Updated: Aug 14
Hospitality creates safe space; and safe space is necessary for revelations, those sacred aha moments that lead to growth and new life for all of us. Henri Nouwen calls that overlooked biblical tenet of hospitality an attitude. The late Catholic priest and theologian writes, “If we expect any salvation, redemption, healing and new life, the first thing we need is an open, receptive place where something can happen to us. Hospitality, therefore, is such an important attitude.” Yes, and in that open, receptive place carved out by hospitality, there is no room for hate.
On Monday I was at the capitol participating in advocacy work against a house bill (HB 1626) that would end gender-affirming care for transgender youth, the removal of which could be detrimental to young Texans’ lives, not just their health. While a hearing in consideration of the bill commenced inside, a large rally in opposition to it gathered in the outdoor rotunda. Hundreds of people filled the open circle, while hundreds more congregated around two circular balconies overlooking the activity at the floor level. It was the making of a hospitable space.
When speakers began to address the rally, though, a man tried to disrupt it. Lunging into the rotunda’s inner circle, he yelled at the speaker, antagonizing them and stifling the event. Within seconds, a chant arose: “No place for hate! No place for hate!” The man’s hostile words were instantly drowned out, but he would not move. Activists surrounded the man, but did not touch him and gave him space to move. When he raised his hands and used thumbs down gestures, the people surrounding him lifted banners with pro-trans youth messages on them to block him from view. The man tore the banners down and continued yelling in the faces of everyone around him. Still, no one touched him. Everyone gave him room. And the chants not only continued for several minutes, they got louder: “No place for hate! No place for hate!”
As the man stood obstinate, his presence disallowing the event to continue, a young man attending the rally in support moved closer to the disruptor. Both of them were inches from me. I could see the look on the young man’s face clearly. He was angry. The blotches of red forming on his fair-skinned forehead, cheeks, and neck formed a visible rage spreading to his back and arms like tentacles. The young man was right next to the disruptor now, jabbing a pointer finger in his face like a weapon, and raising his chant to a ferocious volume. Watching the young man’s eyes fill with animosity and seeing his body start to shake, I felt more uneasy with him than with the disruptor.
For anyone paying attention to the young man, it was now clear that the words he was chanting, “no place for hate,” did not match his attitude. Another rally attendee standing in the fray caught on and gently turned to face the young man. She placed a hand close to his chest in a motion that said, “It’s ok. Calm down,” and her face showed care and patience. Instantly, the young man lowered his pointer finger and his volume, and rejoined the spirit of the chant: love.
In spaces molded by love, there is no room for hate, and those who would strive to organize such hospitable spaces do well to always return to that truth. As the apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians, love is patient and kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude; and it does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful, and does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). I can only imagine the pain that the young man enraged by the disruptor has felt and is feeling because of the hostility that the disruptive man fosters. The young man’s pain is real and it is legitimate. But if we expect any salvation, redemption, healing and new life, the first thing we need is an open, receptive place where something can happen to us. Hospitality, therefore, is such an important attitude. And hospitality cannot exist without love that bears everything, believes all things will be well, hopes in all circumstances, and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7), including hostile disruptions.
After several minutes of ceaseless chanting, the disruptor was escorted out of the rotunda by capitol police. Cheers erupted and the rally continued. The first speaker to pick up the microphone at that point was Jonathan Van Ness, the author, podcaster, hairstylist, and TV celebrity, who was introduced by his more common name: JVN. Speaking to a now quiet crowd, JVN advised everyone to not allow antagonism to lessen our humanity or compromise our commitment to love one another. “It is not quieting their faith to legislate your lives,” he said. “We will not hide our faith, our humanity, and our spirituality. We will be loud. We will be in our power.”
Among other lessons I am still processing, what I took from those experiences at the capitol is that love can be dynamic and loud without turning into something it is not. And when love is that powerful, hospitality takes shape in ways that save us from ourselves, redeem us from hostility toward one another, heal us from the pain that has been inflicted on us and those we hold dear, and usher us into new life; new life that does not lose hope or back down in the face of any disruptive, intimidating challenges that each day will surely throw at us.
Know this, child of God: In the sphere of God’s hospitable love, there is no place for hate. And you belong to that expanse that has the unyielding power to save, redeem, heal, and deliver all of us into life everlasting. So, lean into hospitality by holding fast to love; for in doing so you reflect the very image of God and share the transformational compassion of Christ.