Hospitality must stand outside the economic circle of offer and exchange; it must be an offer without hope, without thought, without chance, of repayment. It must be a gift, but a gift given knowingly by the host, where the host sees only the offering and receipt by the stranger. This makes it, in the strict sense, not a gift at all. But receipt of this gift is not the same as acceptance. Whether the guest receives the gift, it is enough that the host offers it; indeed, the host cannot expect an acceptance, since such acceptance would indeed constitute a payment, an exchange, the offer repaid in the coin of gratitude. But it is not my purpose to make hospitality seem, or even have to be, impossible. It is enough to show that hospitality requires sacrifice; and one sacrifice required is the expectation of an exchange from the host’s offer. It is enough for the host to truly make the offer required of hospitality; how that offer is received is beyond her control, and in the truest sense none of her concern. Her actions are measured by what she has done, not by how others respond to it.
When I was reporting, this is what I found the most profoundly moving about people: The total access they would grant me to their lives. I had people who had every reason to be suspicious of middle-class-white-chick-with-notebook me (a Muslim family shortly after 9/11, grandparents who’d lost their grandchild in a horrible accident, people living in impossible poverty) invite me into their homes, feed me, tell me their stories with no reservations, no thought of holding back. Sometimes all I’d done was show up on their porches.
What Robert’s talking about is something I’ve been trying to get a handle on when I talk about security, this idea that we can’t build walls. It’s not that we should or shouldn’t, it’s that it just won’t work. We can’t protect ourselves. There’s no lock someone can’t open, no window someone can’t smash, no door someone can’t break down. We can wrap our homes in barbed wire and then we’ll fear the people inside it too. It’s why what’s happening to the Guantanamo detainees cuts so close with me: I have no hope if others do not. It’s why we’re going down to New Orleans: That’s me, someday, and I would want someone to come. Our fate is your fate, no man is an island, and all of that. We have to invite each other in.
And maybe it’s selfishness, or gaming the odds, but speaking only for myself, I don’t really care what karmic calculations motivate your kindnesses. I care only that you’re kind. It’s why the freepi with their “I would so totally be a Spartan” nonsense piss me off so much. Action is what matters:
Hospitality is not merely a “state of mind.” Without action, hospitality does not exist at all. Without space in which to perform hospitality, it does not come into existence. So hospitality requires space; but not limitless space. It requires place, and place must have boundaries. Place must have limitations. Boundaries between persons are ineradicable. But God is boundless. How do we invite the boundless into our bounded space? Having done so, what have we done? Boundlessness persists in the parables. Prodigal son is one example. Last Judgment is another. “Lord, when did we see you?”
We can’t protect ourselves. We can only protect each other.