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Showing Hospitality to Strangers and Spring Breakers

Showing Hospitality to Strangers and Spring Breakers

“I wake up pumped that I get to go to work. It’s a perfect fit for me.”

You might assume that Dave Collins spends his days in a high-powered, prestigious profession, but the Colorado native’s job is simply to keep a hotel lobby clean and answer room calls. Collins, 57, is a housekeeper at the Denver Marriott, a 600-room business hotel next to the Colorado Convention Center.

His joy in serving Marriott guests starts with his own journey. Two years ago, Collins reached a low in his battle with alcohol abuse. He lost his job, then his home, before checking into the Denver Rescue Mission, a large faith-based nonprofit.

“I shouldn’t even be alive for all I did,” Collins recently told me. “God had a plan for me, though. As Jerry Garcia said, ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been.’ Everything I’ve gone through has been to make me who I am and put me here to serve others.”

As someone who has known life without a place to live, he understands others wanting a place to call home, even if for one night.

Hospitable Posture

Collins, the son of a military father, has lived most of his life in Colorado, growing up near the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He worked warehouse jobs for close to 25 years before his renewal of faith and transition to Marriott.

Kindness exudes from Collins’s face as we meet over lunch at the hotel lobby café. Housekeepers, front desk staff, and waitstaff stop by to say hello. Collins, who celebrated one year on the job last month, is like a celebrity among his co-workers.

Dave Collins

Dave Collins

“When does a job feel meaningful? Whenever it allows us to generate delight or reduce suffering in others,” writes contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton.

Generating delight and reducing suffering is at the center of Collins’s work. Hospitality is an industry, but for Collins it’s also a posture. Sharing the Latin root word as hospital and shelter, hospitality defined simply is caring for people. Collins cites God’s admonitions to Israel to provide for sojourners and travelers as the primary source of motivation for his own work. Throughout the Old Testament, he notes, we read countless examples of God instructing his people to make provisions for sojourners. For those on the path from one place to another.

Collins serves guests in the ways he has experienced Christ serving him on the cross and in the ways fellow Christians have demonstrated hospitality. The community at Denver Rescue Mission helped him rekindle his faith and gave him shelter when he had none. Their aptly named Work Therapy program introduced Collins to housekeeping.

Also significant in Collins’s life has been Fellowship Denver, an Acts 29 church founded in 2006. He credits the church’s small group for much of his progress. They helped him purchase clothing for his Marriott interview. Each week, he joins the group to study the Bible, pray, and enjoy good food.

“Dave has such gratitude for God’s grace and the miracle God’s worked in his life,” said small group leader Patrick Creedon.

Cleaning hotel rooms can be dirty business. Spring breakers and partiers show fleeting concern for the housekeepers responsible to clean up after them. From Colorado’s rowdy April 20 (“4/20”) celebrators to friends looking for the quintessential “hotel party,” staff see it all. Collins has encountered rooms packed with extra sleepers, intoxicated guests, and everything in between.

Recently a guest contracted debilitating food poisoning, and the sickness created a mess throughout the room. Collins chose to see the unpleasant situation as an opportunity.

“I changed her sheets for her and asked if there was anything I could do,” he said. “Our restaurant sent up crackers and water, and we tried to make her as comfortable as possible.”

Low pay is another challenge for many in the hotel industry. Marriott recently rolled out a global tipping initiativeto encourage guests to tip their housekeepers. But even with tips, salaries for the 444,200 housekeepers nationwide average $22,740, below the national poverty line for a family of four. According to Collins, though, his salary and benefits exceed his expectations and are sufficient for his needs. It is the culture, he says, not the compensation, that makes his job meaningful.

Culture of Service

A service-centered culture anchors the world’s best hotel chains. Marriott and its Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel chain are considered by analysts to be the industry standard bearer for customer service, regularly topping charts from bothemployees and guests. The secret to these hoteliers ensuring housekeeping work is meaningful, not menial, lies in the way they frame housekeeping. For these companies, purpose starts with elevating the dignity of service. Ritz -Carlton refers to all their staff members as “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

In his important management research, Daniel Pink outlines the three ingredients of motivating employees: purpose, autonomy, and mastery. For social workers, counselors, and pastors, deriving meaning from work isn’t so hard. For men and women stocking toiletries and scrubbing toilets, finding meaning can be more elusive. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton have attempted to solve this by stressing that meaning can be found in all types of work.

In the broader “faith and work” movement, the overriding focus is on professional and white-collar jobs.Overlooked are the millions of people not working in cubicles or office towers. For many Christians, particularly, the work of our hands—in construction, housekeeping, machining, and cooking—is often cast as less eternally or socially significant than work done from laptops and lecterns.

In an age of unprecedented choice for the educated and privileged labor force, meaning is defined almost exclusively by what workers do, not by how they do it or by who they do it for. Collins, though, sees his work as an extension of his love for Christ. For Collins and his fellow housekeepers, service is the purpose.

“I feel like I’m a doorway to to show our guests how much they are appreciated,” says Collins.

In these companies, autonomy is emphasized. Managers empower housekeepers to be decision-makers. They entrust housekeepers to figure out how to best serve guests. Housekeepers respond to requests and predict needs based on what they believe will best fulfill the hotel’s mission.

Housekeepers also develop mastery of their craft. Many of Collins’s colleagues are expanding their expertise and breadth of abilities, resulting in little turnover among the 40 members of the housekeeping staff in the past year. The staff who left have taken jobs at other Marriotts.

“I’ve never had a job where I’ve been treated like this, where I’ve been treated this well, where I wasn’t treated like a piece of meat,” says Collins.

Marriott boasts industry-leading employee retention rates. It’s a company few people want to leave. And an engaged workforce is good for business. High levels of employee engagement and a commitment to customer service drive profitability and sustain the good hospitality jobs at companies like Marriott.

After a year of Collins faithfully practicing hospitality, Marriott awarded him for his service. At a swanky banquet hall, he was given the “Employee of the Year” award for his joyful service.

“We’re so lucky to have David here,” said his supervisor, Jonathan Adrian. “We need many more people just like him.”

Steve Swihart, chaplain at Denver Rescue Mission, agrees. “The people he works with have affirmed that the work he is doing is meaningful. He takes absolute delight in serving. He views his work as a ministry, as a way of serving God.”

“I have a lot to do,” reflected Collins. “I need to continue to show God’s love to others. There are a lot of people who haven’t yet seen it.”

This article was initially posted at Christianity Today, as part of a new web series–The Work of Our Hands— I am coauthoring with Jeff Haanen.

Bill Cosby and Beautiful Orthodoxy

Bill Cosby and Beautiful Orthodoxy

The cover image that took down a giant.
That’s how I see it. This week, New York Magazine published a cover of 35 brave women (warning: explicit content), all of whom share one tragic event in common: Each woman was sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby. In one beautiful image of solidarity, these 35 women did what none of them could do on their own. They stood together in united witness against abuse and violence.
Bill Cosby still walks our streets a free man. But, in the long battle to make known his formulaic victimization of women, the cover image is a fatal blow. He may never see a literal jail cell, but he will live the chains of isolation he has created for himself. Unless he admits his wrongs, repents, and suffers the consequences of these wrongs, Cosby will remain free only in the legal sense. No longer will the world believe “his side” of the story. The 35 women present a shared account that silences the posturing and explain-it-away-stories Cosby concocts.
In Playing God, Andy Crouch writes, “Here is what we need to discover about power: it is both better and worse than we could imagine.”
When Cosby lured, drugged and raped young women, he demonstrated just how terribly power can be used. His power afforded him the opportunities to commit these crimes, and his power prevented these victims from having any recourse. He was too wealthy, too well loved, and too famous for the powerless to fight back. Or so it seemed.
New York Magazine cover
But in the New York Magazine image, we also see power at its very best. What one woman could not do alone, many women can do together. In community, they stood up for orthodoxy, fighting for what is true, right and just.
And, in a small farming town in south Asia, another group of women is rolling back injustices in their community.
Shanti is joined by ten women in a savings group. They have elected her president and have been together as a group for over two years. During that time, they have helped one another financially. As they’ve saved together, their shared bank account has grown from very little to over $500 today. They’ve helped each other start and grow small businesses. They’ve helped one another with medical fees and school bills. The group even made Shanti an $80 loan to help her start a grocery store.
But more valuable than loans or savings accounts was the newfound power this group of women had together. In their village, “society’s look toward woman is very backward,” Shanti lamented.
Many of the women in her group experienced this backwardness. When they gathered together each week in a local church, they shared their stories—their joys and pains. Several women in the group shared that their husbands regularly would abuse them physically.
“I always felt that as a single person,” Shanti said, “I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything. But as a group, we can do a lot. So that’s what I did. I mobilized our whole group to get involved and make use of our unity.”
When one woman shared she had been abused, the whole group would go and name the offense and confront the abuser, warning him that they would call the police if it happened again. The results are encouraging.
“The community has realized our unity and the power in it,” said Shanti. “It’s changed our whole outlook on life. It’s given us confidence that we can do anything as a united group.”
Shanti’s group hasn’t stopped at confronting domestic abuse. They’ve chased out a bootlegger in their community. They’ve pressured a local councilwoman to make good on her promise to clean up the sewer system. And they are keeping their sights set how they can together make their community better.
Like the 35 women victimized by Bill Cosby, these women created power they did not have on their own. Both groups practiced a sort of “beautiful orthodoxy”—a powerful phrase coined by my friends at Christianity Today. Beautiful orthodoxy is perhaps a counterintuitive pairing. Holding truth and kindness in tension is terribly difficult. But it’s also the most powerful, as evidenced by the actions of these two groups of women.
Their message is orthodox. They spoke truth to abusive power. It affirms what is right and exposes what is wrong. And, the ways both these groups of women have communicated this truth is beautiful. They made their statement in solidarity. In unity. A posture modeled first in the Trinity and again-and-again throughout scripture.
Joan Tarshis, one of Cosby’s victims, called her group of 35 a “sorrowful sisterhood.” Chelan Lasha, a fellow victim, said she’s “no longer afraid.” She said she feels “more powerful” together with this group. Shanti said she no longer feels she is without power. These restorative actions of beautiful orthodoxy do not undo the pain. But they do create a more just future. They embody the ancient proverb from Ecclesiastes: “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

The Handcrafted Gospel

The Handcrafted Gospel

“I’ve always enjoyed building and fixing things,” says Brandon Yates.
After high school, Yates became an electrician. A fast study, he advanced quickly through the first two electrical certifications, apprentice and journeyman. Finally, when he became a master electrician in 1999, Yates founded KC One, an electrical contracting services company based in Kansas City, Missouri.
Craftsman is a lost word in our day,” says Yates, now 37, who aims to change that by recruiting hardworking high-school graduates with an aptitude for making things. KC One’s apprenticeship program provides on-the-job training and certifications for one or two young electricians each year. “Society teaches these kids that they’ll become losers if they become electricians. My job is to unteach them.”
The perception that the trades offer less status and money, and demand less intelligence, is one likely reason young people have turned away from careers in the trades for several generations. In Yates’s school district, officials recently shuttered the entire shop class program. In our “cultural iconography,” notes scholar Mike Rose, the craftsman is a “muscled arm, sleeve rolled tight against biceps, but no thought bright behind the eye, no image that links hands and brain.” Thinking, it’s assumed, is for the office, not the shop.

Josh Mabe (photo credit:  Gary Gnidovic // CT Magazine)

Josh Mabe (photo credit: Gary Gnidovic // CT Magazine)


But considering that Scripture identifies Jesus himself as a tektōn (Mark 6:3, literally “craftsman” or “one who works with his hands”), we think it’s high time to challenge the tradesman stereotype, and to rethink the modern divide between white collar and blue collar, office and shop, in light of the Divine Craftsman who will one day make all things new.
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These paragraphs opened up an essay I worked on for a few months with my friend, Jeff Haanen. It was an exciting project both because of my own history and because it’s a hugely important issue in our society. Writing this essay also provided the opportunity to celebrate the work of two friends—Brandon Yates and Adrian Groff—and share their stories with the Christianity Today audience.
You can read the full essay here, The Handcrafted Gospel. If you’re hungry for a few more stories along these lines, check out a few of the other articles I’ve written for CT along these lines.

My Six Favorite Essays from the Last Year

My Six Favorite Essays from the Last Year

It’s been a good year for writing. I know many lament the death of newspapers and magazines, like Newsweek, which printed its last issue just over a year ago. But the new age in journalism has spawned new mediums for more writers. This has been great fun to watch. Over the course of the last twelve months, there have been a few essays that have really stirred me. I could have listed dozens, but I found these six to be both enlightening and inspiring, which is an exciting combination.

Photo taken and words written by my friend, Jake Weidmann http://instagram.com/jakeweidmann

Photo taken and words written by my friend, Jake Weidmann http://www.jakeweidmann.com


Andrea Palpant Dilley (Christianity Today) published a story on the research of sociologist, Robert Woodberry. And it surprised me in every way. The well-written essay unmasked many of the stereotypes we’ve long held and perpetuated about the role of missionaries in recent history.

Yet so far, over a dozen studies have confirmed Woodberry’s findings. The growing body of research is beginning to change the way scholars, aid workers, and economists think about democracy and development. The church, too, has something to learn. For Western Christians, there’s something exciting and even subversive about research that cuts against the common story and transforms an often ugly character—the missionary—into the whimsical, unwitting protagonist we all love to love.
Full essay.

Kirsten Powers (USA Today) penned this scandalous article amidst the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an abortionist whose Philadelphia “clinic” committed unspeakable horrors. Powers, a Democratic pundit and journalist, took a big risk in publishing this, but almost single-handedly (with a strong hat tip to Mollie Hemingway) made this trial a national news story. Powers also made headlines last year for her inspiring personal testimony.

Infant beheadings. Severed baby feet in jars. A child screaming after it was delivered alive during an abortion procedure. Haven’t heard about these sickening accusations? It’s not your fault. Since the murder trial of Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell began March 18, there has been precious little coverage of the case that should be on every news show and front page.
Full essay.

Andy Crouch (Christianity Today) wrote a masterful essay on the day the Supreme Court announced it had struck down the “Defense of Marriage Act” and legalized same-sex marriage. This was perhaps this biggest story of 2013. Andy handled the topic with real Christian conviction, but wrote with an exemplary type of sensitivity and clarity.

Is there an easy way out of the current battles over sexuality? No. But there is a way through. A remnant, perhaps small and perhaps substantial, will continue to teach that we are created male and female, to bless the marriages that reunite those two broken halves, and to remind all, married and unmarried, that “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage”—that ultimately our earthly eros only reflects the reunion promised between the Creator and his image bearers.
Full essay.

Russell Moore (Wall Street Journal) wrote a compelling challenge to Christians as we enter a new age in American history. Christians, as Dr. Moore describes, no longer exists as a “moral majority” but instead should aim to be a “prophetic minority,” a phrase I quite like. Dr. Moore models the “convictional kindness” he implores us to use.

Our voice must not only be a voice of morality, it must be a voice of welcome that says, “Just as I am without one plea, except the blood of the Son of God was shed for me.” That must be in our voices, with tears in our eyes, so we speak with those who disagree with us with a convictional kindness—not because we are weak, but because the gospel is strong, and because we have been given a mission that is anchored to the cross.

Full essay. Covered by the Wall Street Journal here.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey (Wall Street Journal) authored a helpful piece on Christians and adoption. In light of several adoption scandals and a swath of misinformation about international adoption, particularly, Bailey’s essay provided a balanced account of where things stand.

The Bible is full of admonishments to take special care of “the fatherless,” and in recent years, evangelical Christians in particular have taken this commandment to heart… But in the midst of its rapid growth, the evangelical adoption movement has experienced some growing pains. “Early on, there was adoption cheerleading: ‘It’s beautiful, we need this,’ ” Mr. Medefind says. “Now Christians are talking about ethical questions, like guarding against corruption.”
Full essay.

Patton Dodd (Christianity Today) wrote a gracious and hopeful story about the new life at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. This piece is important personally because of my friendships with a number of the members of New Life and because Patton articulated trends that are important for evangelical church leaders across the country to understand.

The church’s new auditorium, with a stage set in the round and 8,000 seats, is equipped with insane lighting and sound capabilities, all on display this morning. Christ will be preached this morning—and here he is preached as the head of Christendom, leading the charge for Christians to take over the world. He is risen, and we are on the rise. Until, suddenly, we were not. Over the first weekend of November 2006, New Life’s meteoric rise came to a crashing halt.
Full essay.

Duck Dynasty Digest

Duck Dynasty Digest

Nothing new needs to be written about Duck Dynasty. Trust me on this one. For those of you who have been unable to keep up with the wide swath of commentary on the issue, I’ve compiled a list of some of the most thoughtful responses to the issue. It’s not everyday the story of a Christian entrepreneur’s religious convictions are the week’s leading news story (though, a similar story hit last year). This is one of those stories. And the surrounding issues are both significant and newsworthy, even if this has already been hyper-blogged.

Source: Arts & Entertainment

Source: Arts & Entertainment


I’ve chosen these summaries not because I agree with everything these authors have written here (and elsewhere), but because I think they each had something important and unique to say.
Kate Tracy (Writer at Christianity Today) with a summary of the entire saga, including the most-recent updates:

While A&E’s suspension of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson for labeling homosexuality a sin in a GQ interview is attracting widespread attention today, what could prove equally interesting is how the cable network responds to surging online petitions supporting the reality TV star.

Russell Moore (President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission) on why the decision by A&E to censor Phil Richardson is both misguided and intolerant, even if it is absolutely their right to be able to hire and fire whom they choose, based on the A&E institutional moral compass:

Let’s have the sort of cultural conversation that allows us to seek to persuade each other, not to seek to silence one another with intimidation. That’s what real diversity is all about… Let’s have genuine diversity, meaning let’s talk honestly with one another about what we believe and why. Muting one another isn’t what debate is for in a free society.

Brandon Ambrosino (Writer and professional dancer–who also is openly gay):

Why is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them? Why do we dismiss, rather than engage them? One of the biggest pop culture icons of today just took center stage to “educate” us about sexuality. I see this as an opportunity to further the discussion…GK Chesterton said that bigotry is “an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.” If he is right—and he usually is—then I wonder if the Duck Dynasty fiasco says more about our bigotry than Phil’s.

Rod Dreher (Senior editor of The American Conservative) on how to handle the insensitivity and complexity of issues of race in this country:

Anyway, one thing I’ve learned from where I grew up, and from all my travels, is how easy it is to demonize people, and how short-sighted and stupid it is. We all do it. We shouldn’t. All of us have had to sit at Thanksgiving tables and listen to uncles or cousins or family friends say dumb, even ugly, things about Those Not Like Us. Sometimes we speak out against it. Other times we hold our tongues and reproach ourselves later for our silence.

James Poniewozik (TIME Magazine columnist and television critic) on Robertson’s comments being reflective of the views of 45% of Americans (Pew Research data):

Robertson got in trouble, for once in TV history, for making the subtext text — for being explicit about the conservative Christianity that, when it was subtext, was a selling point for him and for his show… And, once you take any kind of action on that, you’ve got the opposite problem — with deeply religious viewers who like the Robertsons for their faith. They’re going to see it as you punishing him for saying out loud what he believes, and maybe for what they themselves believe, and what they believe is the word of God. You’re punishing him, in their eyes, for being one of them.

Wesley Hill (Assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School and author of Washed and Waiting) on why Phil Robertson’s comments on sexuality are coarse and insensitive, even if we agree with his theological positions:

No one who takes seriously the mysteries of human nature and all the ways our hearts are opaque, even to ourselves, would say that embracing a Christian view of marriage and sexuality could ever be a matter of saying, “Gee, Phil, I’d never thought of it that way before, thanks!”And making that point is also a matter of speaking up for Christian orthodoxy in the public square.

The Robertson family offers their collective thoughts on the situation:

We want you to know that first and foremost we are a family rooted in our faith in God and our belief that the Bible is His word.  While some of Phil’s unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible. Phil is a Godly man who follows what the Bible says are the greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Phil would never incite or encourage hate.

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I’m sure I’ve missed some great commentary, but these were the essays I found most helpful. I pray the escalation of the culture wars will continue to be tempered by the likes of the even-handed voices I’ve quoted above.