CREATING SPACE/MAKING ROOM…
Mount Vernon Nazarene University
R. R. Hodges Chapel/Auditorium
Mount Vernon Nazarene University
2009 Winter Commencement Address
E. LeBron Fairbanks
During one Christmas season while Anne and I served at MVNU, we spent a fascinating evening in Columbus with two MVNU alumni. We walked to a nearby restaurant to purchase some Chinese food. We ate the meal by candlelight while sitting on the floor in a circle.
The meal was great. The two to three-hour discussion was phenomenal. Sharing our meal. Sharing our time. Sharing our journey. During the evening Anne and I experienced what the Bible refers to as hospitality.
I have been giving increasing thought to the relationship of spiritual hospitality to Christian leadership in the workforce where our vocation leads us. How do we “create space and make room” on the job or in our home, especially when we experience conflict and even collision between good and godly people over our vision and values.
This practice of hospitality was a way of life fundamental to Christian identity for seventeen hundred years of the Christian church. Christine Pohl convincingly documents this practice in her book, “Making Room: Recovering Hospitality in Christian Tradition.”
Biblically and theologically, the term “hospitality” is not limited to receiving a stranger into our homes – although it surely includes this dimension. Fundamentally, it is a core attitude toward others, which can be expressed by a great variety of behaviors. Hospitality, biblically understood, challenges us to relate to others as if we were relating to Christ Himself.
“Hospitality” means primarily the “creation of free space” – making room, to use Pohl’s words – in the midst of differences of thought or behaviors that may exist. With this perspective, the attitude of hospitality helps us to make room or create space for those with whom we live and work. It is being to others with whom you live and work, a “living witness of the risen Christ.”
The gift of Christian hospitality is the opportunity we provide for the colleague, co-worker, guest, stranger, family member or friend to find his or her own way. It enables us to consider an alternative way of thinking from those who may be very different from us. This gift to others invites them to contribute insights derived from their unique gifts and abilities, even in the context of differences of thought and behavior. In practicing hospitality and being hospitable, as leaders, we often serve as “angels of God” without even knowing it.
This is much more than being nice, feeding friends or enduring “hard to get along with” co-workers, colleagues, family members or friends. It is a way of life for leaders who are Christian and dictates how we approach those with whom we live, work and serve. For the strange and the strangers, the disenfranchised and lonely, our family members and friends, creating space and making room for them is the essence of hospitality, biblically understood.
The miracle of miracles is that we experience the “surprises of God” in our lives in the process of enabling others to grow and mature. Through “providing space” and “making room” for others to change, we are given “space” by God to grow and mature in Christlikeness. Spiritual hospitality is nothing less than the amazing grace of God working in us as Christian leaders and through us!
I spoke on this theme recently at the winter 2009 commencement of Mount Vernon Nazarene University. To read the full sermon manuscript click here. I welcome your thoughts on the address.
Dr. Dan Martin, MVNU President, presents a president emeritus lavaliere to LeBron
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Our blog host is out of the country, but I would like to take a shot at responding to your thought provoking questions.
My initial response was to ask whether tossing money at a problem is really a good example of compassion – it is difficult to know without knowing the motivation behind the action. Certainly, compassionate ministry needs money – especially in the case of Haiti…but, I think you are correct in understanding that real “compassion” has a much more up close aspect to it. There are many great papers and books written on the topic – worth the time to read, think and consider our personal philosophy of compassion.
The other part of this conversation is hospitality. As a pastor I think inside the church, as well as in society, that we typically think of hospitality as very simply how we receive and treat guests – be nice and welcoming …
What strikes a chord with me about how Dr. Fairbanks talks about hospitality is that it is an attitude of how we develop the space around us – wherever we go. It is like creating a bubble around us as an individual or a community. Not an isolating bubble, but a space or environment that when anyone enters the space, either by coming to us or by us going into their space, they notice a different set of attitudes, beliefs, philosophy of treating people…and yes, compassion within that space.
There is an ease about the space – it doesn’t scream “I am better than you because I have this figured out”. If anything, it is humble and servant like in its attitude. It says, “I stand beside you.” “I care about you.” “I am intentionally making space for you to find peace – for this moment while we are together!” – I am not sure there is anything more compassionate in our society with all its needs than to say – “I care enough to offer you a moment of peace … which I pray will lead you to find eternal peace.” Sometimes that means offering a cup of cold water, or housing . . . or a check to pay the bills, or even a gift toward disaster relief for people you have never encountered that out of the action of giving they can find peace. However, sometimes hospitality is simply being with someone, providing a safe space for them to ultimately find the eternal peace of Christ.
Now, to more directly respond to your question concerning the relationship between compassion and hospitality – yes, they are related and at times interchangeable…and yet, not always. In wresting to determine which comes first – it is a chicken and egg discussion. Hospitality and compassion are not mutually exclusive concerns. Sometimes they are extremely distinct in their manifestation. Other times, they are inseparable, or naturally flow from one to the other and back working in tandem. They are both attitude and action which can overcome the dynamic of distance, especially in our technically connected global community. Authentic hospitality and compassion start in the heart and move out to touch the hearts of everyone we encounter through the grace and power of the Christ we follow.
Administrative Assistant for Strategic Projects
International Board of Education
Church of the Nazarene
I’m glad the Lord continues to grow this concept of hospitality in you, and that you are sharing what you are learning.
I would have thought the acts described in the Matt. 25 passage were described as acts of compassion instead of hospitality. Compassion is mentioned within your commencement address, but how do you distinguish between hospitality and compassion? Can one show compassion without hospitality? Can one show hospitality without compassion?
For example, given the latest news of the earthquake in Haiti, would a financial contribution to the relief effort be an act of compassion but not necessarily an act of hospitality? Does hospitality require a “closeness” or “proximity” that compassion may not require? I would think that “creating space/making room” can only be done near me. Can it be done remotely?
Please take these for the inquiries that they are and not as criticisms. I’m just trying to think through what all hospitality would mean for me.
Dr. Martin, Great post. Other than the foot washing, can you give an example of how Christ demonstrated hospitality?