalk piece for a four-year-old who couldn't have a party, Jan said, "We were able to watch his reaction from the car when he came out. It was priceless!" High schoolers Chloe and Logan Klinck have been decorating driveways in their Fort Myers, Florida, neighborhood as greetings "to all the little children that might not be with their friends right now."
The Koto family of Gross Pointe, Michigan, created a Monty-Python inspired humorous form of hospitality. They put up signs on either ends of the sidewalk in front of their home that read: "You have now entered the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Silly Walks. Commence silly walking immediately." The family records the entertaining results on their front door cam and posts on Instagram. This creative connection has been a hit, so much so, that homeowners across the country have brought the idea to their own neighborhoods. Maureen Salmon, who hosts a silly walk in front of her San Luis Obispo, California, home reflected that the signs "help us to see and interact with our neighbors. It's fun to hear people giggling . . . and planning their moves. I think it's uplifting to people's spirits."
I am grateful for all of these examples of generous and imaginative hospitality, which provide spaces of welcome, inclusion, and belonging. By contributing to a world of acceptance, a world in which we see and value each other, these hosts live out Jesus's example of an open table, which is so needed during this time of great challenge and suffering.
Last week, at a virtual worship celebrating graduation for Pepperdine's Seaver College, I appreciated the words of one of the undergraduate speakers, Payton Silket. Payton reminded followers of Christ that one of the most basic—and perhaps counterintuitive—ways to practice hospitality in a time of COVID-19 may actually be to stay away from others. He pointed out that Jesus calls us to love the stranger, which is at the very core of hospitality. Practicing social distancing is an opportunity to expand our love beyond our own immediate circles. When we understand that our choices and actions may have profound consequences for other people—effects we may never even see—then we will do our best to limit the spread of this disease. By doing so, we love the stranger in the same way that Christ has loved us.
|Kindy Pfremmer De Long has a Ph.D. in Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity from the University of Notre Dame and began her faculty appointment at Seaver College in 2007. Previously she served as Pepperdine's associate director of Corporate and Foundation Relations and in the office of International Programs. She began as Associate Dean of Seaver College in 2018.|