A few years ago I had a disagreement with a politician about words. He was using a phrase that was understood in the popular media at the time as a ‘slogan’ with a particular emphasis. I assumed that was what he meant by using this phrase; he assured me he had a more nuanced perspective. The key to our disagreement was that he said it was my responsibility to make sure I knew what he intended to communicate, and my problem if I misunderstood him. Conversely, I suggested it was his responsibility to consider how I would hear what he was saying and to use words that ensured I would receive his intention. In the end we agreed to disagree, but it is a conversation I have often thought about. Does the onus lie on the speaker or the hearer to make sure communication is clearly understood? And what does that have to do with hospitality?
I believe that as someone who has a good message to proclaim, the onus is on me to make sure my words are being heard and understood, rather than expecting or assuming my hearers will know what I intend. This is what missiologists call “contextualisation,” making sure our message is communicated in a way that makes sense to those receiving it. To me, this is a form of hospitality. I invite someone into the conversation in a way that is welcoming when I focus not so much on what I want to say, but on what they will hear and receive.
The mental picture many people have of hospitality is inviting someone into their home. Which is a lovely, welcoming thing to do. However, there is an important caveat. Our home is our “turf.” It is the place where we feel most comfortable, where we do things our way. If we expect and assume someone will “fit in” with us, are we truly being welcoming? Or is hospitality about making the other person feel comfortable, choosing to accommodate ourselves to their way of doing things, making someone else feel at home rather than simply being in our home? What would it look like to live that kind of hospitality in speech and in action?
Rev Dr Melinda Cousins