We find ourselves nearing the end of a very long, hot and trying summer. The political conventions, which should be known as “Mustn’t See TV” have ended, although the campaigns have not, sadly. Violence has reigned in the streets, mass shootings have become nauseatingly routine, our racial divide has expanded, and our country is in a very bad mood. On our university campus, we are preparing for the arrival of our new students next week. How do we help them to navigate through the fears and uncertainties that may have arisen in them this summer, and how can we best answer their questions? I think we start by creating simple spaces in which hospitality can grow. That seems like such an innocuous idea, does it not? Some may assume that I mean that we should all pretend to get along and make believe that we agree on everything. Indeed, some believe that, which is probably why there has been so little hospitality evident in the public debates in our country in recent months. Public discourse has devolved into one person talking loudly over another person so that no one is heard. I have given up on listening to any radio or TV talk shows where there is a panel involved, because one can count on the fact that it will turn into a shouting match and become excruciating. I cannot pretend to know how we arrived at this juncture, I can only try to make the best of it, for my students and myself. So, I will encourage them to talk, talk TO one another, not AT one another. I will attempt to educate them about true hospitality in which the host invites the guest to come in, without insisting that the guest become just like the host. If I invite a person into my space, but do not allow that individual to feel at ease to express his or her opinions, even those with which I may disagree strongly, then I am, as the Apostle Paul stated, “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I will challenge those with whom I disagree and will permit them to challenge me in return. How else will we ever learn from one another? However, I will not shout at, demean, victimize or otherwise seek to reduce my relationship with the other person to an “I-It” relationship. Hospitality provides a safe space within which understanding can grow, and understanding does not necessarily mean agreement. Civility is not overrated, it is underutilized. We have become a nation of polarized people and institutions, and it’s hard to hear voices of reason over the din of politics as usual. Finally, I have noticed much of this incivility among people of faith, my faith, Christianity. I have to keep reminding myself of Rabbi Hillel’s dictum:”What is hateful to you, do not do to others. This is the Law; all the rest is commentary.” Christian faith grew out of Judaism, so Hillel’s words are instructive to us as well. I don’t understand how some people who profess Christian faith can speak so hatefully about people with whom they disagree, but that is a topic for a different day. For now, seek to create welcoming spaces, for, when true hospitality is extended, those spaces become holy. There was a man who used to tell us that from the time we were small children. Remember him?
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