Friday, August 23, 2013

Hospitality? Radical!

          When walking around DU, I often encounter campus tours in progress. I'm always curious to hear what the tour guide is saying; I may learn some new tidbit about DU, or some "slant" on the school coming from the guide's own perspective. And then, there are the questions raised by the visitors about buildings or sculptures. The pineapple on the Knoebel School of Hospitality Management (above) almost always receives some question/comment. The question usually goes "What's with the pineapple?" The answer, "Oh, the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality. This is the hospitality management school."
          True, that! But there's more to the story . . . or, at least I've heard more to that story. When we were living in North Carolina a couple of decades ago, we learned about the pineapple. It seems that when merchant sailors (especially ships' officers) would return from their voyages, they would post a pineapple on their front gate/fence. It was an announcement that they were home from pineapple-laden climes, and were ready to receive visitors. But, in addition to being an announcement, the pineapple was also an invitation: "Please drop by, and let me be your host!" Hospitality is also an act of anticipation and reaching out, not simply responding to a request.
          Hospitality was one of the primary virtues instilled in me by my family when I was growing up. The topic came up in a conversation with a colleague yesterday. This morning, as that colleague and I were both volunteering at Metro CareRing, the matter was before us all the time: the folks coming through the door, whatever their situation, were to be treated with utmost respect and hospitality. And, since many of them don't often experience that kind of treatment in other places, the light in their eyes shows how much it is appreciated.
           Of course, hospitality is one of the most central tenets in most religious traditions. "Welcome the stranger, the other!" we are taught. Examples abound: in the New Testament book of Hebrews, the author counsels: "remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this, some people have entertained angels without knowing it" (13.2). or, from Hindu Scriptures: "The husband and wife of the house should not turn away any who comes at eating time and asks for food. If food is not available, a place to rest, water for refreshing one's self, a reed mat to lay one's self on, and pleasing words entertaining the guest--these at least never fail in the houses of the good" (Apastamba Dharma Sutra 8.2). What hospitality essentially does is to reverse power roles. The true host becomes the servant; the one who has becomes the one who gives, who serves. And the guest becomes royalty!
          Since I walk by the hospitality school just about every day, I'm ALWAYS reminded of the story of the pineapple. I'm also reminded of the importance of hospitality -- and the invitation to practice that radical virtue of using my power to turn strangers into royalty.

Chaplain Gary

Friday, August 9, 2013

You can't un-ring a bell

      The conference my son and I have been attending this last week at Lake Tahoe celebrates its 80th anniversary this year.  Started as a youth conference in the 1930's, it has evolved into a family conference, as those youth (as youth will do) ages into adults, parents and grandparents.  One conference, several years ago, I remember three generations of one family all in attendance.  Kids who grew up together, but moved away return to renew friendships, compare notes on kid-rearing, and bask in the beauty that is Lake Tahoe.
      As many of us often do at anniversaries, the theme of the conference demanded that we look back over the past, and then look ahead into the future.  In the reflective times, the memories were rich, both of significant events/program features, as well of many of the "characters" who've attended over the years. And, at the close, we were invited, as often happens at conferences, to submit an evaluation--an evaluation that included those common questions:  "What did you like best?" and a variation of "What did you like least?"  Having been on many conference planning teams reading evaluations (as well as reading my own teaching evaluations), I know that we all tend to spend more time on the "What did you like least?" question.
      I know that we want to prevent as many "negative experiences" as possible, especially those that are "fixable".  But what some folks like will drive others batty.  We're not going to be able to fix everything -- and certainly things in the past.
       The conference also provides plenty of free time, and I had the opportunity to read things that I otherwise might not have had time for.  In one of those books, one character says to another, "We all have things in our past we regret--people we regret--but you can't unring a bell."*   I was reminded by that, too, of a something Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that I read each morning:  "Every new morning is a new beginning of our life. Every day is a completed whole."**  And, then, this morning, another saying appeared in my email inbox:  "I realize there's something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they're experts at letting things go."***
       Our deeds, actions, relationships -- all are like ringing a bell.  The effect travels in waves, influencing things we cannot control.  And we certainly can't "un-ring" that bell.  The 80 years of my conference have sent ripples around the world.  Our task, going forward, is to recall the pleasant sounds, and to labor in order that they are repeated.

Chaplain Gary 

*  Sgt. Don Malarkey to Joy Toye in Easy Company Soldier (St. Martin's Press, 2008), p. 121.
**  I can't remember the precise source any more.