The other week I took our baptism class to a Mosque for a visit. I am secretly trying to convince the kids that they should become Muslim instead of Christian – as it is we already have too many Christians. Kidding. We went because I wanted to kids to have the exposure to other faith traditions and to compare and contrast different views of God.
I was thrilled that the people at the Mosque were willing to host us, talk with us, and share a part of their lives with a bunch of teenagers who probably have never been in a Mosque before and may have never seen a Muslim up close in real life. My thoughts were confirmed when the kids all crowded around the Imam, poking him, and trying to see if he was really real.
What surprised me was the way the way the Imam and others in that community acted towards us. It was in a way that made it very clear that they were thankful that we were there. It was almost as if we they were imposing on us by our being there.
Think about this. When we go to someone’s home we are imposing on them. Sure, they are happy to have us there (we hope), but they are doing the heavy lifting, cooking, etc. We are thankful for the invitation, hospitality, etc.
Yet in this case the tables were turned. In fact, the Imam and I got into a gratefulness-off, seeing who could bow lower, seeing who could say, “we are so thankful for…” and finally who could prove the other was inconvenienced more.
In Rhode Island there is not a large Islamic community and it is not an obvious part of the culture. In the United States Islam continues to struggle to be accepted as a faith equal to Christianity, Judaism, and those who follow the path of the Jedi. A friend of mine told me that the Islamic community in Rhode Island is constantly struggling to figure out how to be connected with the community in a positive and helpful way. When a pastor of a church calls and asks to bring his Baptism class to visit what they may be seeing is the community (or a part of it) working to be connected with them in a positive and helpful way. On one level, we were the guests visiting them. On another level, they are the new neighbors and we were “welcoming them.”
This is what I will call an “active hospitality.” A passive hospitality is one where the neighbors say to the newcomer, “stop over anytime, let me know if you need anything,” and waits for the new neighbor to take the initiative. An active hospitality says, “why don’t you come over on this day, I would love to help you with x,” and shows an active interest in the person’s life.
In this case, the onus is on the people in the “norms” of the culture to look to the people on the margins and to take the initiative. It is to put yourself (the norm folks) into a place of the unknown and vulnerable with those on the margins. It would be easy to invite folks from the Muslim community to our class in our building on our terms to talk to the students, but for us to go to their place of worship, be in their space, and witness their prayers puts the “norm” folks in a place of vulnerability. We were in a place of the unknown and that is always a risk. It is a way of saying, “I want to know about your life, values, cares, etc., on your terms.”
This is a form of hospitality that is very difficult to practice; it calls for a good deal of courage and sensitivity. It is a form of hospitality that my baptism class and I practiced unknowingly.
Now will you invite me over to your house? Or should I invite you over to mine? Or maybe I will invite myself over to your house for some apple pie. Yum.