Last fall I read a book referred to me by my friend Evan Garst. Stranger God: Meeting Jesus in Disguise by Richard Beck. I read a lot of books related to Christian theology and the practice of ministry. This one will stick with me for a while. One of the lines from the book:
Being like Jesus is a million boring little things -- things like waiting patiently in line at the grocery store, being patient with your kids, listening to your spouse, being a dependable friend.
The premise of the book is rooted in Matthew 25 where the disciples are told they are actually meeting Jesus in the beggar looking for a cup of cold water. God is the Stranger; we meet him when we welcome, extend hospitality to, those who are outside our natural circles of relationship.
Beck addresses the first thing that comes to many of our minds -- "I don't have time for more people." He says "People are exhausted. Our schedules are totally maxed out. We have no margin. So where are we going to find the time and energy for all this hospitality... our lives are dominated by those feelings of scarcity." Beck is a professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University; he says, "I think our busyness and our exhaustion are rooted in a spiritual sickness that runs throughout our society." But he quickly says that addressing that issue isn't the purpose of this book! He suggests that while we figure out how to address that bigger issue, we just work at our practice of hospitality.
Hospitality is welcoming and being with the people already in our lives: the people we live with, the people we work with, the people in our neighbourhood.
If we don't have time to be present and welcoming with the people already in our busy lives, we will never be able to greet the strangers around us. [His premise, though, is that when we learn to practice being welcoming and present with the people already in our lives we start to have margin for strangers.]
That's the first half of the book. Good stuff. Then Beck introduces us to Therese of Lisieux and her, "Little Way" and things get really interesting. I won't say much more about Therese (read the book). But Beck wants us to know that Therese's Little Way could be revolutionary (his says atomic) to our practice of the Christian faith.
Noticing/Seeing Others - nothing can be accomplished by way of welcoming until we notice others. Paying attention, seeing others, is the practice of kindness.
Slow down, stop, practice being interrupted. When Blind Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, Mark 10 says, "Jesus stopped." If you follow Jesus, he will make you late.
Approach, seek out, offer a smile, a kind word to someone who isn't being noticed, who you might tend to make a detour around.
That's it?! Yes.
We will "widen the circle of our affections" (hospitality) by the intentional and disciplined practice of seeing, stopping for, and approaching people whom we otherwise would avoid or ignore.
... a million boring little things.