Last weekend Dwayne and I came home from a short trip on our motorcycles and found our guests sitting at the table under the umbrella on our deck, eating left over pizza topped with tuna fish, and drinking a bottle of white wine. There were huge smiles on their faces as they greeted us. They were visitors from a small town in Holland visiting the United States for a few weeks. They had just spent a few days in New York city and were on their way to the Washington D.C. area. They spent two nights with us wanting to spend some time in the Princeton area. He was a physicist, and they wanted to see the university and the house that Albert Einstein called home. Mostly, though, they wanted a day or two to get out of the business of the cities and to breathe deeply. Our home, they said, was the perfect retreat.
This past Sunday we welcomed a young couple who live in the Poconos and are rollercoaster aficionados. They were spending his birthday at Six Flags Great Adventure. I looked out the window to check on them as they were eating their sandwiches from WaWa and saw that she had made herself so much at home that she was weeding my container garden. When Dwayne and I went out onto the deck to join them, we learned that not only was she a pastry chef, but a well-experienced gardener. She said she found peace and joy in tending to our pepper and tomato plants. As we said goodbye the next morning I jokingly pleaded, “Please come back!” our garden almost always needs tending!
Since we signed up with Airbnb and began hosting the end of March, we’ve welcomed guests from India, China, Taiwan, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia as well as Boston, San Francisco, and the Poconos. They are computer programmers, teachers, musicians, mathematicians, business coaches, pastry chefs and automobile sales people. They are Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Atheist, Buddhist, and “nones.” They are seniors in life and seniors in college. They bring their books, their dogs, tastes of their homelands, and good laughs.
We didn’t sign up to be Airbnb hosts for the extra income (though bringing in a bit of “extra cash” is fun, we will probably just about break-even by the end of the year), but for the spiritual disciplines of hospitality and stewardship of space. I was touched by my Facebook friend and colleague’s posts about Airbnb and hospitality. My own spiritual life, though, was being even more challenged by our stewardship of space.
When we moved to New Jersey nearly four years ago, we fell in love with our house. We love the airiness of the great room, the large deck and the fact that we’re located in a rural area just miles from shopping or whatever else we may need. We love watching the wildlife in the back yard and, especially, the birds at the bird feeders. We love relaxing in the hot tub and gazing at the stars above us. I am haunted, though, by the seeming lavishness of having only the two of us enjoying our home. It’s not that we can’t maintain the house or property; it’s not that we can’t keep it clean or afford the mortgage; it’s that God’s voice to me has been, over and over again, “You are blessed to be a blessing.” Whatever I am given, I am asked to care for and to faithfully share. That generosity needs to be a part of every aspect of my life.
I remember those vinyl slip covers grandma had on her new furniture that the kids weren’t even allowed to sit on. In contrast, I remember my mother taking out the fine china with regularity on some normal days, just so the everyday would be experienced as a “special occasion.” “The plates need to be used,” she would tell me. As a child I imagined that everything had a soul and a personality — the plates, the car, the chair, the crayon I was holding — and with that soul came a mission and purpose. The car was happiest, I’d think, when being driven, the chair was most fulfilled when used at the kitchen table, the crayon was elated when I chose it to color from the box of 64.
As an adult I have grown out of believing in the personhood of inanimate objects, but I am still convinced that the things we have are meant to be used for the common good. We have what we have so that … there is always a “so that” … and the “so that” is always greater than ourselves. Dwayne and I have our house so that we can be nourished and refreshed, but, even more, so that nourishment and refreshment can be generously shared with others. When I catch a guest, then, lounging in the sun on the grass in the backyard, then, I can see the trees dancing for joy. When they are engaged in conversation over a slice of freshly baked banana bread at the dining table, I can hear the singing of the appliances. OK … you do understand that my house and yard do not, literally, become the singing and dancing utensils of Disney’s “Be Our Guest,” right? The point is that stewardship goes beyond our money and our time … but involves the use of our space and our things as well.
This, of course, is true for church space and property as well. Stewardship of Church property is not only about maintenance, but it’s about use … Is your church building singing? Are your church belongings dancing? Are they being used faithfully for the mission with which they were created or gifted or purchased? How can your space be better shared for the making of Christ’s disciples?