Organizers of LGBTQ programming at the Greenbelt Festival this weekend in England asked me to write a short piece to be read aloud at a service. The theme is hospitality. I immediately thought of the famous story in Luke 24 about friends walking and the stranger who walks beside them on the road.
Meditation on Hospitality
“Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
–But who is that on the other side of you?”
T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland
Scene: Two disciples. heads down. Cloaks covering their faces. Dejected, fleeing Jerusalem. Heartbroken.
Enter: A Stranger. Nondescript, also cloaked.
They meet and walk together up the road. They converse. They reveal secrets.
They speak of their dashed hopes, their pain. Then at a crossroads the Stranger moves as if to leave them. They urge the Stranger, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.”
They share a meal and for a moment, the two see in the Stranger the one they love, the Christ, the Treasure they feared they had lost forever.
(pause for 5 seconds)
This encounter on the road and then at the table, where does it place you today? As Stranger? As Host? As silent observer? Those of us, gays and lesbians, who had been denied a place at the table in the past now have the privilege and the responsibility to make room for the Stranger. We may have grown accustomed to being the Outsider for so long that we do not always recognize our new role to seek out and welcome the Stranger.
For some gays and lesbians “the other” is a bisexual person, who within our communities, often has had to assert an identity as one on a continuum rather than a binary. The Stranger may be a transgender person–a transsexual, a trans man, or a trans woman at a middle place of transition, or just beginning a journey, or long settled into themselves. Perhaps the Stranger is a gender-queer teen who does not conveniently fit into the categories we have used up until now. This one enters, “gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded, I do not know whether a man or a woman.”
Suddenly some of us land in the place where our own oppressors and allies have stood. We now have someone in our midst with an experience and identity foreign from our own. We may feel shock at the emotions that swirl within us. Discomfort. Fear. Doubt. Entitlement. We feel the urge to defend hard won ground. In essence, we perform the very same drama that played out in
our lives when we were the Outsider and those at the table struggled with us among them, and in many cases rejected us. We fall into a role that we learned through oppression, one that imprinted itself on us, that takes over so easily we assume it is natural and right.
If we are not careful and thoughtful, we will re-play history, but this time we drive the Stranger from our midst. Therefore, we must overcome the bias and the prejudice we inherited. We must travel back in time to when we were the Stranger, when those in power saw us only as a worthless clay jar and did not see the treasure we held within.
We must relive the longing we felt for community, for a place where we could truly be ourselves without fear of punishment, shunning, or a cold reception. We must reflect on what we wanted in an ally and a friend when we felt most alone. We must remember how our hearts burned within us when we discovered someone who saw us and was not distracted by the differences we presented.
We must look ahead up the road and ask ourselves, and each other, “Who is
that one walking beside us?”