Justice, and how the code of the samurai makes an epic code for hospitality

There’s nothing like a saga about a samurai’s honor to get the mental juices reflecting on (unexpectedly to me!) hospitality.
After watching The Last Samurai again, and becoming utterly more enthralled by it, I hungered to learn the ethos of the samurai warrior (also know as The Bushido Code). 
The full code is comprised of eight virtues, creating an integrity-rich and spiritual combination of disciplines to abide by: rectitude; courage; mercy; politeness; sincerity; honor; loyalty; and self-control.
Many virtues from the Bushido Code strike a cord, and compel strong principles for delivering hospitality. I look forward to exploring these in the coming days.
Rectitude or Justice:

According to the Samurai’s spiritual path and code of conduct, deciding the moral course and not wavering from that course is vital. It is this undeterred commitment to honest, moral reasoning that gives stature to the samurai’s day to day life.

Such an unwavering commitment makes this virtue a great ethos for delivering front of house hospitality, especially when it comes to in-person guests. So many details compete for attention when running a hospitality-based organization. In the administrative intensity, attention to the in-person guest can often get marginalized or become chronically distracted. What’s key is for the front of hospitality team to — unilaterally and reliably — prioritize the in-person guest over all other commitments or interruptions. It is the only way visiting guests will begin to trust the resourcefulness and sincerity of welcome in an organization.

Story of caution about this virtue and an organization’s culture:

A while ago, I was engaging an in-person guest at front hospitality for a large urban church. While attempting to be a resource to this visiting person, a colleague interrupted our discussion twice. The interruptions were vivid and distracting enough that the guest criticized my colleague (to me) once my colleague had departed. The guest felt undermined and not taken seriously. The next part of our exchange involved my apologies, and attempts to rebuild the guest’s interest in church programs.

It is critical that an organization’s entire culture is committed to all guests receiving prioritized, undivided attention. Otherwise delivering hospitality to visitors becomes at the very least, an exercise in depleting good will to guests.

 

In the coming days, I look forward to comparing more of the Bushido Code to other aspects of delivering hospitality, including courage and self-control.

Photo “Samurai John” by Jerome Olivier licensed under Creative Commons

 

What a lost kitten taught about reunions and risk

imageIt was a quiet early fall night in DC.

The outdoors were starting to turn toward cooler breezy temps. Husband Sean and I were relaxing together in full-on chill time reading and nuzzling with Squinky-Susan (sister kitty) and also Walter Wilbur-Force Buttons (littler bro kitty).

Our lights-out time arrived; Sean had opened a window by a few inches to let cooling breezes swirl inside. Off to bed we went, in our 550 square foot home that sat four stories up from a busy neighborhood street.

The next conscious cue came from morning light that touched our eyelids awake. Sean got up first to enjoy some early a.m. silence.

After a while he nudged me to full-alert.

“Um Walter is gone,” he said. “I don’t understand….it’s a small apartment.”

I the momma scurry to the living room. No Walter.

…scurry to all the secret under-sofa-and-chair crevices. No Walter-kitten…..just his sister Squinky looking strangely calm.

…what about the old-timey pedestal bathtub. There’s a ton of secret hiding spots for kittens!

But no fuzzy Walter Wilbur-Force appeared.

I look at Sean with my eyes rounding through the tear drops.

He says again in a listless monotone: “But it’s such a small apartment…where could he have gone? It’s so small.”

His fixation on the size of the apartment made my heart ache more. He is such a fantastically logical person; his logic powerhouse of a brain was desperately equating smallness of our home to the impossibility that his cherished soulmate of a (always indoor) kitten could ever get lost, let alone disappear.

His eyes then wander over to the cracked window left open from last night: “OMG HE RAN AWAY FROM FOUR STORIES UP.”

What a heart sinker.

Walter’s escape out the teeny tiny window space was the only logical conclusion.

We ran downstairs; scoured alleyways; searched around big dumpster areas, calling calling calling Walter’s name.

No fuzzy gray paws or purrring was to be found.

Sean left for work lugging a gallon of gonna-keep-my-chin-up sadness with one last absent remark from his logical brain still trying to reconcile his disbelief: “….but our apartment is so small.”

More emotional context:  This occurred a few days after Prince died. So the climate of separation anxiety was already heavy!

Then after posting one more color poster outside of “Help us find our precious Walter Kitten Face!!!” I glanced back randomly toward the front glass door into the four story walk up (we lived on the fourth floor with a few other neighbors residing on the other levels).

There adhered to the glass was a crooked yellow sticky note!

My heart and brain leapt instantly over the 5 meters to the door to read that sticky:

“Are you missing a cat?! Please call this number.”

Wheeeeee!

Within seconds after calling, Walter Wilbur-Force The Kitten was back home to momma’s caress (and to his papa’s infinite joy).

The mystery in Walter’s disappearance revealed in purrrfect clarity thanks to two mindful and very tender-hearted neighbors that lived in a building adjacent us. It’s an awesome urban cat-n-mouse story minus the mouse. It’s a wonderful (and one of my favorite) family tales.

The whole experience refreshed perception about reunions and risk on a few levels:

  • What an unforeseen loss of love teaches:Losing unexpected access to the one you love feels like a bucket of pine needles assaulting every avenue of your heart. I revered two things a whole lot more when reuniting with Walter Wilbur-Force Buttons:  simple presence of your loved one is the height of abundance; and returning from the hugely vulnerable world unscathed (as Walter did) is ar blessing and rarity.
  • Thoughts about risk and gambling with a stranger:What had happened — Our little precious fuzz-bucket kitten had in Olympic feline fashion self-collapsed his adult frame and slid out into the world (via that four inch window opening…naive move on our end to underestimate the indoor critter). Once out on the window ledge of our building, Walter walked on the ledge; got confused; then couldn’t walk backwards to our specific window. So he walked on the rain gutter to the attached/adjacent building and sat in front of a window.
    • Late, late at night he stared inside this well-lit home through that home’s window and meowed his face off. He sat. He stayed sitting. He myeowed.
    • The couple living in that home noticed him but were wisely  leery of his nature! Was this a stray cat? Where did it come from? Isn’t this technically creepy?!
    • It would’ve been in the realm of reasonable decisions for them to have ignored Walter. The couple though pondered; revisited their first impressions; pondered some more.

They began to re-perceive this stranger chanting myeows outside their window. They started to view Walter as less of a threat, and more of a misplaced stranger in a vulnerable way. Sean and I are grateful for their courage.

  • Closing thought on alleviating potential tensions in risky decisions:Upon letting Walter enter their window, the couple started to think short-term and long-term. If Walter’s family was discovered in the next day, hooray! But if  a reunion did not take place, they were making a hospitality list for their new tenant i.e. litter box, food, and 600 little jingly toys. Their agility is a model for hospitality and for helping the stranger. They went from a risky initial decision all the way to sharing space with a stranger to planning for the stranger’s well-being. My goodness how I love this story and them.

Photo:  Walter Wilbur-Force Buttons when a baby, pictured with his Dad.

How reflections on truth-listening & truth-telling showed up in prayer

What does it take to build authentic relationships and thus, authentic ministry?
It’s a hefty question to grapple with that last week’s sermon took on without restraint.  I gained a lot from it. Pastor T.C. Morrow gave a fantastic sermon answering this question of building authentic relationship through key messages like:
  • “Don’t hold back in authentic truth telling – or truth listening – in your relationships.”
  • “Don’t hold back in remembering God loves you, even if you are telling a truth that’s uneasy to say (or listening to someone else’s raw but truthful viewpoint).
She worked thoroughly with the story from 1 Samuel 3: 8 about mentor Eli insisting with his young pupil and future prophet Samuel — to not hold back telling the truth.
This particular story was new to me (ha, much of the Bible still is!). But she made her “Don’t hold back” words of empowerment resonate in different, very accessible, ways based on this particular story:
  • Don’t hold back from seeing Christ in the unhoused neighbor, the sick, or the hungry;
  • Don’t hold back in seeking God’s voice; it is all around us but often we do not recognize it;
  • Don’t hold back to transformation ourselves through ministry with others (it’s not just ministering TO others; greater authenticity is enabled by our openness to be transformed when we are engaged in ministry truly WITH others);
  • Don’t hold back your pain, your peace or joy, your torment, or your experience of resisting evils.
Authentic relationship and works toward justice take all of the above and even more of regularly not holding back. The sermon continues to reverberate in reflections.
As an initial don’t-hold-back response to T.C.’s sermon, out came this prayer and some sense of play.

Have a great weekend!

Written version of the video-prayer is just below:

I pray for strength to grow your justice 

for neighbors hungry and denied… Oh God trust us /

we need you, we need your liberating hand

to free our minds from self-addicted strands /

 

Oh God pride, it’s our pride high-5ing in endless selfie thumps

Lord transform, God transform our ego-echoes with your Holy Fist Bump /

And expand our doubting squints toward our lost, lone neighbor

to a wide-eyed willingness to lift her labor /

 

Now compel oh compel any privileged toward acts of sacrifice

so deprived neighbors thrive on — more than beggar’s lice / 

Please freeze our greed & melt it away with merciful justness

God seam anew all ego-separations to grow your justice /

I pray for strength to grow your justice. 

Amen.

One husband + awesome courage

Roughly five thousand years ago (…it seems that long sometimes!), some friends including a philosopher named Sean Stickle agreed to help prepare me for a speech contest called Table Topics. Each friend wrote up a handful of surprise questions to ask in front of the group. One by one a buddy would pose a question my way while the rest of the folks stayed quiet and observed. Then for the next 2 minutes after each one, I’d stand in the middle of the seated circle of listeners and offer an impromptu response (aiming for any degree of cohesion!).

The speech contest would eventually be conducted in a similar format as with these friends, but in front of a crowd of strangers at a district-level Toastmasters‘ competition. I remember feeling really grateful to these supportive hobbits for their help. Then it came time for that Seán Stickle to pitch his question:

Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

Two things happened within seconds of hearing his question…as in huge rushes of heat burst in my heart on two different levels.

First my crush on this man went over the moon in that instant. He delivered that question with such an unforgettable, intense meteor of eye contact. He expressed himself with a distinct expectation of response too. Which granted, the whole goal of this friendly gathering was to jolt my brain into lots of improv-yet-still-clear responses. The depth though, and confident willfulness in Sean’s ask came as an unexpected wake up call on what primal vulnerability can feel like.

There was a layer to this vulnerable feeling that was lathered in urgent self-confrontation and morality. Sean presented in that moment a common sense purity as if any-and-all newspapers worldwide were confronting the very same question. The man had turned an informal speech prep session with friends into an arena for moral growth and assertion. It really was one of the hottest things I’d ever encountered.

…The other simultaneously occurring rush of heat in my heart resonated something like ‘Holy Cow how’my gonna answer this in under two hours let alone  under two minutes?!’

Words and phrases exited my vocal cords eventually (specifics though escape current memory). But years later as Sean and I celebrate 17 years of marriage, the core of Sean’s past question still engages inner ponderings between logic, humility, and human value. But what leaps out from that whole exchange with him during those young-days-of-a-crush, was his willingness consciously or not to jump into the arena of inquiry and growth. He didn’t shy away from that arena — he just went for it! There is a type of life lens for me that this has inspired over the years with him:

  1. Spiritual (and emotional) growth requires the taking of what may feel like vulnerable risk, and investing trust in these inner acts of courage.
  2. Love enables growth for individual hearts, for coupled hearts, and healing throughout partnership.
  3. Love does not mean side-stepping reality, or the uneasy or uncomfortable  truths life can present. To side-step such truth is to short circuit capacities to heal, forgive, grow.

 

Grayer thickets

Sean Jill Us

our eyes once bordered with auburn-oak whiskers and tresses now speak through grayer thickets.

the smiles express from more than they did 131,400 hours before now.

it’s not that your younger grin inspired less or mine felt less.

it’s that our inner rungs have wrestled a lot since – a healthy stretching of emotive taffy.

 

so now intrinsic muscles flex these grins

upward with fuller comprehension.

 

understanding is a strange tenet of companionship.

because half the time it’s an exercise lassoed to self-realization:

do i see him as he is? or do i see him as projected interpretation?

(please, please have me see his uniqueness as it really lives

…the massive integrity of which deserves a cheering stadium of response).

 

in this particular hour, we join as we individuate

as love keeps renovating relational space.

while i search the trinity, and you the reach of euclid,

we diverge a little

expand a little

 

and through daily moments, we commune in progressive depth.

Intertwined

image

Where does compassion for others (or even for one’s self) really come from?

Answering this has been an interesting self study involving some ego bruising realizations. Many years ago at the start of adult life and building a path, I envisioned living out a sense of purpose in service for others, a longing to help “make the world a better place.” Then somewhere down the line, my ego unleashed its insecurity on a much more conscious and wounded level.

Something about “making the world a better place” no longer rang true, it was an empty way to frame my life’s productivity. I’m not sure how else to describe it.

It was as if a mental release valve popped off one year and out burst tons of confused or lacking definitions of real internal wellness. I realized my intended trajectory of a life’s work “based on service to others” had finally revealed a very unhealthy subconscious habit….what could be called a severe self-acceptance  deficit.

I had come to see that my well intended path toward helping the world had a very harsh condition attached to it (unbeknownst to my self awareness for years)… that being: this gift of life was deemed worthy only IF it was caring or serving the neediness of this world. As in, this heart deserved to beat only to place others’ needs ahead of my own. Any offerings of compassion or service or tenderness to others equated to some inner sense of value. But all those offers of care outwardly did not equate to extending a sense of care inwardly.  So after years of working from this deeply buried but active premise — the mental and spiritual energy just gave out, burning to ash any desire to benefit other people. That absense of both inward compassion and tenderness left a big ole hole inside where self-respect needed to replant.

Since then, it’s been a more humbling and conscious (still bumpy) path toward a new outlook: compassion intertwines with respect, for self and others, like a branch with its blooms.