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

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