The porter should have a cell near the door, that they who come may always find one present from whom they may obtain an answer. As soon as anyone knocketh or a poor person calleth, let him answer, "Thanks be to God," or invoke a blessing, and with the meekness of the fear of God let him return an answer speedily in the fervor of charity." - Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 66.
This week I presided at a funeral for a forty-seven year old man. During the service we spoke of his way with hospitality. I was told that whenever you were with him, you felt like you were the most important person in the world. The same was true for phone calls. You felt like he'd been waiting for your call all day. Every time you encountered this man, you went a way feeling good. That was the type of hospitality Benedict taught. And the man whose life and resurrection we were celebrating would have made a perfect Porter, the one who welcomed guests at the door of the abbey.
I once hear a preacher describe hospitality as "treating your guests as if they were at home, even if you wish they were at home." Unfortunately that's the type of grudging hospitality we too often offer to the guests at our places of worship. We too often ignore our guests, and leave them to fend for themselves. And heaven help them if they sit in the wrong pew.
We as Christians also tend to be pretty bad at welcoming those whose point of view differs from our own. Emo Phillips tells a story about our dealing with others with even slightly different points of view. The story takes place on the Golden Gate Bridge. In the story a man’s walking across the bridge. When he’s half way across he finds, to his horror, another man who’s about to jump off. Immediately the first man begins a conversation; in a desperate try to halt the man’s suicide. In the midst of the conversation the second man says he believes in God. Here we pick up the story.
"I said, 'Are you a Christian or a Jew?' He says, 'A Christian.' I said, 'Me too. Protestant or Catholic?' He says, 'Protestant.' I said, 'Me too. What franchise?' He says, 'Baptist.' I said, 'Me too. Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?' He says, 'Northern Baptist.' I said, 'Me too. Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?' He says, Northern Conservative Baptist.' I said, 'Me too. Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist or Northern Conservative Reformed Baptist?' He says,'Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist.' I said, 'Me too. Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Eastern Region?' He says, 'Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region.' I said, 'Me too. Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?' He says 'Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.'
'Oh,' I said, 'Die, heretic!' And I pushed him off the bridge."
In which way would you want to be welcomed by a brother or sister in Christ, "die heretic," or "thanks be to God you are here?" I think I'll choose the later and try to offer such a welcome, with the fervor of charity, the next time I run into someone with whom I disgree.