My dad used to tell me stories of his college days when he hitchhiked from North Dakota to Indiana where he went to school. He met lots of people and had adventures (pretty mild by some standards), and only once had any trouble. One truck driver pulled a gun out after Dad had hopped in, but it was just to establish the situation. The trucker had been mugged by another hitchhiker recently and he didn’t want it to happen again, but he also did not want to stop picking up riders! By the time I was in college, those halcyon days were gone. In the early 1980’s hitchhiking was no longer a safe way to travel the country, in fact it was deemed dangerous. Somehow one of the lessons we learned in the 20th Century was that we could no longer trust strangers.
A couple of months ago I got to introduce my friends Christy and Aodh Og to my family at Scottsdale Congregational UCC. Professionally, this pair goes by the name “Four Shillings Short” (http://4shillingsshort.com/bio.html) and they are world class musicians. They also describe themselves as gypsies. They travel around the country in their van, receiving the hospitality of strangers. Sometimes they stay with people they know, at least a little bit, like my spouse and me. Often, though, all they know about their hosts is a comment on their email sign-up page that says “room available.” Christy and Aodh Og still live off of the hospitality often of strangers.
When I asked them about staying with strangers, they talked quite eloquently about learning to trust the universe. They not only believe that if you put positive energy out into the universe it will bring it back to you, they live it out every day. They challenge the assumptions of our culture about mistrust and fear. In fact, when Aodh Og broke his leg recently, this ad hoc community of fans and practically strangers (connected across the country via email) responding with real compassion and generosity. Thousands of dollars came in for the hospital bills, from people who really knew nothing of Four Shillings Short except their music and maybe a brief conversation at a concert. In their perspective, the universe cared for them and provided for them. The kindness and love of people, even strangers, was the way the universe accomplished this. Even as I write this, I feel the shutters of my mind and heart closing down and the question rising up, “Really?” Does life really function this way?
And yet here is extensive if anecdotal evidence that it does. And the Urban Abbey (and its foundation on the path of Hospitality) places its belief that this is the way God wants the universe to work. We will operate by belief until we have clear and convincing evidence otherwise and likely for a good while even after that. Because if the world doesn’t work that way, maybe we can help it change. Just a little bit.
In what situation might you be willing to trust the benevolence of the universe? How might you try that?