Transforming a Violent Culture Through Joy

Our newsfeeds are filled with mass shootings, bombings, and waves of refugees fleeing for their lives.  Political discourse has devolved into deeper cycles of blaming, shaming, and name calling than previously thought possible. It seems like the world has gone insane with people resorting to violence as the only way to solve their problems.  From the depths of my soul I hear a silent scream yelling, “Stop!”

The question is, what if there is a way to address the strident human condition that spurns the impotence of overwhelmed inaction and rejects retributive violence?  What if hospitality, as both a mindset and a plan of action, contains an infusing, imaginative, and transformative power that opens the way for people with differences to learn and live and love together?

I believe hospitality can transform culture in 3 ways.

1. Hospitality changes perspective

Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale Divinity coins the term, “inverted prospective.”  He goes on to explain, “If we consider other people as not so good in some regard as I am myself, then I am also an other to this person.  True hospitality changes my view toward “the other” by seeing my own undesirability through the same lens I am using to judge them.  This inverted perspective sharpens the sting of what it feels like to be disrespected, categorized, and ostracized.  It opens the way for me to see others who are different from me as human journeyers who are also striving for meaning, connection, and significance.

2. Hospitality grows empathy

Much has been written and spoken about regarding the difference between sympathy and empathy.  Sympathy is characterized as feeling sorry for someone from a safe distance while empathy takes on the deeper practice of feeling with someone and crawling down in the trenches to be present with them in whatever they are experiencing.  Volf defines empathy as a perspective that invites us to see others through their own eyes.  The space that is opened when we empathize with others is the place of embrace.  And when we are together with others in the safety of embrace, we are not afraid to ask the tough questions or hold the difficult conversations.  It is a place where we are truly free to be different and yet respectful and open to learning.

When I think of joy I am transported to my most recent encounter with my grandson, Wyatt. As he ran to greet me, he jumped into my arms wide-smiled and abandoned.  This resulted in laughter, for both of us, and brought with it feelings of love, warmth, and connection.  True hospitality unleashes joy because the rights and personality and culture of all people are protected and every person is valued for who they are, regardless of differences. 

The writer in the first gospel of John says that true love is not characterized by word or speech but by actions and truth.  The question I ask myself, and I invite you to ponder today is, “How does the way I practice hospitality open space for new perspectives where embrace, empathy, and joy are offered instead of fear, hate, retribution, and violence?  Perhaps today is the day for me, for you, to live more hospitably, with an inverted perspective, toward friend, family, neighbor, and enemy.