Learning to be a Guest
by Vanessa Carter
I would like to begin by acknowledging the Tongva people whose land this was before it was stolen.
When I hear about Christian hospitality, my mind usually drifts to how I can be a better host. Instead, last week, Jesus-loving indigenous people from the lands now called the United States and Australia asked me to consider being a good “guest.”
As part of a project on ecojustice, career discernment, and Christ, I attended the 2019 Bartimaeus Kinsler Institute: “Indigenous Justice and Christian Faith: Land, Law, Language” in Ojai, CA, from which I have just returned. I was humbled by the indigenous leaders who shared their pain, their joy, and their love of Jesus.
On Tuesday, we studied Luke 9 and 19 — Jesus sending out his disciples and Jesus being the guest of Zacchaeus. Both stories are those of guests: people who have materially little and are dependent on their hosts. As a middle-class white woman, this is generally far from my experience of the world.
For indigenous people, however, relating as guests is more the norm — particularly when it comes to relating to creation. Nature is not to be dominated, but appreciated as that which sustains us and points us back to God, the Creator. A new friend, Ms. Four Stars, told me a story of her childhood, picking only the middle berries on the bushes so birds could have those on the top, and mice those on the bottom. She tread lightly on the earth as a guest and played well with our Creator’s other creations.
This comes in massive contrast to westward expansion, manifest destiny, and the California mission system — which resulted in the enslavement, kidnapping, and state-sponsored genocide of indigenous Californians. This brutal history doesn’t reflect the meekness and vulnerability of Luke 9 and 19. Rather, it reflects westerners — some even under the banner of the church — assuming the role of hosts, not guests.
As I have returned home, I am left unsettled. I am a 34-year old woman who was reared in California and knew so little of the depth of this history. I am of European descent and am more likely to see myself as host instead of guest. While nature nurtures my relationship with God, I am so thinly connected to it, unlike my indigenous friends.
Lord Creator, in your mercy and grace, please decolonize my reading of scripture and my relationship with you and your creation. Lord Provider, please help me learn to practice the vulnerability of being a guest. Lord of Justice, please teach me to see our indigenous sisters and brothers and work to repair the damage we have done. Amen.
Vanessa became a member of FOL in 2017 and loves tutoring the junior high kiddos and riding bikes. She works at USC but graduated from UCLA (go Bruins!) and has a certificate from Fuller Theological Seminary.