It’s July. This time last year, I was stressing on how to pack for a year in two suitcases and telling people about my future work with people experiencing homelessness in Hollywood. Now I’m trying to figure out how to get all my stuff home, because it has grown exponentially, and processing my work at First Pres. I have less than 20 days left at the Lord’s Lighthouse. My flight back to Virginia is in just over a month and I am trying to figure out how to move all of my stuff for my new apartment in San Anselmo in my Toyota Corolla. This year of service is quickly coming to an end, and I am in awe of how fast it went. I have made life long friendships and gained experience that I never thought possible. This year has molded my future ministry in so many ways. I had to write an essay for a scholarship application which asked the question, what kind of ministry do I feel called to? I cited several experiences I had had and books I have read, all within this last year. I’m not sure what type of ministry I will be called to do, but in the last year, I have learned and experienced hospitality in such a way that makes me feel called to always be working towards extending hospitality in the way that Christ did. Seeing that I have already written this essay on radical hospitality for the grant application, I thought I would post it here.
Calling of God
In Tim Chester’s book, A Meal with Jesus, he writes, “Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, or put on events. He ate meals.” Obviously, I’m not going to seminary and pursuing ordination just to eat meals. But the beauty I find in this phrase is what ministry I am pursing. I am not sure of the future job title or position I will hold, but I am sure of my call into a world of striving to be more like Christ in all my future endeavors. I am called to a ministry of radical hospitality in which I serve and am served by all those around me. I feel called to this ministry based on the work I have been doing, the books I have been reading, and the voices who have affirmed this to me.
I am currently serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Hollywood, CA. While Hollywood provides the imagery of glitz and glamour, I have seen a much different side of Los Angeles in the last 8 months. I work at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood with the Lord’s Lighthouse Ministry. The Lord’s Lighthouse is a homeless outreach ministry where we serve a lunch twice a week, lead a bible study and homily, provide basic hygiene and clothing needs, connect our friends to further housing and health care resources, and most importantly, attempt to create a sense of community and church for those experiencing homelessness. What is commonly found among those experiencing homelessness is not only a loss of permanent housing, but a loss of community and a sense of belonging. The Lord’s Lighthouse works to create a church for those most often overlooked by society, most often forgotten. In my position as a YAV, I have the privilege to simply be present with our friends during a shared meal. I have forged real, meaningful, and mutual relationships with many people by sitting with them at the table and eating.
During January and February, I coordinated a winter shelter at FPCH. The shelter, or Winter Refuge, as it has been renamed, has existed for the last 4 years. It was created by a group of Hollywood churches who felt a need to create a shelter model that was intentionally hospitable. While most winter shelters in Los Angeles, run by the county, are first come first serve, we work on a guest list to ensure that our guests receive a full 8 weeks of rest, food, shelter, and love. For 8 weeks I enjoyed breakfast and dinner with our friends in the shelter, I shared in life. Christine Pohl writes in Making Room, “Around a dinner table, family and guest share food and life.”
In the rest of her book, Pohl writes about the practice and history of radical hospitality in the Christian form. She cites the story of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke stating “Jesus redefines neighbor and love for neighbor. The scope of our responsibility to care includes anyone in need. This expands more tightly bounded definitions of neighbor that tends to limit responsibility to those we like or those like us.” Radical hospitality is a ministry that Christ continually calls us all to be a part of through this story. The challenge is to find space in our lives in which we can do this work. I not only feel empowered by Pohl’s words to do this work, but also urged to share her words to create a society that is once again based on radical hospitality. The word hospitality in our modern day typically refers to the service industry in which we pay for people to be overly welcoming to us. What would many major social issues look like if we, as a society, were overly welcoming to all?
Another book that has been empowering me to this type of radical hospitality is Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow. While Alexander does not put this book in a Christian context, it was easy for me to find a clear message in my own calling from her book. She looks at the War on Drugs and it’s persecution of mainly African American communities. Alexander writes “We could choose to be a nation that extends care, compassion, and concern to those who are locked up and locked out or headed for prison before they are old enough to vote. We could seek for them the same opportunities we seek for our own children; we could treat them like one of “us.” We could do that. Or we can choose to be a nation that shames and blames its most vulnerable, affixes badges of dishonor upon them at young ages, and then relegates them to a permanent second-class status for life. That is the path we have chosen, and it leads to a familiar place.” If, at any point, we as a society are choosing to create a “second class status” we are not following in the call of Christ. It is far too often that there are people who have been isolated in society and hurt by the church. I feel called to be a part of a church that no longer feels the need to do this, but instead, truly has doors wide open.
As a YAV, I am urged to discover those isolated and alone. As an intentional community in YAV we have read books on racial reconciliation, gang issues in Los Angeles, toxicity in modern day charity work, the struggles of living on low and below living wages. We all work with homelessness in Hollywood and also run a community center in the primarily Hispanic neighborhood we live in. We are engaged in many facets of life in Los Angeles. I find that the more I engage in the city, the more I am led to be a part of the city. Not just a YAV living here for a year, but truly being in this city for the whole year. While I do not plan to be in Los Angeles after my year, as I am starting school in August, I want to fully be a part of the city. The church is not just the four walls of the sanctuary, for me I find the church in the city. DOOR, the partner organization with YAV in Hollywood, operates by the motto, “Find the Face of God in the City.” God is at work in all places, and not only is this my job as a YAV to seek that out, but also to be a representation of God and the church in my work in the city. My hope is that in any city and any job I am called to, this will forever be my call in the world, to create the Kingdom of Heaven, on earth. To love all on this earth because they are creations of God.
And is anyone surprised that I talked about eating meals with one another. For the 4th of July, I made Lanita and Sara, the only two housemates that stayed in LA for the holiday, a picnic lunch, as is required on the 4th. Here is the result and recipe for Sriracha Bean Burgers with a Bleu Cheese Butter. This is pretty messy to make, so get excited. The best part is that you throw everything into the food processor and let it do the hard work. Here’s what you’ll need:
1 can black beans
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tbsp. Sriracha
1 tbsp. brown mustard
A handful of Cilantro
1/2 a red onion
1 red pepper
3 cloves of garlic
Juice from 1/2 of a lemon(or lime)
1 tsp cumin
Make sure it’s blended well and really thick, the thicker the better. You can always add more breadcrumbs to make it thicker. Cover and refrigerate for an hour, they hold better cold.
After an hour, form into patties, coat with breadcrumbs and cook on a greased griddle or frying pan. I liked the grooved griddle that we have. It is very squishy and messy to form but the breadcrumbs are helpful in keeping it together.
They only need to cook for about 5 minutes on each side. For these put red onion, tomato, avocado, brown mustard and bleu cheese butter on a toasted bun. The Blue cheese butter is super easy to make, combine 1/2 cup of butter with 8 oz. of blue cheese crumbles. Whip together with a hand mixer and serve. It’s also really good on steaks.
Put all together and serve.
I finished the first book on my list!
Making Room is both a history and guide book through the practice of extreme hospitality. Christine D. Polh spent time with several intentional Christian Communities that practice this form of radical hospitality to learn how it is done most effectively. These communities exist both nationally and internationally and serves people from all walk of life. Pohl writes “Today when we think of the hospitality we don’t think first of welcoming strangers. We pictures having family and friends over for a pleasant meal. Or we think of the ‘hospitality industry,’ of hotels and restaurants which are open to strangers as long as they have money or credit cards … but we rarely see it as a spiritual obligation or as a dynamic expression of vibrant Christianity.” The organizations that practice radical hospitality provide welcome to refugees, immigrants, people experiencing homelessness, people with mental and physical disabilities, and other who live on the margins of society.
In reading this book, I couldn’t help to notice the similarities between the the practices of radical hospitality and the lunch program that I work with. While we only offer our program twice a week, we employ as many of the practices of hospitality and welcome. We start each day by giving each of our guest name tags which is “one of the simplest ways of communication welcome … learning their names quickly.” The other highly important form of hospitality, and the basis of our ministry, is to share a meal. We urge our all our volunteers to eat with the guest once the meal is served. While we are providing the basic necessity of food, we are striving to provide more, a place to build community and a sense of belonging. “In hospitality, the stranger is welcomed into a safe, personal, and comfortable place, a place of respect and acceptance and friendship. Even if only briefly, the stranger is included in a life-giving and life-sustaining network of relationships.” The last piece of radical hospitality we try to employ is to redefine the relationship between guest and volunteer. “Hospitality involves friendship as well as serving food.” We play the role of the church, and as such we strive to create mutual friendships instead of a social worker helping a client. “Because eating is something everyone must do, meal-time has a profoundly egalitarian dimension. Meal-time, when people sit down together, is the clearest time of being with others, not doing for others. It is the time when hospitality looks the least like social services.”
Pohl uses many biblical references to support the idea of radical hospitality. One in particular comes from the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan. “Jesus redefines neighbor and love for neighbor. The scope of our responsibility to care includes anyone in need. This expands more tightly bounded definitions of neighbor that tends to limit responsibility to those we like or those like us.” What would it look like if we took a Good Samaritan approach to issues of homelessness, immigration, and others pushed to the margins? How can we love our neighbors and refuse to offer them equal rights, allow them to go hungry and sleep on the street, and believe that they do not have a place in this world. Because, not only is each person we meet a representation of Christ, but our response also represents Christ in the world. “The response we give to an unexpected guest is connected to how that person experiences God’s love and welcome.”
Here are a few more quotes from Pohl’s book that I found helpful and intriguing:
“Without supper, without love, without table companionship, justice can become a program that we do to other people.” Murphy Davis, co-founder of the Open Door.
“When sanctuary and a slower pace are combined, there is a sense of peace.”
“Around a dinner table, family and guest share food and life.”
“The front door of the home is the side door of the church.”
“Generous and steady hospitality, practiced among believers from different backgrounds, can be the beginnings of significant reconciliation.”
“Church, like families, need to eat together to sustain their identity as a community. The table is central to the practice of hospitality in home and the church – nourishment we gain there is physical, spiritual and social. Whether we gather around the table for the Lord’s Supper or for a church potluck dinner, we are strengthened as a community.”
“It is in the shelter of each other the people live.” Irish proverb
And of course it wouldn’t be a blog about breaking bread without a new recipe. Today it is a fruit and rice salad. While this recipe can vary to your liking, here is what our lovely salad contained!
Beets, Beet Greens, Kale, Lettuce, Green Onions, Wild Rice, Strawberries, and Feta Cheese.
Start by cutting the greens off of the beets, wrapping the beets in tinfoil and baking them for 40 minutes at 350°F.
Remove the spine from the beet greens and kale, cut all the greens into smaller pieces and combine them together. Slice the strawberries and add them to the greens.
Cook wild rice according to packaging and add to salad.Next, once beets are finished cooking, peel skin, slice and quarter. But be careful, their messy and will stain your hands.
Add the feta and chill for one hour.
Again, any salad dressing will work but I like to make a balsamic dressing for this salad. Start with the juice of two lemons.
Combine 1/2 c. of olive oil.
Then add 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp. of rice vinegar, and a dash of paprika. Shake and serve!
One of our new goals as a house is to have dinner at least twice a week together. We have chosen Friday nights to share our meal and share our week. Due to a long work week, we usually are full of energy and full of laughs. This week we enjoyed dinner outside, because it’s L.A. and always warm.
“Hospitality will be most satisfying for both host and guest when food is served.” — Joetta Handrich Schlaback