One of the great dangers of our society is its rampant individualism. This does not necessarily mean we are all alone all the time. Instead, it means everything we do is couched in individual concern. The great communal experiment that is Facebook is a perfect reminder of the way community is formed in our society. We collect friends, hold them in our virtual list, and follow their activity at our discretion. If you use Facebook like me, those who agree most with you find their way to your newsfeed while everyone else takes a minority spot or is hidden all together.
The way we engage relationships in our society is instrumental. To rise to the surface of friend is to be like me or to be someone that can benefit me. The downfall of this way of engaging the world is it keeps us locked into the status quo of our truth claims. Luke Timothy Johnson describes as us being stuck in our own project. Everyone is pulled into our self-centered program or agenda.
The way of Jesus is a different way. Jurgen Moltmann urges us to relate to people beyond our comfort zone. “The friendship of Jesus breaks the modern model of friendship. The friend of “tax collectors and sinners” and the community that emerged in his Spirit presuppose a divine and cosmic friendship by which God invites all of creation to an open friendship not based on defensiveness and divisiveness.” Hospitality can help break down the walls within our community as well as outside. The will to embrace someone who is unlike you is an intentional practice. This kind of openness must be grafted into our fabric.
A life open to the stranger is a journey where others have a chance to speak up. It is an intentional practice of awarding everyone a voice, even those who might disagree with you. This embrace of diversity moves well beyond the practice of tolerance because it assumes there is more to life than existing in shared space. It demands a posture of listening that outweighs the pursuit of personal concern.
A commitment to welcome the stranger or accept the “other” is a way of life, open to change, because something happens as you interact with the other. Over the last few years, Jill and I have worked hard to turn our ears to strangers among us, and we have received great wisdom along the way.
This morning Larry James, President of CitySquare, posted a sermon on his blog (You can listen to his excellent sermon here). Throughout the sermon Larry offers a peak into the wisdom of CitySquare’s neighbors. He tells stories of learning generosity, faith, courage, and much more as a friend to the poor and homeless in downtown Dallas. (Larry’s book The Wealth of the Poor works with this theme and I will review the book as a part of the series.)
Tony Kriz is no different. I have mentioned Tony’s book Neighbors and Wisemen a few times on my blog and my twitter account. The book is a memoir of sorts tracing the way strangers became neighbors. People of different faiths, cultures, and ideologies were the gracious embrace of God. They were the gentle voices calling Tony deep into the story of God.
The practice of welcoming the stranger is the missing link in our cult of individuality. I am starting a series to tell stories of how welcoming the stranger has changed me. Some posts will be about those who continue to teach me about hospitably and others will be stories of the strangers turned wisemen (to steal Tony’s term) in my life. Please join me on this journey and feel free to share your stories in the comments or send me a guest post of your own.