In her recently released book, Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness, Leslie Verner has written a deeply personal, beautifully real account of how proximity to difference can change us, and how hospitality is much messier and more vital than we’ve been taught.
A capable storyteller, Leslie weaves her experiences with traveling and living in other countries with stories of learning to stay and welcome immigrants in the USA and with biblical and social insights picked up along the way.
I appreciated her down-to-earth perspective as a mom to three little children, sharing honestly that sometimes she longs to be more involved with ministry initiatives beyond the four walls of her home. But she’s learned that instead of trying to “veer over onto everyone else’s roads,” God was calling her to “stay on [her own] Jericho road,” being attentive to the people who crossed her path.
This resonated with me, as I also feel that itch to do more “out there” ministry when much of my ministry is very home-based at the moment due to having small kids. But how often do I ignore or not even notice opportunities right under my nose? Leslie reminds me to pay attention.
Leslie’s call to the Church to embrace a view of hospitality that goes beyond doilies and Martha Stewart is delightfully expressed:
“Reimagining hospitality in the West requires cavorting with a God who delights in busting up our normalcy with divine creativity. Loving strangers, opening our homes, inviting others, accepting invitations, and sometimes inviting ourselves into a person’s life are all habits that huddle together under the umbrella of hospitality” (p. 117).
She further summarizes: “Contact with other humans is the goal; connection is the calling.”
This calling is not always safe. And this rattles us, because, “The Western god is primarily concerned with safe journeys, smooth transitions, and a peaceful night’s slumber, apparently.” But the Jesus of the Bible is not like that. Leslie quotes C.S. Lewis’s Mr. Beaver, “He’s not safe, but He’s good.” But, she continues: “How do we live for a good God who isn’t necessarily predictable or safe? Often, we must leap the first hurdle to Spirit-led hospitality: a concern for our own comfort, safety, and security.”
She shares that through proximity to those who are different, safety has been redefined, because people who she might have feared or ignored before remind her of people she actually knows. “Fear fades when strangers have quirks, tattoos, and hobbies. When we know the names of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters.”
I’d highly recommend this book, especially to read together with others (there’s a robust discussion question section in the back). It will challenge you to reconsider a bigger vision for hospitality and inspire you with what is possible when believers open their hearts and homes and invite others in.