Monday, November 05, 2012

Scathing remarks

A friend of mine, Lynne Baab, has recently brought out a new book entitled, Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation.  The focus is on ways to use the well-known spiritual disciplines or practices of the Christian church in groups, or even with full congregations.

This is an interesting take on the disciplines, which have certainly been used communally at many times in their history, and it's good that Lynne has brought them back into focus in this way again.  I haven't finished the book yet, though I'm getting close, but I just wanted to make a comment on the section I was reading this morning, which is about Hospitality.  Some might not regard hospitality as a Christian discipline, any more than they might consider the first item on Lynne's list, Gratitude, to be one.   Be that as it may, both are in the book, and both need discussing in terms of our Christian lives.  (This is not to say that people of other religions, or those who don't believe in any god at all, are never grateful or hospitable.  The focus of the book is on these things from a Christian point of view.)

One thing struck me this morning in the section on hospitality.  It came out of this passage on pages 124-5.

Holding a coffee hour before or after a worship service provides perhaps the most basic opportunity for hospitality.  Recently my students engaged in a spirited online discussion about the role of coffee hour in a missional focus for a congregation.  They had scathing remarks for the poor-quality coffee and cookies that are so often offered at coffee hour.  Several of them said that we talk in Christian circles about Jesus' abundant welcome, and then we provide mediocre food and drink at coffee hour, a cognitive dissonance that does not exactly welcome the stranger. 

I stopped reading at this point.  Now, Jesus certainly talks about abundance, but while he was on earth I don't think there was any point in the many meals he shared with other people when he stopped and said, Look, I can't drink this coffee, or eat these cookies (biscuits, depending on the translation).  It's substandard.  I'm the King of Kings, for goodness' sake.  Are you seriously giving me coffee that tastes like dishwater and cookies that look as though one of the kids threw them together while they were playing on their iPhone?

My sense is that Jesus wouldn't have fussed about it.  Like Paul, he would have said, I don't speak from want, because I've learned to be content in all sorts of circumstances.  I know how to drink mediocre coffee and crummy biscuits, and I also know how to drink my skim cappuccino freddo and eat my caramel crunch slice; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

I think it was the mention of 'scathing remarks' that really struck me in the students discussion.  There's an element of arrogance here, a middle-class tone that says that proper coffee is more important than hospitality.  For me the cognitive dissonance comes between the students' attitude and the apparent lack of humility.  Surely the coffee and biscuits are merely a means to an end, and that is to relate to the people who might come to the coffee hour.  Perhaps you can agree together that the coffee isn't anything to write home about, and then get onto the more important topic of who that person is that's decided to grace your coffee hour by drinking your mediocre coffee and tired biscuits.  


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