“Where Everybody Knows Your Name” is the theme song from the 1980s television sitcom Cheers. The song (here,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvRGh2NEjSU),written by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo, pricked the soul of a nation and became an anthem of longing for a generation adrift; a generation in search of a place of welcome. A place where “everybody knows your name”!
Cheers, which nearly tanked in season 1, went on to run for a precedent setting eleven seasons, becoming an American Television Classic.
The characters Sam, Coach, Woody, Diane, Norm and Cliff are iconic. The success of Cheers rests, no doubt in large part, with the writers who imagined a place we all wish existed in our communities, congregations, clubs and civic arenas.
Yet, deeper still – probably unknown to the shows script writers, Cheers tapped into a ancient desire planted in Creation: the desire to be welcomed and received.
Indeed, Cheers painted a weekly picture of welcome and reception. Each episode extended the hope of welcome but always left us longing for more. The reason, I believe, we were (and are) always left longing for more is because the hope extended by Cheers – and shows like Cheers – is a hope the Gospel and a Gospel grounded people are uniquely designed to fulfill!
To discover why the Art of Welcome is the unique province of the Gospel of God and consider why the sacred community continues to distort what the secular world so vividly portrays, read on!
What exactly is the Art of Welcome?
As I prepared to write this essay, I asked myself, “is my life a life of welcome?”. Am I open to others in a genuine and authentically human way? Asking these questions brought a heightened attentiveness to my daily duties and responsibilities. I noticed some things in this experience that reveled the power and joy of welcome.
For example, I enjoy meeting with friends and family over breakfast and lunch. During one such meeting at a local restaurant where everybody knows my name, I began to sit down to eat. As I was sitting down, the friend I was with gently grabbed me by the elbow and said, “We cannot sit there. There’s a family that eats here every morning about this time and this is the table they always choose.”
Without argument or comment, I simply sat a table or two over. Sure enough, in about five minutes two adults and a child came in and sat at the table at which I originally tried to sit. We gave each other knowing nods as we went about our time together.
Reflecting back on this moment, I realize that it was one in which I experienced and participated in the Art of Welcome. It’s an art in which we create space for others to be fully received. It’s an art that requires openness to and awareness of others coupled with an intention to behave in their favor – with an eye toward their good; combined with a smidgen of self-forgetfulness!
For the sake of moving this beyond the realm of personal experience alone, Dallas Willard astutely notes the power of welcome when he warmly states, in his wonderful book, Divine Conspiracy,
Persons rarely become present where they are not heartily wanted. Certainly that is true for you and me. We prefer to be wanted, warmly wanted, before we reveal our souls— or even come to a party.
Whether it’s at a Bible Study or baseball game, it seems that when I am not welcome, I am never fully present. When I am not fully present, then I am unable to welcome others. When I am unable to welcome others then my ability to live the With God life is castrated; the Gospel is cloaked in the loneliness of my soul in shadow.
That’s why the words of the Messiah, Christ our Lord are so encouraging and affirming when he says,
“Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”
As is often the case – when you get a group of young guys together – the disciples are arguing over who is the biggest, baddest and best.
Jesus re-frames the discussion by reminding his disciples that life is not found in who is the best, but in who is the most welcoming. He knows that when we are truly welcoming we are representing the heart of the Gospel.
So he says, “welcome the children,” heartily. Those snotty nosed rug-rats who keep tugging on your tunic and disturbing your unceasing debate.
Yes, forget yourself and welcome them!
Obstacles to the Art of Welcome
While reflecting on the nuances of my daily experience – asking, “is my life a life of welcome?” – I noticed three pervasive obstacles against cultivating the Art of Welcome. They are,
If I am close to hitting the target with my theory on the Art of Welcome, then expectations, hurry and judgement pose potent obstacles against the cultivation of this art.
I define expectations as ‘self-imposed’ limitations based on perceived notions of how things should be: birthed in a desire to build an image rather than nurture a relationship. Expectations are Art of Welcome assassins. Expectations both govern and control my behavior around others in such a way that I rarely consider whether the other truly senses welcome and genuine reception in my presence.
Hurry is the system on which modern life is established. When I am in a hurry, I am never present in any moment to anyone in anyway, period. Hurry is, unfortunately, the most pervasive condition of human experience. Hurry is why we honk our horns at the drop of a hat. Hurry is the reason we flip people off (with our finger or in our heart) for the most minor of infractions. Indeed, the frenetic pace of life and frantic state of the soul mitigate against the Art of Welcome and prevent us from seeing her beauty and tasting her bounty.
Judgement is the outcome of a life built on and around expectation and hurry. Because of our commitment to the previous two, judgement becomes the default posture and orientation of our life. For many, judgement is the background noise ever playing in our head as we navigate the daily pathways of life. Judgement prevents us from seeing others as they are – truly are – and gives us an excuse to avoid them and a reason to move beyond them with the flick of a fluttering, distorted and wholly unkind thought. If expectations are the assassins of the art of welcome, judgement is its grave.
Why The Art of Welcome Matters
Typically, that which is difficult offers both reward and hope. I find this to be true of my desire to cultivate the Art of Welcome in my life and world.
The implications of cultivating the Art of Welcome are astounding. For example, cultivating the Art of Welcome nurtures a soul that’s attentive to the interior life in such a way that the secular transforms to sacred; becoming a wonderfully inhabitable realm.
In other words, cultivating the Art of Welcome nurtures a soul that’s free! Free to grow fully in our intimacy with Christ and others. In freedom, we begin to tap into our deepest desires and trust God and others with those desires as we seek to live into them in more meaningful and life-giving ways.
Secondly, cultivating the Art of Welcome nurtures a soul that’s attentive to one another in a spirit of community and cooperation. Cultivating the Art of Welcome nurtures a soul that’s quick to reject the overarching realities of conflict and competition that dominate some many social and sacred sectors of modern culture.
There are many practices or disciplines that foster an interior environment conducive to cultivating the Art of Welcome in your life; on your journey. The practice of – and experience with – spiritual disciplines as a means of grace have been vital in my life and ministry. A handful of the most meaningful rhythms – to me – are,
- Silence and Solitude.
- Meditation or Contemplative Reading.
- Examen or Review of the Day.
- Fixed-Hour Prayers.
You can find some resources in the following links that may help you explore these disciplines and develop habits around them:
For the remainder of this essay, however, I am offering a company of ‘in-the-moment/as-we-live‘ disciplines that you may have never before considered. They have power because we can practice them in our run around, work-a-day world, the frenetic and fast-paced world in which we live.
You will likely want to select one or two that jump out at you and commit to practicing them (or others like them) for days, perhaps weeks at a time. Try them on for size and let me know how they fit:
- Rest regularly. God’s gift of Sabbath rest is just that – a gift. A weekly rhythm of rest provides renewal and structure in daily rhythms of life. I find it helpful to incorporate monthly and quarterly rhythms of solitude and silence for the sake of renewal.
- Hold the door for others.
- Return your shopping cart.
- Don’t have the last word.
- Pause with purpose throughout your day! Add ‘moments of pause’ to your calendar that give you brief but powerful breaks in your otherwise chaotic day. These can be as few as thirty-second pause to as long as eight to ten-minute breaks. These pauses should help prevent over-reaction to sudden and unexpected changes (emails, calls, notes, comments, etc.) we all encounter.
- Lay off the horn.
- Turn off the radio/TV/Computer/Phone.
- Greet everyone you see with eye contact and a generous word of kindness such as ‘hello’.
- As mom always moaned, “Make your bed.”
Disrupting to Renew!