With the Front Door Wide Open
by Kirsten Patterson
October 3, 2018
This summer I was in the mountains with a friend and during the lazy afternoon by the lake I watched her pull out her binoculars and a birding book. And she proceeded to study the winged creatures high in the trees – the flash of feathers, crested heads, bright cries – and to name them.
Though the sign by my house reminds me each time I drive by that the city I live in is a bird sanctuary, I’m not much of a “birder” myself. I can generally identify a pigeon or a seagull, but if pressed on the issue, I would not be able to say positively whether a crow and a raven are two separate kinds of birds or simply two names for the same bird. To me, they are just greasy looking black birds with shifty eyes and a penchant for eating trash.
Kristen taught me that they are indeed two separate species, and the way to tell them apart is all in the tail feathers . . . the raven has a narrow, paddle-like tail, the crow has a fanlike tail. Now when I see a cluster of black birds on a wire, or a solitary scavenger pecking at litter along the side of the road I think, “Ah, I know you, I see your tail feathers. You are a crow!”
Eugene Peterson says, “The most important thing in the language is the name. Names are the very basic, life-giving term in language. You say a person’s name and it means something because there’s a relationship then. Until there’s a name there is no relationship.”*
I’ve been reading about hospitality this summer, not in the sense of entertaining, but in the sense of life lived long and deep with others, with the front door wide open (literally and figuratively). And to do that, first must come the name. The names of my neighbors, the three wild and free boys several doors down who were indistinguishable as triplets to me for so long. But I’ve been studying them this summer. I’ve learned their names. I’ve learned what differentiates one from the other, which one wears the grass camouflage suit and tramps through the neighbors’ planters, the one who rides his bike straight into the middle of the street without a care or concern in the world, the one who likes to test the shock value of swear words. And now that I can identify them, I’m trying to call them each by name. To let them know that I see them.
In The Simplest Way to Change the World Willis and Clements define biblical hospitality as “a theology of recognition, where, through simple acts, we convey the truth that wayward sinners are made in the image of God, where we say to those who might doubt their worth or purpose, ‘I see you! You are welcome here . . . pull up a chair.’”
This hospitality, this openness to living life together, can be muddled and untidy . . . whether in neighborhood, partnership, family, small group, church. It often feels awkward to me and uncomfortable when I extend myself and the gesture is unacknowledged or misinterpreted. But this morning on the walk to school, as I greeted the group of my neighbor boys and their friends, the quiet one smiled shyly at me from the middle of the pack, and I said delightedly to myself, “I see you! And God sees you too!”
But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” – Isaiah 43:1
Recommended viewing: “GODSPEED – The Pace of Being Known”, film by The Ranch Studios, 2017. www.livegodspeed.org
For further reading: The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post Christian World, by Rosaria Butterfield. Crossway, 2018.
The Simplest Way to Change the World: Biblical Hospitality as a Way of Life, by Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements. Moody Publishers, 2017.
Kirsten is a beginning birder and a life-long introvert who is being stretched and challenged to open her front door.