Sunday, 9 November 2008

rachel: creation and hospitality?

(I'm not dead, and I've not left this blog to become a forgotten piece of cyberspace clutter. Hopefully I can spend some time at Christmas collecting my notes from the last 6 months into succinctly bullet pointed thoughts on architecture, theology and intentional community.. In the mean time, Molly and Marie-Frances, linked in my little box are blogging out this term. I'm here til Dec 15, and would love the company of any of my single-digit subscribers. Below are few thoughts on hospitality after a little discussion here at the Manor. Love. P. x)

So Rachel, I asked the question. I should by now, after a term and a half of L'Abri have worked out lunch tables, how to play them and how to pose questions.. How regularly I fail at this. A question with the C word in it needs very careful chairing to steer it away from a creation/evolution debate.. but it was not an unproductive conversation, although a little fraught, and some people left more confused than they arrived, but it did clarify for me a few thoughts, so I shall try to condense the fruits of conversation and those that ensued that afternoon springing from the question, if indeed i understand your question correctly..

Lunch was at E's and she supposed early on that you had lifted this question from Making Room, I hadn't realised there was a creational or environmental slant offered in the book, which she returned there was and that your question pertained to the parallel drawn in the book to God as host in nature. Did it? Needless to say, having my question thus defined for me, it ran away with itself dissecting the metaphor of God as host, the 'goodness' of creation, abuses of 'ownership' because of not understanding the both/and tension of being a part of nature and apart from nature. To a point where A had to interject to stop people using dominion and domination synonymically, so the lunch table's confusion emerged out of largely semantic issues of word definitions, and an attempt to then define hospitality left people at a loss, was the good Samaritan showing hospitality on the road? Is hospitality just loving people? It was all quite amiable, for better or worse, as the hospitality question is one i feel strongly about and I would sooner the conversation had ended in tears and people had fought for something than that we bumble through in a cautious and removed manner. Following lunch the de-briefs in the nooks and crannies of the manor were more clarifying.

I would venture two interpretations of the question as you have put it, firstly, and the one I see less to be gained in, there is the take on the question that looks at nature, 'fallen' though some suppose it to be, and extrapolate models for hospitality. This was presented by one at the table, drawing on Jonah and the vine that grows up to shade him. Further though tenuously, one can read in nature the way nests, colonies and shelters are constructed, how space is shared in an ecosystem and how symbiotic relationships between animals are enacted.

But hospitality is a more complex issue, a moral, relational, economic, even symbolic concept. The first take offers healthy provocation, particularly to consider ourselves as dependent creatures within a finite system, and to acknowledge the debt of knowledge as well as resources we owe and all that we still have to gain from a healthy relationship with nature and its systems. More clear to me are the profound tertiary impacts of our emphasis - or lack of - on making a home a home, on the environment. Simplistically one can cite negative impacts, where the demise of a culture of hospitality creates a demand and opportunity for brutally more resource-heavy and crushingly less-human means of accommodating visiting bodies in foreign cities, simplistically too we could posit roots of this in a fear of strangers, demand for luxury, and oil-driven expediency. Where once, or where ideally, there may have been an attitude and lifestyle among people that made possible travelling between foreign cities, finding there large families networked broadly and deeply in life-giving relationships to their neighbours and their soil, who were sufficiently engaged in a casual gift economy to make possible, even in their relative poverty, sleeping and eating provision to anyone who had need and this for the simple joy of new people and new stories at the dinner table, we now have exchanged the glory of this for an image of five star luxury on the company account, a lonely 50th floor hotel room, with sheets cleaned daily by an anonymous, faceless underclass, a private bubble kept at its perfect temperature, perfect placeless luxury. Do I make a point too romantically?

The counter argument given for this, even if we are willing to forgive its romanticism, is that an 'hospitality imperative' is a burden too heavy to bear, a duty typically performed by an exhausted working mother, making beds in the guest room after her 9 to 5, hoovering the hallway with one hand, feeding her children with the other, and all this to present and image and to tick a check box of the good christian household. I will concede that all the lunchtime sermons I preach, expounding the saving nature of hospitality are liable to lead to legalism if so understood, and thereby make also these lunching labrinis twice the sons of hell that I am.

So, I have tried briefly and tentatively to sketch 'hospitality' as the by-product of appropriate dwelling in the world.

- I picture in my mind of the green and blue marble of earth spread across with a vast web of relational links and clusters, at the junction of each tie is a home, our crabshells in which we eat, sleep and have our being, protected from the elements. I see the best domestic architecture not as the industry journal cover images, but as the unseen and anonymous framed worn paths and junctions, platforms for conversations, enriched gradually out of the commitment by a family to the story of a place across a span time longer than the life of a man and his return on venture capital.

- To achieve such houses, such homes, there is a need to fix in our worldview two states of being, 'visiting', and not-visiting, that is to say 'belonging'. And these as two distinct modes of being in a place, to avoid a disastrous middle way of non-belonging, consuming aliens, being both anywhere and nowhere, refugees fleeing each the city of your youth from home to uni, uni to first job, flat to suburbs. The state of 'belonging' contracts you to the ground where you meaningfully can honour your parents in front of those who have known them and be held to that geography by its beauty which becomes a part of you and whose land, weather, fauna are the foundation for your language, art, music, diet, identity. So the geography and architecture of the home are much less uprootable than modernism would have us hope.

- Heidegger said something to the effect of “Only once you have learnt to dwell should you build.” I quoted him more exactly somewhere.. What if you knew the secret of dwelling, of enduring all things in a place, of bringing life in dead places, of doing the next right thing for a place, of practising resurrection of a place, how then would we build there, how would we decorate, how would we conduct our households? I don’t know how much I project onto Heidegger and how much is in the text, but to dwell, to rest and work without angst, to be at peace, is practical as much as cerebral. To know that living in the second best postcode is ok, fearing nothing of fighting in the streets, being confident to let the stranger into your home, and sweating blood for love are all facets of the dwelling in confidence which is the only sufficient basis to begin to build. So on this basis not all houses have the same level of home-ness, home-ness it is a product of the amount of human emotional energy invested, for example the Manor House. If we believe we are here for the long haul, we should build like we believe that. And so too in our existing housing stock, in our rented flats and trailers, it should be a christian task of primary importance to redeem, to embellish, to restructure and make beautiful these spaces in God’s world because they are the primary places where one’s relationships are conducted, marriages consummated, meals eaten, games played, parties held, children raised, homework done, so too out of the relationships in these places it is here that personal meanings are formed and grounded, hopes expressed and dreams dreamt. All of these actions are ultimately exercises dominion over creation. Home is an extension of the self, the modifying device though which the raw materials of nature pass, the lens through which ideas pass, the expression of a view of the world and a hope for the world.

- So, the home is less, as corbusier is credited as saying, “A machine for living in” but rather “An organism for conducting dominion through” or even “An interdependent cell in the organism of a community for the redeeming of the world” .. And perhaps this is a useful image, that of an organism, the body of the church as it were, but crucially, making it physical, that each soul inhabits the shell of a home and by that gifted practically in bricks and mortar to form healthier cities, where the interaction between cells is hospitality, an exchange of love, conviviality, story and vision.. People truly 'live' only in relationship to other people. Homes are only truly alive in relationship to other homes? Households to households. Is it idolatrous to set up a practical-ly independent home? What is the joy of hospitality? What is the purpose of a christian home? What is the opposite of hospitality? Everybody has a home, if I can define it loosely enough, everybody has a patch of ground they lay their head, a bench they eat at, a manner of having dominion over space. And hospitality is the orientation of your life in respect to that dominion over space, outward or inward, do you share your box or not. The home is a tool for loving people, home is a gift, a grace of God, given and undeserved, making hospitality is a primary transaction of the gift economy, indeed an obligation if we truly are to receive it as a gift. Home is the point on the earth you invest your creative energy, draw on that specific land for food and for inspiration and leave your mark - architecturally, emotionally, ecologically.

- Hospitality is effecting the lordship of Christ over home making. Hospitality is the organising principle for a home that is the perfect third way, being neither a commune nor a nuclear family home. Hospitality is born out of an an attitude of enjoying the company of others, all others. Hospitality operates out of that nodal point in the web on the blue green marble, and its effectiveness, richness and beauty are increased and increased as the roots of the node go deeper into the soil beneath and as the supporting limbs of relationships to neighbouring nodes, the farmers, carpenters, local artists, babysitters, half-a-cup-of-flour-lenders and so on..

- One may stay in one place for the sake of the kids, for the sake of the elderly - those who most benefit from the security of regularity - and in order to move around as much as we do, we have needed to play down our commitments to these relations. But further, that which benefits them, is good for all, home is intergenerational, story is intergenerational, above all wisdom and understanding are intergenerational. We should exist intimately in intergenerational community. Home is crucially dependent for the sustaining and quality on being pursued by many generations together. Without the old we forget where we have come from, and expend incalculable energy reinventing the wheel, parenthood, cooking, and fashion each generation; without the young we forget our vulnerability, we loose our suppleness and humour, and we are at liberty to forget that we are fleetingly temporary tenants holding the plot for the next round.

The demise of hospitality can trace its roots to:
- The speed at which we are able to - and therefore do - live at. The jump from could to should live at is not self evident, and it is linked to faith in technology as saviour, and abandoned responsibilities to others, to relationships.. not making, earning, doing to give it away; not caring for the least last and lost.
- Likewise the culture of long working hours and commuting, motivated by misaligned notions of happiness, progress and then also workoholism and related addictions.
- Image based notion of the home, professionalisation of home-making to remote, economically motivated developers, short-term tenancy, a conception of housing as a disposable lifestyle accessory.
- Individualism, etc and all those systemic vices that most every L'Abri lecture defines itself by standing in opposition. Sigh..

So the gospel empowers us through a freedom from every fear that held us back, and motivates us by an obligation to a gift-economy transaction to practice hospitality, to orientate our lives and households around loving, feeding and sheltering anyone who has need, and this culture of hospitality is the primary spiritual discipline or lifestyle corrective to moderate our use, interaction with and redeeming of creation. Ho hum, I tailed away towards the end, let me know how these convoluted thoughts strike you...
Image: Rachel Bush's :-)