In April 2010, Krista Tippett interviewed Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa on her radio show On Being. The interview was called Tutu’s God of Surprises. One part of the interview flashes back to me over and over again. While Tutu was a bishop and pastor of a small parish, he was an active opponent of apartheid. Most of the people in his parish were domestic workers for white families. Here is a quote from the interview:
…the white employer most frequently didn’t use the person’s name. They said the person’s name was too difficult. And so most Africans, women would be called “Annie” and most black men really, you were ‘boy.’ And I would say to them, “When they ask who are you, you say, ‘Me? I’m a God-carrier. I’m God’s partner. I’m created in the image of God.'”
The expression “God-carrier” jumped out at me. I know “God-carriers” when I meet them. One characteristic is their hospitality. It’s not about them offering me cookies and lemonade, but about how they receive me as a person. Without knowing anything about me, they look at me as a child of God. They seem nonjudgmental and unafraid. It’s as if God or Jesus was peering through their eyes.
I’d like to think I’m a “God-carrier,” but most of the time, I fear, I’m a “God-barrier.” When I meet the stranger, I’m often wary and guarded. “Who is this person? What are they up to? What do they think and believe?” The stranger has to feel my judgment, my unease, and my fear. A barrier has been constructed between us. Not only is the barrier against the person, but it puts up a barrier between me and God. My psychic armor prevents me from giving and receiving hospitality.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2 NRSV) Showing hospitality to strangers benefits not only the stranger but me. When I receive the stranger as one created in the image of God, I open myself to God and the gifts the stranger has to offer.
My bucket list includes a lot of things, but near the top is “practicing courage with strangers.” I do not want to be a “God-barrier” anymore. I want to be a “God-carrier, God’s partner.”