“What does it mean for me to be hospitable to my roommates?  I must assume the best in their intentions.  I must ask myself, ‘where is the image of Christ in the things that rub me the wrong way?’  I must encourage the image of Christ in others, and seek to understand (rather than only seeking to be understood).  I must pray that they are honest with me, even while I offer complete, loving honesty to them.  I must confess my sins if I am to expect the same from them.”

I wrote that about a month ago in my journal.  It was a Sunday morning, I was with the Buffalo Gap Church of Christ, and I was writing instead of listening to the sermon.  Not because the sermon wasn’t good, mind you…if you ever get the chance to hear Stephen Johnson preach, take it.  I was writing because I was angry about something that had happened in the house on Saturday, which incidentally was my birthday, and a perceived wrong always seems to hit me a little worse if it is on my birthday.  Instead of dealing with the frustration in my heart, I sat on it and didn’t say anything.  During the sermon, Stephen said something that reminded me of an entry in my journal from a few weeks before.  While I was searching for that entry, I noticed some notes that I had written about hospitality as a communal virtue.  I talked about how I want us to be a “house of peace,” a community that is “gentle, nurturing, and honest with those we welcome,” always “prepared to share and give even when it hurts.”

The amount of information that I retained from my undergraduate studies in Psychology is fairly unimpressive.  One thing that I do remember, however, is that we very often attribute our positive actions to internal qualities (i.e. “I saved that little old lady because I am a good person”), while we attribute our negative actions to external factors (basically, that the situation that we found ourselves in demanded us to act in the way that we did, like when I was in kindergarten and I got in trouble for not following directions and blamed it on the kid next to me).  On the flip side, we often attribute the negative actions of others to internal qualities (“they killed that cockroach because they are a bad person”), and we attribute their positive actions to external factors (“he only saved that little old lady because he was trying to impress that pretty girl…”).  Basically, we have this great little psychological game that we use to train ourselves to think that we are more rational, moral, thoughtful, and righteous than the other people around us.  You might be a better person than me and have no idea what I am talking about, and if you are, I apologize for assuming that you are like me.  For all of us humans, let’s continue.

As I read those words about hospitality in my journal, I realized how inhospitable I was being towards my roommates.  I would much rather play the little psychological game and assume the best of intentions in my actions, while keeping a tally of the little things that my roommates do that irk me.  Reminders of why I am more rational, moral, thoughtful…and righteous.  Of course, the irony is that this behavior is so obviously irrational, immoral, and unthoughtful.  And as for righteous: “why do you look for the speck of sawdust in your roommates’ eyes, all the while ignoring the plank that is in your own?”  (Yes, that is a paraphrase.)

Hospitality is a funny thing, because we can hardly begin practicing hospitality to a stranger if we do not practice it towards those that we are closest to.  Our homes will never be houses of peace if we get hurt and then just sit on our negative feelings and never say anything about it.  We can only welcome others with gentleness and honesty if we are first gentle and honest with ourselves and our roommates (or families).  And how can I ever expect to truly share with others if I retreat into a cocoon of self-pity any time I experience hurt?

May we be a people who look for truth and good in a moment, rather than focusing on what is false and painful.  May we be a people who love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  And may we be a people who search for the image of Christ in everyone that we encounter, because that is where hospitality begins.

(This is posted under “life together,” and so I thought it would be fitting to end with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together: “As only Christ can speak to me in such a way that I may be saved, so others, too, can be saved only by Christ himself.”)