On Hospitality, Dignity, and a Special Event on Saturday
Have you read Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist? If you haven't, you should. This masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different—and far more satisfying—than he ever imagined. This quest to find his treasure is what Coelho calls his protagonist's "personal legend." According to the author, every one of us has a personal legend and when you seek yours out, "all the world conspires in helping you to achieve it." I reference The Alchemist because I believe this is true. I believe in personal legends. But I also believe that everyone's personal legend, their calling, their mission is a version of the same one: Hospitality.
Of course, the personal legend of hospitality looks different for everyone. Some are called to care for their children or their parents. Others are called to care for others' children or others' parents. You may be called to care for your neighbors down the street or your neighbors half way around the world. For one, two, three or thousands of people. You may even be called to care for the earth, the things that grow in it, or its four- and more-legged inhabitants. Hospitality may be your bill-paying job, but it doesn't have to be. Whatever form your personal legend takes on, our collective legend is to care. To care deeply. This is what I mean by hospitality. And in trying to carry out this personal and collective legend of hospitality, I believe all the world conspires in helping us to achieve it.
Recently, I was introduced to an organization that is doing remarkable work in Winston Salem. New Communion Mobile Market & Pantry is a faith-based organization with the goal of enhancing community relationships and diminishing the impacts of hunger and food insecurity. What hooked me is not really what New Communion is doing--hospitality--but how they are doing it. The founder and leader of New Communion, Rev. Monica Banks, explained that her organization seeks to honor the dignity of those it serves as it serves them. Reaching this point, however, required learning a hard lesson. In the early days of her ministry, she offered communion to a homeless man. He took the cracker and grape juice but then said this, "I don't think communion fills me up the way you think it should because your belly is already full of real food." Without hospitality--in this case the offering of a more substantial meal, communion was not a holy act. It was an insult. It undermined the dignity of the person she was trying to serve. Since that moment, New Communion has gone to great lengths to honor the dignity of those who need the food they provide, because "what good is a communion table if no one can get to it and it doesn't provide real food?"
I think a lot about dignity, hospitality, and my own personal legend. I fear that many of us (albeit with the best of intentions) have misinterpreted the meaning of hospitality. Author and theologian Henri Nouwen says this: "Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation (...), not a subtle invitation to adopt the life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own."
Now, when people ask me why Threads by Nomad is a for-profit business (not that we've yet to actually make a profit) and why I believe in social entrepreneurship, this is my response: dignity. Because, for us, we have found that offering well-paying jobs and the opportunity for our employees to learn how to open and run a small business is what gives them the most alternatives, the widest spectrum of options for choice and commitment, and the gift of a chance for them to find their own way in a new place. We are in the business of hospitality and hospitality in its realest and truest form honors the dignity of its recipients.
Before you accuse me of being sanctimonious, give me a few more paragraphs. Yes, Threads by Nomad is part of my personal legend, but it does not mean that as a wealthy white and educated woman born in a developed nation (none of which I had anything to do with) I am not badly in need of the hospitality of others. Because, my sweet friends, this is the miracle. That those who care most for me, those who offer me immeasurable hospitality, those who see me are those same people I serve. Honor and humility are the accompanying consequences of Hospitality. And what I try to offer others they offer back to me many, many times over.
All of this is behind the event I am hosting in Alexandria, VA on Saturday evening (August 18th) along with Sparrow House Botanicals and Karen Barnes of Noonday Collection. I invited Sparrow House Botanicals, based out of Houston, to participate in this event because I have been so utterly impressed with how they carry out hospitality and I want to help them garner audiences and customers in new places. An organic and earth-friendly skincare line, the organization's goal is to empower survivors of human trafficking in beginning their lives of freedom.
After a number of interactions with Noonday Collection and its representatives, I have similarly come to admire the work they do and how they do it. To make a difference in some of the world's most vulnerable communities, Noonday partners with artisan businesses. The company assists in the development of these businesses through fair trade, empowering them to grow sustainably and to create dignified jobs for people who need them.
Are you seeing a theme here? On Saturday night, Karen, Mom (via FaceTime) and I will tell the stories of three women behind these three businesses, after which there will be time to socialize and shop. Our hope is to honor these women's stories, their personal legends and to encourage those who spend the evening with us to do the same. The doors open at 7PM. Storytelling will commence around 715. There will be food, drinks, and lots of handmade and fair trade products to purchase. But whether you can attend or not, whether you can spend money that night or not, my hope is that we start thinking about ourselves and others a little differently. That we begin to act with a little--no a lot--more humility and hospitality.
(If you do plan on attending our event, please RSVP here so we can plan accordingly.)