parachute hospitality

It was when my brother was speaking about his experience of learning to interact with Maori culture. This is a culture rich in protocol and very intentional about the ways people interact. It would be easy to feel that, as a non-Maori, the risk of doing things wrong is simply too great and that it is best not to even attempt to engage on Maori terms.

Dominic spoke instead of being willing to take the leap, to risk learning to follow the protocol involved when groups gather together. He admitted that it felt vulnerable to speak Maori as a beginner and yet to be the one who is making an official welcome, but still I could hear the exhilaration in his voice. I had the sense that he was enlivened by the thrill of the adventure and impassioned by doing something that felt valuable.

As he expressed the risk of taking the leap into the unknown, a Maori friend at the table responded. ‘And I’m your parachute!’ she declared, going on to explain the way she often guides Dominic as he prepares for more formal gatherings and that, when she can, she sits behind him so that she can whisper instructions. ‘I’m not going to let you crash land,’ she said.

Something within me responded to the generous-hearted love that was expressed across the table. The love of one person who seeks to make his home in a culture that is not his own and to do so in ways that honour those who receive him. And the love of the person who welcomes this willingness to bend to the form of the receiving culture, and who walks alongside to make sure that what is bent is not broken.

I recognise in my own life the longing to be accompanied by a person like this. Someone who would not just translate the language, but who would act as a kind of culture coach. This is a sort of hospitality that cannot be required but can only be offered by the host, the one who is far-sighted enough both to build bridges and to be the bridge where necessary.

risky learning

I identify with the sense of risk there is in launching oneself into the relative unknown of a new host culture. At the outset, there is an exhilaration the accompanies this risk, an anticipation of the newness of relationship and community that is to come. And yet, when there is no safety offered, no acknowledgement that there is love and honour as well as vulnerability in the risk-taking, then the willingness to risk is greatly diminished. Why go to these uncomfortable lengths to learn and adapt when there is no reciprocal movement, no one to meet you in the muddle who will smooth your landing?

I think of approaching groups of moms in the school playground, greeting them in what is my fifth language, their mother tongue. Standing there uncomfortably only to find that the conversation continues as if I am invisible. Or the groups I have been part of that have unwritten rules everyone seems to know but me. Or the people I have invited to my home who never contact me again.

In my mind’s eye, I see myself boldly launching myself off the cliff of what is known and comfortable … soaring in empty space and pulling the chord to release the parachute. Pulling again, and again … but no reassuring catch is felt. I keep rushing through empty space, legs flailing as I try with all my might to wheel myself back to the safety of the cliffside.

for reflection

Let’s consider the parachute as an analogy for hospitality, especially the hospitality offered to someone who is new to the culture of your nation, or church, or team. As the newcomer courageously embraces the vulnerability of launching themselves into what is, for them, an uncomfortable and risky space, are you willing to play a part in catching them? How could you communicate to them that you won’t let them crash land, that you’re willing to move towards them as they move towards you? In what ways might you coach and accompany them, so that rather than soaring through empty space, they know themselves to be held?

In a world grappling with the tensions created as populations shift and move, as newcomers seek to make their homes in cultures and among people new to them, how might this picture of the parachute stay with us an invitation to extend hospitality and welcome? And what might that hospitality look like in the different contexts in which we rub shoulders?

Lord, may we be those who create safety for others. May we accompany one another in those places of risk-taking. 

And may we be those whose eyes and hearts communicate, ‘you are seen, there is room for you here.’