In these days of so much hostility to the "other,” the stranger, the immigrant, LGBT people, etc., and in these days of incivility in much of our public life, I’m highly recommending we intentionally practice the spiritual dictum of "welcoming the stranger.” In my Judeo-Christian tradition, this is a commandment (Exodus 22:21): "Do not mistreat or oppress a stranger, for remember, you were once a stranger in the land of Egypt.”
I am currently a stranger in a strange land—strange to me that is: Utah. Its mountains are breathtaking in scope and beauty; the Alpine lakes beckon one to relax and restore one’s self. I know two people here—my daughter and her husband—and their hospitality couldn’t be more loving. I am so grateful. It’s a safe place to start slowly but surely to build the spiritual community I so deeply valued back in my old beloved home, Virginia Beach, Va.
It occurred to me recently that there are three times during the year when Americans open their doors willingly to strangers. One is Halloween, when we not only open our doors but we offer sweet treats as well! I’ve always preached that this should be a Holy Day for Christians, because opening our doors to neighbors and strangers alike, and especially children, should be a Christian trademark.
The second instance is garage sales and estate sales. Having just held an estate sale myself, as folks traipsed through my whole home, asking prices and making offers, some of us actually began to feel like a party was afoot! In fact, at one point I quipped, "Gee, I’ve met more neighbors here today than in the 10 years I’ve lived here. I should have held the estate sale when I first arrived!” Garage sales are usually friendly events, as well. I’ve been to several in Park City, Utah, and they have exhibited some of the old-fashioned small talk and bantering that I miss and still crave among neighbors.
Last, but not least, I recently attended a new church in this area. Though there were only about 30 older adults, and the pastor had asked newcomers to raise a hand to identify themselves (I did and was the only one), not one person came up after the service to welcome me. I was quite disappointed, and even a bit shocked. How I missed my beloved community, Living Waters Sanctuary, at that point! Whenever a stranger wandered into our midst, several members would immediately go up and introduce themselves and start a conversation with that person. What a wonderful practice, and we did it for 10 years, and it made God smile! For our Creator is the ultimate host, always inviting us to the table to sup with Him/Her in our hearts on Love and S/He invites us to do the same with our fellow humans.
So, friends, I know many of you are already practicing this "extravagant welcome” (a phrase coined by Rev. John Thomas, former president of the United Church of Christ). Let’s keep it up. Let’s teach our children how to do it. Let’s open our hearts and our doors whenever possible, so that the stranger—and the more diverse from us, the better—becomes an ally, and the ally becomes a friend. We have nothing to lose and a world of neighbors to gain.