Humility and Hospitality

“How do you take it?” a guest asked.

He had watched and listened to a verbal tussle I had with another guest. That other guest had not exactly been kind in response to my request that she leave after hurling a string of insults at me.

This really had not been much of a conflict. When insults move to verbal threats of violence that is more disconcerting.

Still, the question lingered, “How do you take it?”

Hospitality is a stern teacher in humility. Either I learn humility or I burn out and quit doing hospitality. Or worse, I quit doing hospitality, but I continue to offer “charity.”

Humility teaches me that guests come to Manna House already having heard too many “no’s.” I would be frustrated and angry, too, if I was on the streets.

Humility teaches me that this does not mean I am an open target for abuse and disrespect. It does mean I seek to live with an honest assessment of my standing in the world and in relationship to other people.

Humility teaches me that hospitality does not allow someone to continue with behavior that undermines hospitality for everyone else.

Humility also teaches me that I have to accept that I cannot meet every person’s every need. Humility admits limitations in hospitality.

So humility teaches me that hospitality does not end homelessness, or create the institutional changes necessary to end homelessness. And so humility also propels me to join with others to seek those changes so homelessness can end.

Humility also teaches me to listen to guests who complain about the limits to our hospitality.  Sometimes a complaint includes a suggestion about how our practice of hospitality could be improved. Humility helps me go ahead and make the change.

Mostly what humility teaches me is to look for and accept with thanksgiving the incredible gifts the guests at Manna House offer each day. In humility I can acknowledge and celebrate that guests offer me as much (or maybe more) hospitality than I can ever offer them.

If I can learn humility, I can listen and learn a lot about resistance to racism and the strength of African American men and women. This happened a few weeks ago when I stumbled into a discussion about Spike Lee’s talk at the Grammy Awards which honestly named the racism in our society and among so many of our political leaders these days.

If I can learn humility, I will be asked to help a guest fill out a government form to apply for housing because he cannot read.

If I can learn humility, I will be honored when I am asked to cut a guest’s very long fingernails because he cannot do that since he had a stroke.

If I can learn humility, I will be invited to hear stories of loss, of grief, and of miraculous restoration and joy.

If I can learn humility, I can recognize that offering hospitality really means being open to all the hospitality guests offer, their trust, their welcome, their graciousness, and sometimes even their insults.

“How do you take it?” Really only with help from those who teach me humility.


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