Saturday, May 25, 2013

Thoughts on Being a Guest

I mentioned in my post yesterday that I am currently staying in Belmont, NC, in a huge home nestled in a private cove on Lake Wiley, which runs across the North Carolina-South Carolina border. It's a beautiful place. Flavius and Gigi did a great job when designing this place. It's really something to see. But staying with them actually sends me back to a much different place where I stayed long ago.

Summer 1999. La Plata, Argentina. I was hanging out in that courtyard of the giant cathedral you see to the right. It is properly called the Cathedral of La Plata. It is one of the largest cathedrals in Latin America. The courtyard in front of it was filled with Argentinians riding bikes, enjoying food, playing soccer. It was a great place to be. And this cathedral was one of the only places I got to really be a tourist in Argentina.

Quick side story. The rest of my team got to go out into Buenos Aires and enjoy the city. I was super pumped about exploring a great world city like Buenos Aires, but before we left La Plata we decided to have an Argentinians versus Americans indoor soccer match. My soccer experience ended at approximately 9 years old because of really, small town politics ended the soccer careers of a ton of kids from Florence, Texas. Ask our parents! So, I was holding my own on the pitch and went to challenge a gentleman who had played around 20 years of professional soccer, but had long since been retired. He kicked, I kicked. My ankle snapped. Broken ankle last night in La Plata. I learned how to navigate on crutches in international airports. And that is why I missed our touristy excursion into Buenos Aires.

But more important than that I learned a lot about hospitality on that trip, particularly how to receive hospitality. My team leaders were Gary Adam and Melissa Prehoda (and unofficially Carl Gulley, who as you can see is a fun guy who loves his bbq). They were quite a team. But Gary was "the dude" for this trip. A lot of this was his passion, his people and we were making connections through him. What I most think of concerning Gary was our wake-up calls.

Every morning Gary would grab his new bull whip, crack it in our room and holler "Get your coondog butts out of bed." I still don't know where Gary is from that he decided that coondog was a term of endearment for college-aged dudes. And I'm not certain, but I am pretty sure the ladies on our trip did not wake up with the same ritual.

But aside from bullwhips and Southern slang what stuck out about Gary was his passion for being a good guest. Before we left Texas we were told we would eat whatever was placed before us. We would smile and be gracious because the people we were staying with made sacrifices for us. At the time we didn't realize the extent of those sacrifices. For instance the pastor of the church built a second story onto his house to host us. The church took time and had every meal but lunch prepared for us on that trip...and that includes morning snack and siesta.

But the most visible sacrifice in my mind was Perro. Perro was this pot bellied pig that lived with us in Argentina. He was almost as cute as this gal to the right. He greeted us at the door. He expected scratches behind the ears. In other words, he deserved his name. For those of you non-Spanish speakers, Perro is Spanish for dog.

We grew attached to Perro. He was cool. One day, after doing an outreach downtown we came home to a wonderful smell. We were finally getting some of that amazing Argentinian barbecue we had heard about. It was an exciting day! I'm not sure who was the first to notice, but I think it had to be Liz, but Perro was nowhere to be found.

Well, we could have found him...if we had just gone to the backyard and looked on the spit. Perro was dinner that night. At this point the words of Gary came back to haunt nearly every one of us. We were about to partake in our beloved mascot. But without a single word, Gary communicated with strong glances, "You WILL eat Perro whether you want to or not." And to the credit of everyone on that team did. And I think we all learned from that experience.

What we learned is that just because a host is making a big deal out of you being with them mutuality in relationship does not end. In simpler terms it's not now just about you. That was something I should have picked up on as a kid, because my family would say similar things. When that little old aunt offers you a hard candy that is probably a decade old, you take it, say thank you, mean what you said and suck that Werther's down (as fast as you can), because the other person matters. When the family you are staying with cooks their pet eat it.

I think we miss out on the importance of this culturally and probably in the Church as well. When we enter someone's home there is a certain reverencing that takes place. We deem the other worthy of our time. We would never use such strong language, but it is nonetheless true. Even if you don't want to spend time with someone, if you decide you must go, it means there is something worth it to you. The converse is also true, we will reject hospitality at times not because of other engagements, but simply because we do not deem the other person worthy. That is harsh, but also nonetheless true.

I have learned over the years to be a good guest. When Gary told me I would eat everything before me, I didn't agree:
"I don't like fish.
"That is fine, you'll eat it just the same."
"But, why?"
"Because when you reject the offerings of your reject your host."

When you put it in such strong, plain terms it makes sense. To reject your host's offerings is to sleight your host. But often in our ego-centric mindsets (and that's not negative, it's just natural that we think of ourselves first) we neglect to think about the ramifications of: I'll just bring my own food...or...why don't we go out...or...why don't I cook...or...whatever it is. In other words, we let our self-importance reign over the sacrifice and offerings of people who are wanting to love on us.

The Apostle Paul talked about being all things to all people. And that is, I believe, related. To be a good guest means to be interested in museums, rodeos, lakes, history, subtleties of coffee, repeated stories, etc. And I think that is important and part of the great command, to love the Lord our God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And I struggle with it, but I know this...when I do my best to be a good guest it's more enjoyable; and I think that is simply related to doing what you are supposed to do. There is joy in honoring and love others well.

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