Why Scruffy Hospitality Creates Space for Friendship

After seven years of marriage, my wife and I have welcomed numerous friends into our home. Once we decide to host friends for an evening, we usually kick into get ready mode, a fast and furious sprint in the days and hours before our friends arrive. We divide and conquer the to-do list: select a menu, complete grocery shopping, mow the lawn, sweep the floors, run the vacuum, clean the playroom, wipe the bird crap off our lawn chairs (we have lots of trees), set the table, clean the playroom (again), and somehow, someway, pray all that happens before the doorbell rings.

Over the years, that to-do list has prepared us for hosting company, but it has also prevented us from welcoming friends in our home. Unwritten Southern rules of offering hospitality with excellence have affected how often we invite people in our home. ‘We should have the __________s over sometime.’ And then we delay or postpone the invitation. Why? Because the to-do list is always there, the gap between our day-to-day home and the presentable, acceptable-for-hospitality version of our home.

But over the past several months, Emily and I are learning to lay those conventions aside. Why? Because inviting friends into our lives when we are only ‘excellent’ isn’t friendship. Sure, there are still times we like to go all out, spruce up the house and cook a huge, Jamie Oliver style meal. It can be fun and it’s enjoyable to do things well. But that standard of excellence is rarely possible with two children under the age of 3. Friendship isn’t about always being ‘excellent’ with one another. Friendship is about preparing a space for authentic conversation. And sometimes authenticity happens when everything is a bit scruffy.

Learning Scruffy Hospitality in this Scruffy Little City

It’s interesting how wrestling with friendship and hospitality is taking place for us in Knoxville, this place which was called a ‘scruffy little city on the Tennessee River’ in the Wall Street Journal before the opening of the 1982 World’s Fair. Knoxville has always had a chip on its shoulder, being slighted by outsiders, but something interesting happened in the years after this article snubbed K-town. We owned it. The World’s Fair was a success. We inverted the insult and made it a welcoming motto. ‘Keep Knoxville Scruffy‘ is a movement in our city that welcomes people into a fun, vibrant city scene without airs of pretension and exclusion.

I’ve begun to think about what it means to embrace scruffy hospitality in this scruffy little city and how that creates space for friendship. I preached on this subject earlier this month, a sermon you can read here. In that sermon, I described scruffy hospitality in this way:

Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be in order before you host and serve friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes. If we only share meals with friends when we’re excellent, we aren’t truly sharing life together.

Don’t allow a to-do list disqualify you from an evening with people you’re called to love in friendship. Scheduling is hard enough in our world. If it’s eating with kind, welcoming people in a less than perfect house versus eating alone, what do you think someone would choose? We tell our guests ‘come as you are,’ perhaps we should tell ourselves ‘host as you are.’

Hospitality is not a house inspection, it’s friendship. In an age of ever-increasing loneliness, in a time when Americans eat 40% of their meals by themselves, can I allow myself to value tidiness over community? Sadly, I’m sensing there’s pride lurking across the threshold of my welcoming mat.

So here’s the way of repentance for us. For me and my house, we’re trying to eliminate complications, not add to them. We aren’t going to host people every night of the week (after all, I’m still an introvert), but I want more memories with friends new and old than I’ve had over the past 7 years.

So I begin to ask this question, a good question: what does it look like to welcome people into my humility rather than my standard of excellence? The playroom may not be tidy. Our kids, who are lovely and enjoyable, may become noisy and cranky around 7pm. Dinners may be sponsored entirely by Trader Joe’s frozen section rather than a handmade Jamie Oliver recipe. I might serve Crane Lake wine. Well, maybe not. Pepperwood Grove is still a low budget wine for a few bucks more and so much better. But why would I withhold an invitation simply because I can’t make dinner from scratch?

Speaking of wine

In the corner of our dining room, we keep a basket of wine corks. On those corks is my Sharpie script recording the date, the guests, and any special event that bottle of wine represents. It’s kind of like an album of hospitality. Memories of first meals with friends with whom we have known now for 7 years. New corks from this year’s new memories. Memories of celebrating major life events. Memories of mourning sad losses.

I hope when I look at the cork basket in a few years, there won’t be so many long intervals between guests. I hope there will be more new friendships written there. I hope there will be more Pepperwood Grove corks.

One thing I can expect…I probably won’t remember how accurately I trimmed the grass on our driveway on any given night we host guests. But I will remember the people who put their feet under our table.

What about you?

So it’s Thursday when I published this post. Go ahead and invite someone for tomorrow night. Keep your to-do list short. Take ten minutes to pick up the house and throw something together for dinner, even if it’s from Trader Joe’s. You’re more ready than you think. And we’re all hungry for genuine conversation more than we realize.

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