Heat and Hospitality

“At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, ‘A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them’” (Jeremiah 4:11-12).

The hot dry weather of the past month in Memphis suggests Jeremiah’s word of judgment from the Lord might also apply here. And, too, as global climate change is manifested in raised temperatures around the world, I find Jeremiah terribly accurate in pointing towards our self-inflicted punishment.

“Your own conduct and actions
have brought this on you.
This is your punishment.
How bitter it is!
How it pierces to the heart!”

Disaster follows disaster;
the whole land lies in ruins.

“My people are fools;
they do not know me.
They are senseless children;
they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil;
they know not how to do good.”  (Jeremiah 4:18, 20, 22)

Jeremiah and the other Old Testament prophets see a connection between human degradation and the degradation of the creation. As we pursue a way of life marked by disregard for the well-being of others, the creation, too, is adversely affected.

A prophet sees the connection between the heartless conditions of homelessness that lead to thousands of early deaths, and the poisons that have killed of millions of birds in the United States. Environmental racism combines white supremacist hatred of Blacks with the placement of toxic dumps in Black neighborhoods. Treating other human beings as objects to be used is intertwined with treating the creation as an object to be exploited. Depersonalization of human beings is inevitable in connection with desecration of the creation.

I do not have to look far for the prophetic connection between denying people their dignity and destruction of the creation.

Guests from the streets in search of a shower at Manna House, arrived this week particularly hot, sweaty, and dirty. Doing the laundry meant encountering the smells of soiled socks, shirts, underwear, and pants. To walk the streets of Memphis means going through neglected neighborhoods, sleeping in abandoned buildings, and being assaulted by the trash blowing around.

At the national level, earlier in the week, President Trump proposed rounding up people on the streets and putting them into concentration camps. At the same time, the building of his wall of shame on the southern border of the US is destroying wilderness areas, and his regime is turning back years of protections for the air and water.

A prophetic vision sees how hatred of others leads to hostility toward the creation.

But the prophets also point to how we may heal our relations with each other and with God’s creation.

Isaiah says,

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
God will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:9-12).

Hospitality thus is a way we seek to practice resistance to the hatred and hostility. Kathleen draws from the Montessori school tradition to encourage us at Manna House to “prepare the space for hospitality.” We work to have a beautiful backyard where trees and shrubbery form a green welcome for our guests, “a well-watered garden” where guests can get away from “a sun-scorched land.” Affirming our guests’ dignity, we seek to create a place that has beauty, comfort, and a sense of sanctuary, even during these hot days.



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