Friday, November 11, 2005


Does the idea of hospitality cover appropriate behaviors/attitudes for the guest, or only for the host?

If only for the host, where (theologically/ethically, not in terms of plain etiquette) does good-guest-ness fall?


Micah said...

For me, being a "good guest" derives not from the theological concept of "hospitality," but from the theological concept of "stewardship." As Christians, we are taught that we have a responsibility to conserve and properly use gifts that God has given to us out of love. For this Christian, that extends to any gift from any of God's creatures as well, whether out of love or any other reason.

To give a concrete example, the principle of hospitatlity might inspire someone to invite me to dinner. The principle of stewardship should motivate me not to take all the green beans on the first pass. Emily Post would say the same thing, but as you note, from a different perspective.

Yep. The more I think of it, the more sure I am. Stewardship is the flip-side (and necessary companion) of hospitality. Great question, though. I hadn't thought of it that way before.

AKMA said...

I'd take a different trajectory from my esteemed colleague.

I construe “hospitality” as the host’s side of a reciprocal practice of discipleship — “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, if you were a ‘guest’ visiting you as a host.”

I put it this rather cumbersome way because sometimes people construe “hospitality” as an obligation to accommodate guests on their own terms. That entails unstated ideological premises about how far such accommodation extends; presumably if one entertains Hannibal Lechter, one doesn’t serve human flesh (let’s set aside for a moment the likelihood that dinner with HL would involve voluntary choices about the menu). One can’t begin “hospitality” with the guest’s terms at the center without reserving the prerogative eventually to reassert one’s own boundaries (in a way that belies the initial assertion that “the guest” provides the decisive criterion of hospitality).

Contrariwise, “hospitality” entails an uncompromising clarity and integrity about a community’s indigenous practices, which for a Christian involves helping others to feel at home within the community’s way of life: teaching, indulging (for a while), helping, but not waiving the premises on which the community’s identity rests. Hannibal, coming to our home, would be served a vegetarian dinner (though still with a nice red wine).

That (then) raises the question you pose, which a sermon in chapel also raised this week: what about the guest’s obligation? Though Jesus says, “Eat what is set before you,” I do not expect that he meant that Torah-observant emissaries should chow down on pork if they were to stop in a city of the Decapolis, or that I should eat raw tomatoes if someone served them to me (despite my violent allergy thereunto). In those circumstances, the guest’s obligation requires as much clarity as possible about her own identity and principles, and concomitant patience with the host’s ignorance of possible divergences of practice. So the disciples would eat other elements of the dinner set before them, without carping about the adequacy of the salad course.

That’s for starters.

Beth said...

Those are helpful thoughts, thanks. If I can push a little further: how would the principle of stewardship extend to dinnertime conversation (not in the sense of monopolizing conversation, but in the sense of "what does one say or not say to be a good guest?")

G. Brooke said...

With the others, I have always thought of "hospitality" as a host's responsibility, specifically to try to make guests feel "at home," or welcome (acknowledging AKMA's Hannibal-Lector proviso).

On guest conversation/behavior, I like Micah's thoughts on "stewardship," and suspect that what is being steward-ed is some kind of affirmation of the legitimacy of the hosts' practices and preferences. For example, some families prefer not to discuss business or politics at table; others relish such discussions at table. As a guest, I wouldn't protest, "I'm not in the habit of such conversation at table" or that sort of thing.

Theologically/ethically, I think there is something of Paul's instruction on the meat of idols implicit there, granting the host the regard due a "weaker" (or just "differing") sister or brother. An OT example might include being willing to unself-consciously have one's feet washed, or to accept without protest the hospitality of even a very needy family.

What a great topic.