December 2017

Who is welcome at our inn?

As the Christmas season approaches, we are challenged to ask ourselves once again who is welcome at our inn. Who do we open our hearts, our homes, our communities and our country to, asks Monica Dutton.

BY Monica Dutton

Inns are traditionally places of welcome. Indeed, those employed in hotels today are said to be working in the hospitality industry. Hospitality is an ancient tradition, and was so religiously practised in the East, that our contemporary sense of the word “inn” would have been unheard of. Overnight lodging for pilgrims and travellers was synonymous with “guest-room”.

We are all familiar with a number of biblical references to inns. The inn on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho provided refuge and safe haven for the man who had been set upon by robbers. Conversely, the inn in the little town of Bethlehem had no room for the weary travellers.

As the Christmas season approaches, we are challenged to ask ourselves once again who is welcome at our inn. Who do we open our hearts, our homes, our communities and our country to? Who do we extend hospitality to? – across borders and across decades.

Reimagining our country as an inn illuminates our collective capacity for welcoming those who seek access to what we take for granted on a daily basis. It also provides insight into who we have opened our doors to over the years, who we choose to turn away, and who we keep waiting – seemingly endlessly. Perhaps this may be best illustrated through a simple little story…

Once upon a time, long, long ago, people we will call the “Fleeters” sailed across the sea from a faraway place. Their journey was long and arduous, but they were skilled navigators, using the stars to plot their course and guide their way. The Fleeters were in search of a place to set up a new inn, very much like the one they had left behind. Eventually, they found a vast, sprawling site that was well-suited to their purposes.

Now, it so happened that another group of people we will call the “Custodians” were living on the chosen site at the time, and had been for thousands of years. While on the surface this may appear to have posed a slight difficulty for the new arrivals, the Fleeters remained undaunted and simply ruled that the site belonged to no-one.

In due course, the Fleeters set about construction, calling their new inn the “Aussie Inn”. It was pretty rough and ready at first, but did a roaring trade. Bushmen and landed gentry alike all gathered regularly to tell tall tales and true. A rollicking good time was had by all. The Custodians weren’t permitted entry of course – it was an exclusive establishment right from the start.

Soon, others began to notice that the Aussie Inn was doing well and had a great deal of room to spare. Increasing numbers arrived in search of lodging. At first, entry was permitted somewhat reluctantly, but after the Aussie was able to add pizza, souvlaki and chow mein to the Friday night blackboard menu, the Fleeters relaxed a little. So much so, that when some of their distant relatives asked to stay, the welcome mat was rolled out and the tariff was reduced to £10. It seemed for a while that the Aussie no longer belonged to no-one, but to everyone.

Prosperous times followed and the Aussie underwent a complete overhaul. It was renamed the “Hotel Australis”, a new manager was appointed, and its Christmas Eve Party became renowned as the social event of the year. People queued for ages to get in. The manager then decided to employ a very enthusiastic bouncer to enforce the strict “No ID, No Entry” rule.

Some time later, others we will call the “Seekers” tried to access the Christmas Eve party at the Australis. They too had travelled across the seas from far away, but found they didn’t have the required ID. They were diverted by the bouncer before they even got to the queue, and were sent to wait in the shed out the back.

Some of the regulars at the Australis weren’t happy about this arrangement and complained bitterly to the manager. He wouldn’t listen, stating adamantly that the Christmas Eve Party was exclusively for locals. The rules about who can and can’t get in to the Australis; and who can and can’t attend the Christmas Eve Party are now so complex that some of the manager’s staff have even been temporarily stood down – but that’s another story…

The manager’s relatives also tried to assist the Seekers. His cousin from across the pond invited them to attend her Christmas Eve Party at the Kiwi Klub, but the manager wouldn’t hear of it. His Uncle Sam even agreed to let some of them come to his party – although he made it very clear he wasn’t happy about it because it wasn’t his idea.

In the meantime, the Seekers are still waiting in the shed out the back. It is extremely unlikely they will ever be able to attend the Christmas Eve Party at the Australis.

Unlike most “once-upon-a-time” stories, this one does not have a “happily-ever-after” ending. It is more akin to “The Neverending Story”. For so many of those currently seeking refuge in Australia, there is no room at the inn.

As a nation, Australians are generally very accepting, and have recently demonstrated overwhelming support for the LGBTQI community through the passing of the same-sex marriage bill. In this case, the voice of the people was heard. So we must carefully ask ourselves: what other forms of legislation are endorsed by our silence?

There is actually plenty of room at the inn. In fact, “for those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share”.

There is room for hospitality and welcome, room for refuge and safe haven.

Those seeking refuge on our doorstep have been waiting for years now.

And still they wait.

We all wait…

Monica Dutton

Monica Dutton has a background in education and has been working with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan for more than 20 years. She currently holds the position of Spirituality and Mission Animation Leader for the Congregation.

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