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How do we break down cultural and religious barriers in the world today?

This is an interesting question.  Jesus calls us as Christians to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and to do unto others as you would have done to you.  However, many of us don’t know our neighbors.  Our culture is really good at encouraging society not to judge those different from us and to even encourage interaction between different groups, but it does not provide a method for tearing down religious and cultural barriers.  While this is not always the case, many people still live near people very much like them, shop near people very much like them, go to church with people very much like them, and have friendships with people very much like them.  This is not bad, it’s normal.  It’s the way the world has always been.  However, as the world continues to shrink because of technology and we find ourselves coming into contact with more and more people who are different from us (culturally and religiously) how can we develop meaningful conversations and friendships that don’t break down into hate and war?

I’ve come to believe that the key to breaking down barriers is in the practice of hospitality.  Our society is really good at blocking others out.  We close our doors and don’t talk to our neighbors.  We walk around town with headphones in our ears while checking our e-mail on our phones.  We do our best to stay in our own place and not bother other people. We stereotype other cultures and other religions and assume that everyone in that group is just like our stereotype.  And because we fail to share life together, our neighbor remains an other, an unknown, a stereotyped outsider who may or may not conform to our image of who they are.  And the barriers remain.

But in the practice of hospitality the barriers can be brought down.  In the giving and receiving of hospitality the other becomes a friend, or at least a known neighbor.  By sharing conversations over coffee or dinner we learn that the other is not so different from us.  By inviting people into our homes and graciously accepting others invitations into their homes we come to understand and respect different cultures and stereotypes are destroyed.  Sometimes we will find that we are not so different.  Other times we may find that our differences are tremendous.  But they will be differences between friends and not enemies thus the differences can be overcome.

It is important to remember however that hospitality must go both ways.  Most people are more comfortable at the giving of hospitality.  We don’t mind helping others or sharing with others but we want it to be on our terms, in our place.  We want to set the rules and control the environment.  Again, there is nothing wrong with this, it is natural.  However, for true hospitality to take place, for barriers to be brought down, we must learn to be just as gracious in receiving hospitality.  We must learn to be comfortable in someone else’s environment.  We must learn to respect other’s cultures and traditions.  We must receive hospitality just as much as we give.

Acts 10 shares the story of the conversion of Cornelius.  In this story there are many different cultural and religious barriers between Peter (a Jew) and Cornelius (a Gentile), many different ways that hospitality is shown.  Yet one of the biggest steps for Peter was to simply receive hospitality from a Gentile.  He was willing to go to Cornelius’s house on Cornelius’s terms and because of that many Gentiles were brought to faith and the good news spread. It was because Peter was willing to receive hospitality that he had a chance to share the good news.

As Christians we must learn the practice of hospitality, both the giving and receiving.  There are too many barriers in our world today, both religious and cultural. If we want to share the Good News we must work through the barriers, we must make the other a friend, by practicing hospitality.