In modern society we seem to have lost our way here. The stranger is as often as not shunned; the traveller's motives are questioned. It's all rather sad.
Even socially, modern families seem to have reduced this down to basics. It's the exception rather than the rule to welcome others in - and then only for a dinner party/ barbecue / family get-together from time to time. Celebrating those big birthdays. Or to further your career - having the boss over for dinner. It's all etiquette and entertainment.
Modern-day neighbours don't tend to pop round like they used to. Gone are these days of 'take us as you find us'; many of us don't even know their neighbours' names (do you?). And you don't have the same number of visitors at the door - fear of the 'stranger' means they are kept on the doorstep, or are told to go away unless they have made an appointment first.
I've thought a lot about this over the last week, realising with increasing concern that I've more to learn here than most. You see, I've never really been used to that sort of hospitality lifestyle. My mum and dad were very private people. Whilst growing up, visitors were kept at the door, or if allowed in, were restricted to the front room only. My parents used to keep all but the immediate family at a distance, so I never really learnt any of this in my formative years. They were very defensive about visitors - I could have the odd friend around to play, but large parties weren't allowed.
Take Us As You Find Us? Nope - unfortunately, when growing up, we were more likely to take up the welcome mat!
I've learnt a bit more since I first starting working in the voluntary sector - either in church, or through working in a group. Because it's more than just 'open house'. You see, Christian hospitality is all about showing respect for others, providing for their needs, and treating them as equals. Not just at home - but anywhere that we go. And it's about hospitality to real strangers, not just people that are like us but that we haven't got to know yet. Also, Christian hospitality isn't about beautifully prepared tables piled high with picture-perfect food. It's about servanthood; it's about loving others; it's about making people feel special.
I don't disagree with any of that. Indeed, I've been trying to work towards this over the past few years. But I now see that there's more of a challenge for me when it gets close to home, when it gets so very personal - that's when I start getting nervous. Something to work on. Something to pray about.
Interestingly, the latin root hospes, which means guest or stranger, is the root for the English words host (where the p was dropped for convenience of pronunciation) hospitality, hospice, hostel and hotel. All are, of course, connected.