So. I am at this writer’s conference at Kenyon college, which, you may be surprised to hear, is not in Nairobi.
Which may explain why there are no photo safaris scheduled.
Since continuing education is important, even crucial to maintaining a healthy effective ministry, such events have become an intrinsic part of what I do; which doesn’t mean I like it.
I am not a mixer.
At a conference or seminar, I tend to find one particular place to sit at meal times, one particular table. If others come and sit, that’s fine, but I don’t really seek out new adventures in dining halls; very often, I am reading, which really does tend to discourage all but the stoutest extroverts from joining me.
Like this guy.
I suppose such self-imposed solitude is the lot of the introvert, but it is self imposed. And that makes a difference.
I often choose isolation, not because I stand in opposition to those around me, but simply because I find relationship building to be exhausting rather than exhilarating. The truth is, in scanning my life, I can recall perhaps a single instance where I was the pariah, the outcast, the enemy – whether in the lunchroom, or the classroom, or the church meeting, or the pulpit.
This is not me. I swear.
So it is with a sense of wonder and confusion I find myself contemplating the passage from the Psalm: Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies…
Dr. Kenneth Bailey, founder and director of the Institute for Middle Eastern New Testament Studies, spent 40 years living and teaching in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus. His decades of field research have brought to life much of the Biblical witness, including the Psalms of David and the Parables of Jesus.
This is Ken Bailey.
Once, when speaking of hospitality, he outlined the Law of the Desert, which requires one to welcome the stranger, sharing one’s food, drink and shelter with any who happen along. This was simply enlightened self interest; in the searing heat of the desert, the law of hospitality was a matter of survival – you welcomed others so that they might one day welcome you. Further, custom dictated if someone was on the run from their enemies, they must be made welcome in your company, fed, sheltered, defended – while their enemies were mandated to retreat beyond the distance of the firelight.
Such law, such hospitality predates theology; it is custom old beyond reckoning. Over time, though, the polar forces of western culture and Sharia law served to erode this Law of the Desert, as they have so many other customs and traditions throughout the Levant. But Dr. Bailey recounted one story of hospitality that was at once ancient and immediate.
As a professor in Egypt, he was arrested by the authorities for the crime of evangelism – ‘Shaking the faith of a Muslim.’ The penalties for such a crime, while not necessarily as severe as other transgressions under Sharia, nonetheless put the defendant in a tenuous position within the community -even if charges were to be dropped, such an accusation alone can prompt mob action in defense of Islam. The accusation required Bailey to travel from his home to Cairo, where news of his arrest had become common knowledge. Having admonished his brothers and sisters in Christ to distance themselves from him, for fear of their own safety, he travelled alone, fearful for his future. He was shocked then, when he descended from the train, to discover the Christian community of Cairo awaiting him, en masse. They conducted him to a public square, where in an outdoor café, they he was treated to a great banquet… under the watchful eyes of the authorities.
You get the idea.
To open one’s table, one’s home, one’s life to the stranger is gracious; to do so in the presence of their enemies is defiance. In doing so, we may become a target – their enemies might become our enemies. And yet, that is just what God does.
Hospitality becomes something more, something sacred, when it becomes dangerous, for it reflects the grace God bestows on us, and helps us to be the conduits of God’s love we are each called to be.
I may be sitting alone in the dining room, but I like to think if you were in a jam, I’d make you dinner. May it be so for all of us.