HappyHour and How to Exegete your Community
Our new community (of three months) has some fixed points around which everyone orbits. At first glance they appear to be the porches of certain homes on our street. But on closer inspection you discover that the fixed points – the gravitational centers around which everyone organizes themselves – are the people who sit on those porches. These 'fixed points' are the people who have the greatest measure of maturity, integrity and kindness to offer.
One such gravitational center is a sweet African America matriarch in her 80s. Hers – like so many of her generation – is a story of tragedy and victory. She has seen her own children ravaged by drugs and seen her only granddaughter, raised by her, become the vice-president of a hugely prestigious multinational bank – incredible! This gracious, deeply spiritual lady has earned the right to offer both encouragement and challenge to everyone. And everyone, including Sally and I, visit her porch most days, and we’re always the better for it.
Then there is the white couple that lives in two separate houses. He's a man in his 70s, who considered becoming an Episcopal priest in his earlier years. He cares for everyone – fixing things, helping where he can – a kind of 'practical pastor' for the whole community. She’s a former Southern Baptist and you go to her porch and her beautifully tended garden for conversation, advice and most of all encouragement; it’s the other epicenter of goodness in the community. Recently she said to me; "Most people are just 'fluffing their own nest' when they go to church! They’re going to reinforce their beliefs or to be with people who are just like them." I thought I’d heard this kind of thing before – you know the 'all churchgoers are hypocrites' conversation. But this was different; first of all she was identifying herself as a person who believes pretty much everything that I believe, and she was not suggesting that church goers are any more hypocritical than anyone else, she was simply explaining that her experience of church has become irrelevant to her. She and her 'priestly' partner live out a level of kindness and generosity that I've rarely seen even among the most mature churchgoers.
Because of these remarkable people, our community – like yours – is a series of overlapping orbits. Orbits made of young and old, black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight.
Of course I've already fallen in love with all these folk! But I've also asked why would God send Sally and I to a community like this? The answer? We’re here to love, learn, listen and serve. We're here to offer one more gravitational center for others to orbit around. Not in competition, but as a compliment to what God is already doing. And perhaps as we do this the gospel – already evident here – will become even more embedded here.
But how should we start? The answer was simple, we should start where we feel most confident and comfortable – inviting our neighbors to share food and drink with us.
HappyHour is our current contribution to the life of this community. We've been here a little over three months and our first HappyHour was two days after we arrived, we called it a 'housewarming party', and everyone came. By the second time we had it – a week later – our new neighbors were already talking about it as if it were a regular fixture.
Why is this? Well I think it's because there is something very special about being hospitable towards others. It seems as though everything that was important in the Scriptures happened on a mountain or at a mealtime. In fact, I often say that if you remove the mountains and the mealtimes from the Bible it's only about 50 pages long! The mountains were the place of revelation and sacrifice but the mealtimes were the place of learning and community.
It was at a mealtime that Abraham learned that he was to have a son called Isaac. It was in the Passover meal that God taught his people to remember that they were a community formed and freed by him. It was at that same Passover meal, many years later, that Jesus revealed to his disciples how they were formed and freed to be the community of his body and blood. The book of Hebrews says, 'Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.' (Hebrews 13:2)
Sally and I have practiced this for years. People feel so blessed that you have gone to the trouble of preparing a meal for them. We have found, time and again, that the small effort that goes into being hospitable leads to untold benefits and breakthroughs.
Our little inner-city community here in Greenville is a wonderful place to be part of and we might have wondered what we could possibly offer here. But everyone needs to know love and when we make a meal or prepare a drink for someone they experience that love in a very practical way.
Over the years I've heard many people bemoan the fact that their community seems closed to them and I'm sure it's true that different communities have different challenges but I'm also certain that if we as disciples regularly entertained our friends and neighbors – loving and serving them in this very simple way – we would see far more breakthrough in our mission.
So often I've seen people draw near to Jesus simply because we've fed and served them. I think the success of 3dm is in large part to do with this.
Someone has said that 'We always put our weapons down to eat.' I've always found that to be true, it seems to be a law of nature that even the most guarded of people become relaxed and open over food. Mealtimes, and even gatherings for 'drinks', are places where God will soften hearts and make our neighbors more receptive to the good news that we want to share –because we're already sharing something with them that they like – our food and drink.
We all need the blessing of others caring for us and surely those who do not know Jesus need it more than most.
Our little community now has three porches around which everyone can orbit. We have already received so much on those other two porches and I'm sure there will be much more to receive still. We have been sent here, for however long we are called, to complement what God is already doing. We're sharing what we can and we are asking God to use our porch as he uses some of the others in our community.
Have you started a regular HappyHour or gathering in your home? Why not try it? What's the worst that can happen?
Originally written in May 2015