Saturday, January 31, 2009

And his joy will be manifest to you

Is your house open to let strangers enter there,
Give to the least of them, show them someone cares,
And you may be entertaining Angels unaware,
And His joy may be manifest to you,
And the lost may be found as He works through you ...
-Keith Green, "Go to the Hungry Ones"

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
- Hebrews 13:2

The bible talks a lot about showing hospitality to strangers - both in the Old Testament and the New. Abraham famously took in three travelers, fed them and sheltered them and received their blessing and the news that Sarah would bear a child. He had been entertaining angels unaware. There is example after example in the bible of how important it was to house and feed travelers. Tim Keller mentions in his sermon on the topic that I listened to yesterday that showing hospitality to strangers was a hallmark of the ancient world. Few people traveled long distances and those who did had to rely on the kindnesses of others because there were no inns or hotels like we have today.

What I didn't know is that there was a specific custom to this offer and acceptance of hospitality. Travelers requiring a place to stay would arrive at a village and stand out by the gates of the town and wait for someone to come out and invite them in. Once invited into a home there would be a short screening of the travelers (just to be sure they hadn't secretly come for ill purpose) and once it was deemed that they were genuine, the host would prepare them a large meal and let them stay at their house for a short time (customarily two days).

There is a beauty and a simplicity in that. How sad it is that we have lost those customs in modern life. There is a website I found whose mission is in that lofty tradition - couchsurfing.com - but overall today I would say that such radical acts of hospitality are few and far between when it comes to strangers. We are still a very hospitable culture when it comes to friends and family. For instance, two of my friends are very graciously putting me up at different times during my California trip. But when it comes to those we don't know, we are taught to be cold and wary. I prefer to live in a world like the one Keith Green sings about with his trademark passion.

The ancient world help hospitality up as a sacred virtue. (Lest we forget, it was the violation of the sacred responsibility of hospitality to strangers that doomed the people of Sodom and Gomorrah rather than their sexual appetites.) Then the God of the Hebrews called for an ever more radical hospitality in his covenant with that people - broadening the umbrella of kindness to include the poor, the sick, the widow, the immigrant and the prisoner. True to course, THOSE are the people Jesus ministered to the most. That, to me, has always been the beauty of the Gospel. Nothing more, nothing less.

I wonder what kind of reception I will get when I wander into a church in a small town in the afternoon and go to the office. Will the pastor invite me in as those in the ancient world would invite a weary traveler into their town? If I tell him my story and ask if any in his congregation have the gift of hospitality, will I be sheltered for the night? Looks like I'm gonna find out.

And His joy may be manifest to you,
And the lost may be found as He works through you ...

Friday, January 30, 2009

To all the guys who've walked before ....

... who've traveled in and out many doors. I dedicate this post.

One of the lessons I learned in writing a thesis my senior year at college was that first task of a research project is to see what similar research has been done in the past. So before putting pen to paper in studying "The Portrayal of White Characters in Black Sitcoms" I read and chronicled all the other studies that had been done on the same or similar topics. Shockingly, my exegesis of Will Smith did not bring me international acclaim, but it did leave me with the good habit of always checking to see what I could learn from those who have taken on similar challenges.

And so it is with my walk. Many people have walked long distances before. Hundreds (if not thousands) have probably completed a coast-to-coast walk, the most famous of course being Peter Jenkins who wrote a best selling book in the 1970s. But I went on the web today to find who has done it recently, or is in the process of doing it as we speak. Two guys surfaced. BJ Hill & Skip Potts. Each have blogs about their journeys:

BJ: http://www.walkamerica2008.com/
Skip: http://skippotts.blogspot.com

BJ has already finished his walk and I have emailed him asking if I could pick his brain for lessons learned and logistical tips to help prevent foreseeable disasters. As for Skip, I will follow his journey (he is in Louisiana now) and if he finishes before the end of the summer, I will try and contact him as well. I don't see how I could ever get TOO much advice on an undertaking this ambitious. These guys have lived what I am going to live for four months and I'm dying to hear what they have to say.

Lastly, I downloaded a Tim Keller sermon this afternoon on "Hospitality". That theme is the crux of why I am taking this journey - to experience the hospitality of friends and strangers and to be transformed by the bonds of friendship and love that are formed. I am very interested in the injunctions to hospitality that are at the core of each of the three monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I want to engage those faith groups in my journey and see how those teachings are put into practice in present day America, where popular culture is saturated with messages of why we should FEAR strangers. I'll write more on this in the coming days, but it has been banging around inside of my head so I wanted to tee up the topic for future discussion.

Dolla' dolla' bills, y'all

This journey is not about money. I don't expect to make any from it and I aim to spend as little as possible. Still, I want to have a bit in the kitty when I step foot off of Mary Emma's porch on August 31st, pointed toward The Big Easy. I'm aiming to have $15,000 in savings by that time - $10K to spend over the four months of the journey and another $5K in reserve just in case of emergency.

The wonderful thing about this point in my life is by the time I set forth I will have no debt. No student loans. No credit card balances. No mortgages. No car payments. Nada. I will cancel my gym membership, my Blockbuster.com membership and be left with only one bill to my name - a cell phone bill. That iPhone is going to be my lifeline, so I don't begrudge that $100 a month at all. Come to think of it, maybe I should write to AT&T marketing and try to convince them to pick up my bill in exchange for capitalizing on the advertising potential of my walk. Wouldn't hurt to try, right?

I've had a fortunate relationship with money my whole life. Save for when my dad didn't let me go on a skiing trip in 8th grade, I don't remember another instance growing up where I felt like I was limited by not having enough money. As an adult, I've had years where I've had a lot, and years when I had a little, but life continued its march regardless and my contentment didn't seem to be swayed one way or the other depending on my account balance.

I never hear of someone on their death bed saying they regretted not making more money. Life isn't about money. It's about following one's inner knowing of what our bliss is calling us to do. Claire gave me a Money Workbook by Dr. Lane some time ago and it has sat on my bookshelf, unexamined. Maybe it is time to dust it off before the trip and see what lessons it has for me.

Because I'm taking this journey, whether or not I'm left with a single dolla, dolla bill to my name y'all.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Second Time Around

I have read more books in my life than I can remember (especially given that the list I had been keeping in my journal years ago was lost when the journal was pilfered on a Guatemalan bus) but only very few have fundamentally altered how I see the world.

In preparing for my "Hero's Journey" (copyright Joseph Campbell) I thought it might be a good idea to go back and read those few books that really impacted me and see how they speak to me, "a second time around." Now that Shalamar song is going to be in my head all day.

Yesterday I did a quick brainstorming session and came up with this list. The goal would be to re-read them by August 31st when I plan to depart:

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton
A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest Gaines
Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins

First up, Johnny Steins and his tale of the magnificent Central Californian Coast. After I read this book for the first time I sought out the movie version starring James Dean. I was less than impressed. In fact, I pulled the rip cord at about the 25 minute mark. I couldn't take the over-acting. I'll stick with the written page with this classic.