Tori Wells operated a "come one, come all" attitude towards hosting, until a friend challenged her to put some boundaries in place.
I’ve been a long standing advocate of the open-door policy. If I sense even a murmur of someone else’s aloneness I am quick to check my diary and share all upcoming invites. I’m a cheerleader of showing a "welcome" with one more seat available at the table. Two gate crashers recently tested my catering capacity – and seating options – around the table with 24hrs to go and a new dietary request thrown in, but from years of striding the corridors as a secondary special needs teacher, I couldn’t wish for a more harmonious culture than that of inclusion for all.
Yet, I was challenged recently by a non-Christian that my "filtering system" of people is scarcely adequate for healthy living and I had to give it some thought. She said that too often I had let the stranger into the private, cultivated spaces of my life without giving pause to consider if they will respect it. This battles against my belief that, as Christians, we are called to radical hospitality, and it didn't seem to align with the God of Psalm 8, who is intentional and mindful to care for his people.
In my practical service of plates to tables, I run the risk of hiring out my heart for use beyond its capacity.
Since moving to London in September 2022, I’ve been gripped by how many people it’s possible to have on a guest list. Suppers of 16 people have become the norm and the white noise of conversation a comforting soundtrack. There is space for both the 5,000, and the few in our theology but I’m hearing a call to explore a command in Isaiah 30 that: "In quietness and trust is your strength."
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I recently hosted a small dinner and over the washing up realised I’d listened and learnt so much about each guest. I left sensing that we were stronger friends for having attended a quieter table and in that quietness and trust, let one another in. I won’t ever fully cut loose from the mother hen habit (packing the sides of my home and table) but I will reframe my approach to how I boundary invitation to my heart. Because, in my practical service of plates to tables, I run the risk of hiring out my heart for use beyond its capacity.
Jesus is not afraid to send the crowds away or to physically sail away, removing himself from the hordes of people around him. He demonstrates an ebb and flow of providing for the many and then finding the secret place of abiding with the few.
I’m being challenged to see this inner core as a boundary space where deep and divine work can happen.
This is the dynamic example of Jesus; a continual expansion and contraction of invitation. On the one hand, Jesus is indiscriminate with his invitation, his own language professes the agenda of inclusivity: "Come to me ALL who are weary." However, in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus has moved away from the crowds. The majority of Jesus’ followers were not invited to occupy that space with him. Of all the people Jesus communed with, spent time with and ministered to, only eleven (Judas has lost his spot in the pose by this point) were intended for that space. And even then, of the eleven, eight were left at a distance. Those eight had fellowship but not the level of intimacy that admitted Peter, James and John to keep close to Jesus in the depths of the garden.
We see Jesus move from the crowds, to the disciples, to the "beloved". I’m being challenged to see this inner core not as a plateau of exclusivity but as a boundary space where deep and divine work can happen.