Hospitality to the Stranger

I’m back at work after a wonderful weekend at the school for conversion in Lexington, KY. I have so much to tell, so my blog this week might be a series of stories about this weekend. I feel in some ways that words are too limiting to describe my thoughts: the joy I felt at being part of a family for a weekend; the heartbreak of leaving new, dear friends; the lament of being part of a culture that is broken and lost; the tension that still exists in trying to figure out how my community can glorify the Father best.

Before I launch into my experiences and how this weekend changed my life, I’ll tell you a story.

One of the marks of new monasticism is hospitality to the stranger. We must be inconvenienced for the sake of loving and serving others. Part of this involves opening our homes to people. Part of hospitality is also letting others be hospitable and serve us. It’s learning about grace through the kindness of strangers.

The Gladdings were our host family at Communality in Lexington. Sean and Rebecca opened their home to us, and I enjoyed every minute of my stay with them. Additionally, they have two young children who really showed me what it means to be hospitable and to love one another. Maggie is almost six years old, and Seth is four. The two of  them seemed to immediately attach themselves to Chris and me. Maggie eagerly ran to me each time she saw me, and she climbed into my lap with no hesitation. Yesterday morning, during our next-to-last session, the children were upstairs, and during the break, Maggie ran down to give me a picture she’d drawn of a rainbow and a rabbit. It’s safe to say that it’s something I’ll treasure for a long time.

Maggie and Seth showed me what it’s like to fully welcome someone into your life. What would happen if we threw aside all hesitation? If we loved one another with reckless abandon? If we shared a meal and risked getting too close to one another, being vulnerable? Life would be beautiful, indeed.

The most beautiful moment, however, came when we took communion. Mary, who led the communion, began by serving one of the other guests. She held out the loaf and the juice, saying, “This is Christ’s body that was broken for you, and this is His blood that was shed for you.” We then continued to serve one another. When it was Chris’ turn, he turned to Maggie, who was sitting on my lap, and offered her communion. She then took the loaf and the cup and turned to me, saying the words perfectly and looking straight at me. I took communion and then passed it on, and then I thanked God for showing me His love and grace through the little girl sitting in my lap.

I’ve never experienced such love from people I’d never met before. I’ve never known the feeling of a family to develop so quickly, as it did with the members of Communality and the guests that arrived from around the country (and Canada!) to attend the school. I hated leaving Lexington yesterday, and I’m eager to return to the city to visit all the new friends I made. Despite all the tension and anxiety I originally felt about attending the school for conversion, this weekend was one of the best experiences of my life. God has revealed Himself to me in really awesome ways, including taking communion with a five-year, and I’m so thankful for this experience.

The Tension is Here

On Friday, Chris and I will be driving to Lexington, Kentucky, to attend a school for conversion at a new monastic community called Communality.

New Monasticism is a movement among Christians to live in intentional community with one another, to share resources, to encourage one another, to help the poor and oppressed, and to bring the Gospel of Christ to this world in a real, tangible way.

The seminar, if you will, that we’re attending is called “Introduction to Christianity as a Way of Life.” It’s called a “school for conversion” because they believe that conversion is not a one-time event. In order to fully live the Christian life, we must constantly be in a state of conversion. Changing, adapting, renewing ourselves.

We’ll be studying the 12 marks of a new monasticism (see the link above for a full list). These marks are essentially the tenets of the new monastic movement. Each community is different in how they function because each community exists in a different environment. What works for Communality may not work for The Simple Way in Philadelphia or Rutba House in Durham, NC.

This week has been tension-filled as a result of this impending trip. The tension has been incredible. This week, as I’ve been reading for the school and as I’ve been almost constantly reflecting on community and new monasticism, it seems as though years of my life are converging all at once.

For instance, the Greek work for community is koinonia. It’s meaning is vast, but the word is often translated as fellowship or communion. The first time I ever heard the word was six and a half years ago, in my first English class at NGU. Dr. Bruce wanted our classroom to be a community–koinonia. It is his voice I hear as I read about community. That first mention years ago was already setting me up for the life I’m attempting to live now.

Three years ago, I read Shane Claiborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution, and I was intrigued and terrified by his experience and discussion of new monasticism. I desperately wanted community, but I wasn’t ready to devote that much of my life to it yet. This week, as I’ve been rereading part of that book, I realize that my life moved in that direction anyway. I’m living in community, attending a church that seeks to live deliberately in community, to live life together. I recognize threads of my own life in Shane Claiborne’s experiences.

Additionally (yes, there’s more!), this week, Valerie, Harvin, and I (and perhaps others) will begin meeting weekly, striving for community together. I haven’t been a part of a consistent small group in about 8 months, and the absence has caused me to realize how desperately I need people to fight alongside. Tuesday night, we’re going to have dinner and intentional community. It’s gonna be awesome.

Even the Scripture readings for Lent are aligning with what I’ve been reading to get ready for the school for conversion. This week has been huge in the way that God has revealed to me that my search for community has been in his plan all along. Seven years. And it’s all converging on an otherwise ordinary week in February.

I’ve had a few discussions this week with people who want to know why I’m visiting a new monastic community. What is new monasticism? Am I converting to some extreme religion? Am I gonna come back from Kentucky? (I think that person was joking…)

Some of the discussions have been wonderful. A few people have been really interested in this journey, this idea. Others have questioned my sanity. One friend was even offended, believing I looked down at her because she didn’t accept that I believe this intentional search for community is the life that God has created us for. We had a long discussion about the American dream and cultural Christianity and faith; the conversation did not end well. I’m hopeful that we can revisit the conversation one day, but I don’t anticipate changing her mind. She likes her life and doesn’t think anything is lacking in her faith. That’s fine. We each have our own journey.

These conversations, however, have raised a huge tension in me. I want desperately to seek community, but I also want seclusion at times. My selfishness often gets in the way of the life I should be living. Questions about my future have been arising. Are my dreams and ambitions selfish, or are they legitimately the path God has planned for me? What are ways that I can bring the Gospel to people who need it…without getting too uncomfortable?

My selfish nature is battling with my spiritual nature. It’s terrifying, to be honest. The tension, however, is honestly great. Because it’s on my mind so often, I’m conversing with people about it. I’m seeking answers that may not arrive for a long time. My life cannot change, and my faith cannot grow, without this tension. God will teach me incredible lessons and reveal Himself to me in so many ways because of it. It’s impossible to be complacent when I’m constantly reflecting and considering how God is working in my life.

So for now, as Switchfoot tells us, “the tension is here”…between who I am and who I could be, between how my life is and how it should be. (Thank you, Jon Foreman, for once again being entirely relevant.)

I’m praying that this trip will be life-changing. In many ways, it already has been.