"In many respects, hospitality is akin to sharing with family and friends. But we can identify its central differentiating features.
"1. Hospitality is welcoming. We know very well the difference between being welcomed warmly and not being welcomed or being welcomed only lukewarmly. We know the value of hospitality to family and friends; the distinctive practice of Christian hospitality was to extend the circle of those welcomed to include the poor and marginalized. The close relations fostered by table fellowship and conversation were expanded to strangers. Just as family and friends flourish in the context of a warm welcome and a hospitable meal, so also do those at church, the homeless, the disabled, the displaced, and even strangers and enemies.
"2. Hospitality involves the recognition of the dignity and value of others. One of Christine Pohl's central points in her remarkable book is that hospitality recognizes the others. This recognition makes all the difference between feeling like someone and the widespread sense among the poor and marginalized that they are 'nobody.' Hospitality recognizes the other and conveys dignity.
"When my sons and I worked at the Dorothy Day House in Minnesota, it was important for us not just to bring or prepare the food. We needed to involve the 'guests' in the preparation and also to eat with and visit with the guests as we ate. To have remained withdrawn would be to practice a hospitality of the distanced which is almost an oxymoron. This was no doubt the most difficult part of the experience because we didn't know what to expect. Most important, we didn't know whether the guests would accept us. We were in the position of being vulnerable, just as they were. Actually we are all interdependent all the time (in far less vulnerable and material ways than the homeless, to be sure), and it is helpful for us to experience it.
"Churches may need to find ways to interact with those they 'serve' or to whom they make donations. If they do not, they may thereby be depriving themselves of what they could learn from others who are different. They may be short-circuiting their own formation by ignoring the whole persons whom they are to love as themselves.
"Perhaps it is this dignity and recognition that enable people to live a reputable, respectful life. Partly attitude, partly action, recognition means meeting the other as a person whose dynamics are as complicated and whose life is as complex as one's own. This suggests a humility and compassion that is born out of an alertness to the ways in which we have been graced and how little our position depends on our own doing. This may also foster a forgiveness of enemies.
"3. Hospitality usually involves eating (you saw that coming). In part, this is an expression of our basic equality and the fact that we all have basic needs. We share a common humanity, so that the differences of rich and poor, black and white, young and old, brown and yellow, male and female are not wiped out but placed in a wider context of need and humanity and joy of relating.
"It is also true that many people in our world are hungry. To be sure, we are confronted with the hungry and homeless in our cities and towns, but it is helpful for us to see in them the wider face of world hunger. Eating with and feeding people is urgent for those without adequate food. As my friend Ed Loring, who works at the Open Door in Atlanta, likes to say, 'Justice is important, but supper is essential.' The fact of world hunger at home and abroad is on the agenda of every Christian church, as it should be. Besides the command to 'Feed the hungry,' the need to eat reminds us of the communal nature of the lives we share with all other species, including our own. Many claim that insuring that all people are adequately fed, clothed, and sheltered should be on the top of the agenda of every nation as well as every church. Practicing hospitality is a matter of justice as well as of love.
"4. Hospitality is essential to human well-being. We all need hospitality; we need to receive it and we need to give it. The claim that only by sharing can we experience wholeness applies to hospitality as well. Jesus asked his disciples, 'For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?' (Matt. 5:46-47). Luke adds, 'But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked' (Luke 6:35). The church has drawn the quite logical conclusion that we are to share with all people.
"Being in relationship with God and with others is integral to human wholeness. Being able to be hospitable with others is our grateful response to the hospitality of God. 'Hospitality becomes for the Christian community a way of being the sacrament of God's love in the world.'
"There is also in hospitality a 'complex dance between recognizing our own need, ministering to those in need, and recognizing their ministry to us.' Hospitality is done not simply out of duty. We are empowered by offering hospitality to others; we realize that we are enriched by those others as well. We recognize our own need, and that helps us realize that respect is not abrogated by homelessness or need. We see that we have needs that are disguised by our material abundance. The perspective that hospitality offers on material possessions and simplicity of lifestyle is also a freedom from overidentifying our worth with our status of any kind. Eating together is a concrete symbol of this. It expresses the basic worth of each person and reveals to us that we exist in relationship with others and God. We may have become so individualistic in our thinking that we fail to appreciate activities that build community. We may not understand how important community is for giving us life. Perhaps hospitality is such a practice. We can appreciate its value for our well-being by noting that it creates community and that hospitality is best sustained by communities. Those communities allow us to blossom and grow and witness to the world. They might even give us a glimpse of what the kingdom might look like.
"Hospitality is making room for others. As we welcome others into our rooms, we find that community begins to develop. We have more, we receive more, we share more, and rather than being diminished we build up community. Being in relation with others is where we live more deeply than what we own or who we are. Being in life together with God and the world is our home. Hospitality is finally a life-giving practice; it helps create communities where both host and guest are recognized and affirmed. In breaking bread together, we begin to experience God's energy.”