mission: hospitable

…to be hospitable is to let oneself be overtaken [surprendre], to be ready to not be ready, if such is possible, to let oneself be overtaken, to not even let oneself to be overtaken, to be surprised, in a fashion almost violent … precisely where one is not ready to receive — and not only not yet ready but not ready, unprepared in a mode that is not even that of the “not yet”.

— Jacques Derrida, ‘Hostipitality’ [sic] (in Acts of Religion, p 361)

A full exegesis of Derrida’s take on hospitality will have to wait for another day. (Dan recently did a cracker of a job on the allied theme of friendship.)

For the moment, I want to isolate the profound insight concealed here. Derrida seems to be pursuing a definition of hospitality that won’t get turned inside-out and become its opposite (becoming degraded into that corrosive power play in which I position myself as the host — the one who is ‘at home’ and holds all the cards — and, in doing so, subtly downgrade you as my guest).

It’s worth dwelling on the difference between true and false hospitality. Here are some of my preliminary thoughts about what would ‘count’ as the genuine article for Christians:

  1. The whole experience draws people deeper into relationship rather than being simply a self-indulgent end in itself.
  2. The food (and the service, etc) doesn’t draw attention to itself — either by being too flashy or too cringy — because we know that Jesus has freed us from needing to impress or ‘prove ourselves’ by how well we perform.
  3. It manifests care for our guests — e.g., in safe and hygienic food handling as well as in showing loving attention to our guests’ potential sensitivities (dietary, cultural, etc).
  4. From go to woe, it breaks down boundaries (whether ethnic or socio-economic) — and, in doing so, speaks of how God’s grace in Jesus differs from both religion and irreligion.

How would you extend the list?

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4 comments

  1. You know I am going to say something about food right. so, put points 2 and 4 together:

    Just thought that when there are significant enough boundaries to break down, to practice true hospitality, some responsibilities start moving onto guests’ shoulders.

    e.g. sweet soup of sweet potatoes and sticky rice balls filled with blace sesame paste at 3pm.

  2. I think sweet soup of sweet potatoes and sticky rice balls filled with black sesame paste at 3pm (which, for the rest of our readers, we shared with Leo and his family last time we visited) fulfilled point number 1: it felt intimate. You shared something of yourselves with us. You trusted us to meet you in a place we might have found uncomfortable. Which I suppose is what you mean by guests taking responsibility!

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