When we moved to Mid-Coast Maine, we set ourselves a goal of inviting someone new to dinner every month. We gathered around crock pot roasts, mashed potatoes, home-canned green beans, and usually a pie for dessert. The elderly couple we invited for August was a delight: we talked books, they filled us in on local culture, and they were good sports about eating my blueberry pie that “didn’t quite set,” landing in a soupy pile on all our plates. I realized the extent of their graciousness, when I learned later, quite by accident, that she was one of the judges for the Union Fair blueberry pie contest.
The visit was not a contest, and my pie was not being judged on that stuffy August evening–and, thankfully, neither was I. We had invited those sweet people into our home and into our lives and hearts and a warm friendship took root. In Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness, Leslie Verner describes an invitation as an “opening in the window of relationship, granting intimacy permission to drift in like a breeze into a stuffy room.” (174)
Verner describes herself as a “goer learning how to stay,” and so the practice of hospitality for her was learned, initially, as a guest in cultures where she was the stranger and the recipient of a warm welcome and a place around the table. Now, called to “do the hard work of staying,” (335) she writes about her own learning curve around the discipline of deepening relationships through a life time of invitations offered from one zip code.
Invited to Fight Loneliness
Loneliness has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, and this has been fed by our cultural tendency toward privacy and independence. Our addiction to and dependence upon technology has only increased our isolation, to the point where even those who attend church regularly admit to feelings of loneliness. An intentional practice of hospitality fights the default.
Verner argues that our churches “don’t need more programs or plans for living missionally in the world; we just need to invite others to walk with us in our right-now life.”
Invited to Build Community
Jesus modeled an open-hearted practice of welcome, and his unruly disciple Peter must have been taking notes: “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling,” he urged. Whether within our four walls or simply in the way we land in a pew on Sunday morning, it’s clear that the believer is called to a life of community building and our “neighbor” could be just about anyone. Verner has supplied an extensive list of ideas for uncomplicated hospitality in neighborhood, church, and community contexts along with some good general tips for anyone needing additional reassurance.
The practice of missional hospitality means that we begin living like “invited ones” ourselves, for God showed his heart toward us in the early pages of Genesis, inviting Adam out of the bushes and back into relationship. And he never stops inviting, holding out frosty glasses of Life to “whoever desires” and whoever will “take the water of life freely.” The power of hospitality in an age of loneliness is sturdy evidence of God at work in his people. Our invitation is an open window to Truth.
Many thanks to Herald Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
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