It’s been a while, as the feed will prove, since I blogged regularly and briefly. Must. Try. Harder.
So this is the first in an occasional series on words I love. It sounds a bit random, of course. Hence quirky. But there’s more method than apparent madness in it. I hope.
The first word I love is Philoxenia. It’s a beautiful word – not just lovely to say but lovely to experience. It is a word in short supply today, i fear. Certainly in my country. You won’t find it in the Oxford English Dictionary, and perhaps that is revealing. Though beware – just because a language lacks an individual word for a concept, it does not necessarily follow that the concept in question cannot be referred to by that language (or that it is never consciously experienced by its speakers). It merely suggests it is less common.
It comes from ancient Greek, a compound of two common words. Philia (and its related words) meaning friendship or love; xenos meaning a stranger. The sum of these parts is therefore hospitality. It is used a number of times in the Greek New Testament. (eg Rom 12:13; Titus 1:8; 1 Pet 4:9)
But here’s the bit I really love. Xenos had a dual meaning: not only stranger, but also guest. The implication? Hospitality is not just for the known, or the related, or even the friendly. It is about openness and love of the stranger… the different… the other… with all the risks that entails…
I’ve been thinking a lot about this because of the European refugee crisis. There are huge, huge risks in philoxenia. There’s no room for naivety. But our motivation must surely be God’s ultimate risk – not philoxenia, but what we might call philechthria (OK, I’ve made that one up, but it denotes love of enemies). Christ wasn’t dying for unknown threats; but known enemies. The gauntlet is laid.
Everywhere I go for my Langham work, I encounter aspects of this crisis. But my most surprising encounter happened in July when on a whistle-stop Caribbean trip to see our work in the region (11 planes in 10 days!). I was staying with good friends just outside Port of Spain in Trinidad, and they took us to one of their favourite street food joints in Curepe. Which was owned and run by Syrians who had fled there just months before.
As far as I could tell, they had been welcomed and had found a niche in city life. So there we were on a hot Caribbean night eating a delicious takeaway of authentically made falafel and hummus. Small world. Welcoming world. Love it.