Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Dear Dross

It came up in Sophia's vocabulary work this year: dross. Something that has been filtered out, is worthless; ie "junk". Boiled away. Skimmed off. Why? To leave something better behind, something pure and lovely.

Perhaps to the horror of my militaristic, patriotic family, I am not much of a nationalist. I respect those who are, but "my people" are all over the globe. Borders and flags and loyalties seem an odd accessory to friendship and love. So, thought I, perhaps I am well suited to serving and living abroad...I don't bring as much ethnocentric baggage.

Perhaps to the horror of my "time is money", plan ahead, day timer-toting friends and acquaintances, I have never been much of a structured person. I like flex time. I inwardly cringe when people ask me to nail down dates (don't they see that a really cool sunset could happen that night that we should go have a picnic in front of instead???). So, thought I, perhaps I am very well suited to the slow-paced, more spontaneous life which characterizes Latino culture.

Now, for certain, these aspects of my character helped, perhaps immensely. But how little of that path I had really gone. I had and have so much to learn. The longer I serve in Latin American communities, the more I realize how much grace others have extended to me over the years as I've blundered and stumbled along, stepping on cultural toes here and there, all the while thinking that I was finally getting it.

So, I am being simmered again and more dross is rising to the top. Funny, it never seemed worthless while it was part of me, but now that I take a good look at it...gross. Take, for example, our near and dear dross: our rights.

Think about how many of our irritations daily are related to our perceptions of our rights. "I have the right to not have to sit for a half hour in this waiting room". "I have the right to not be bothered at home by a business client". "I have the right to be informed ahead to time if a family will be dining with us". "I have the right to my time". "I have the right to privacy". Seemingly reasonable expectations, right? Wrong.

Why wrong? Isn't it good to establish these things for the sake of one's happiness? Now, having a nice uninterrupted evening at home is a good thing, indeed, it's a blessing. But it's not a right. Privacy is a nice thing too, especially if one has a headache and wants peace and quiet...but it's a blessing, not a right. Most of this world's inhabitants don't have the luxury of being alone in their own space. It's a blessing when one can carve out time to be alone, or to do what one pleases...but it's not a right. Rights are based on "my happiness", whereas God calls us to "love others, to look not only to our own interests, but to the interests of others". We want a Bill of Rights...God gives us a mandate of love.

Let me illustrate an every-day working out of this principle. You are busy vacuuming your house, looking forward to soon curling up with a good book or watching a favorite tv show, and then turning in early. You know you need extra sleep for your busy day tomorrow. Your doorbell rings and it's your old roommate from college, along with her husband and four kids. They're in town and thought to drop in! Plus, do you have room for them to stay the night?

What is your gut reaction?

-Why in the world would they come unannounced? Don't they realize that I could have other plans? How can they expect me to receive them? How presumptuous! (my time, space, privacy)

Are they welcome? Even if you paste on a smile, swing wide the door, rustle up some food and lay out sleeping bags...are they truly welcome? Are they more important, or is the fact that your "rights" were trampled on matter more?

Do we even have the slightest idea of what hospitality is?

Dross. Our "rights" have the capacity to smother something so precious and vital to human community without our even having realized it. I can't imagine many people would consider themselves inhospitable, but then, dross has a way of hiding, or parading around as silver. Hospitality can, in our culture, waltz hand-in-hand with our precious rights; events are planned, agreed upon, hours set, rights observed, and people go home at the right time to mutual satisfaction. There are no upsets, no interruptions, no unfavorable surprise guests. What a mutation.

True hospitality has, at its heart, the deeply centered belief that "I" am not the important one; the one who comes to my door is. The needs and happiness of my guest are what matters, not whatever I had planned.

And so I find that though I thought God had made me missions-friendly. Though I thought that He had refined me in key areas...I find that in so many ways my understandings of the most basic teachings of Christ need to be melted down and skimmed of dross.

Always, always learning.