Build a Bigger Table

Build a Bigger Table

“To be open to the world is a dangerous way to live.It threatens us with learning things we’ve always been taught to reject.

What we don’t know, we are inclined to fear.

Embalmed in sameness, we lose opportunity to grow into what life means to become…

Hospitality of the heart is what makes the world a tender and lovely place to be.”

-Joan Chittister

Since I’ve moved into the city, I’ve come to appreciate ride shares. Sometimes paying for an Uber or Lyft is both safer than the train late at night, and better than trying to find a parking spot in my neighborhood.

Tonight was just such a night, and my Lyft driver and I started to talking about Chicago and how long we’ve called it home. A refugee from Iraq, he’s only been here two weeks. He told me that back in Iraq, the military police had thrown him in jail when he’d done nothing wrong, until the American soldiers came and freed him. He received refugee status, and an American bureaucrat told him he should get out of Iraq in the meantime. He went to Jordan and waited years to get visas for his family – eight younger brothers and their parents. Now they are here, together.

I told him welcome, that I was glad he was here, and that most all of us in America had gotten here as refugees of some sort originally. He reminded me of how much I have to be grateful for, and I’m happy he can now share in most of those blessings.

Hospitality is a theme that has threaded my journey in sometimes surprising ways. It comes in so many forms – far more than throwing a good party (though that is a form I especially love!).

But maybe true hospitality begins with simple openness to an “other.” With staying with a conversation through language disconnects. With being willing to be uncomfortable, to be stretched and challenged.

An ethic of hospitality has many applications for me, but one of them is very simple:

“When you have more than you need, build a bigger table, not a higher fence.”

A table big enough for the alien and stranger, the refugee, and outcasts of every stripe.

This is something that goes much deeper than politics, though as we see in this election cycle, it certainly has political implications.

And it is, as Sister Joan Chittister has said, “a dangerous way to live.” You may discover you were wrong about things you never thought to question, and that knowledge cannot be undone.

Hospitality will, sooner or later, undo you. But out of what has come undone, it will make a bigger table.