Southern Hospitality at Sewanee
The closest I've come to Southern hospitality is knowing my delightful neighbor, Margaret, from Alabama and eating black eyed peas on New Years Day with my friend Barbara. I've never actually been to the South until last week. I was invited to attend a Food, Faith and Farm conference at Sewanee University's School of Theology, two hours south of Nashville, Tennessee. I entered a world that exceeding my vision of hospitality. I'd call it radical hospitality. We were met by Nathan, a recent college grad and intern. He and his co-intern, Eileen, personally chauffered the group from sun-up until late at night and delighted us with their stories of living, working and praying - ora et labora - on the farm at the Benedictine monastery of St. Mary's adjacent to Sewanee's campus. The word hospitality comes from the Latin hostis meaning stranger. The practice of hospitality at Sewanee is literally welcoming the stranger, a biblical mandate; to see God's image in the other. Or, as the Dali Lama just tweeted, "if we have a good heart and concern for others, our actions will be positive." Our hosts, Courtney Cowart and Jim Goodmann along with Brian Sellers-Petersen took the warning of Hildegard of Bingen to heart, "without beauty the good does not compel." At every turn beauty was woven into each setting, meal and tour. There were lavish feasts like the one below set on the grounds of a writer's retreat center where everything we ate was carefully selected and prepared.
Why is this important? It's important because it inspires me to do the same for others and it lifts the spirit, sparking fresh energy. It's also important because we're more powerful when we work together, collaborating and finding synergies. The farmers bring their wisdom, the theologians bring their insight about values and ultimate questions, the food systems experts bring their vast net of resources, the educators understand how to translate our knowledge so that the next generation can take appropriate action, and the Universities and Churches bring land and ready-made community. Together we became a chorus of voices, multiple perspectives, committed to food justice and clean food systems. I'm more hopeful because of this gathering and I just have to say to y'all, I feel an awful lot of gratitude.