The irony of American culture is that while we try to practice the art of hospitality, we are confronted by many stories of the opposite.
Murders, shootings, burglaries and other injustices are reported so that we are aware of what's happening and can remain safe, but hearing about these occurrences also confirms something in our souls: Something isn't right with us if there is always such bad news.
Then there are the stories that hit closer to home -- that we don't talk about in polite company, that are only whispered on the side. Our stomachs churn when we hear them, and our eyes squint because the mind and heart are not made to take these things in.
This is nothing new.
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Do you can remember in Sunday school when you were shocked to find that the Bible doesn't just record the good stories but also the ones that are terrible, if not horrifying?
I remember my friends asking our teacher about the stories of rape, murder, prostitution and incest in the Bible, wondering why they were in there because the Bible was supposed to be a tablet of morals like the Ten Commandments. We didn't yet realize that even God's people weren't perfect, and that darkness and injustice in the hearts of people might be the biggest reason Christ's sacrifice was seen as a game-changer.
In one event at the end of the regular life of Jesus, people saw that evil has consequences and that God cares more about justice than we realize.
This Christmas season, Bluffton felt the pains of inhospitality in our own community when a shooting in a local neighborhood left a father dead in the street on Christmas Eve. This story is now whispered among us, and increases the irony we feel -- a family has lost someone they love, and at a time of celebration and a time to remember hope. Once again, we are forced to deal with the ugly side of humanity.
Collectively, it seems that we are losing the art of Gastfreundschaft, a concept first discussed by the brilliant writer Henry Nouwen as "friendship for the guest." His words on hospitality echo in my mind: "Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy."
It is a positive philosophy of welcoming others, and it is a choice to let others in, and to experience them for who they are. But if we all close ourselves off, more and more atrocities will occur.
Reaching out and caring about those who are alien to us is a primary way to reclaim who we are as human beings. Believe it or not, we are made to do good, and can accomplish great things together.
Remember the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis? His brothers had sold him into slavery in Egypt, and when they later asked for forgiveness, realizing the slave had become a king, he responded, "<2009>'Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.' And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.nesis 50:19)
While Joseph could have retaliated and continued the cycle of evil, he turned events around and made a hospitable space. That kind of justice puts a stop to cycles of evil and frustration. It is the way the irony we live within, with God's help, could disappear.
Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.