To Prove I Am Not A Ghost

Posted in: Uncategorized by bill-o on August 13, 2010

Two “extreme tourists”, Guilluame Combot and Enora Nedelec, have recently made the 18-month journey by foot from Capetown to Khartoum, from south to north across sub-Saharan Africa. Surviving on about $2.00 (US) each day and with only two backpacks of supplies, the pair walked each day not knowing where they would sleep each night. You can read their story here: “Extreme Tourists Set Off To Walk Across Africa”.

Combot and Nedelec entered some areas of southern Sudan that are so remote that the local people did not even know what a “tourist” was. The locals there could only conceive of the possibility that these two travelers were really foreign aid workers.

But at one point, the very-long-distance pedestrians entered a village that is so isolated that its inhabitants had never seen white people before. The villagers forced Combot to eat something to prove that he was not a ghost.

The New Monasticism: The 12 Marks: Mark #3

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on March 01, 2009

Continuing with our reflections on the 12 marks of the New Monasticism, we encounter the third mark:

“Hospitality to the stranger”

The first mark of the new monasticism dealt with getting to the right location, whether physical or spiritual. The second addressed sharing with one another within a living and vital community.

This third mark of the new monasticism take things one step further: sharing hospitality with strangers.

After all, it’s one thing to share resources and time with people that you know well: friends and family that you know and trust, sometimes for years or even decades. It’s a bigger step of love to reach out beyond your typical circles of relationships to give freely to those in need whom you may have never met before.

The dictionary defines hospitality as “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers” and, perhaps more enlightening for us here, “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way” (

Although this mark pertains specifically to strangers, it is often the case that guests and strangers come together. Who of us have not had occasion where we were planning to entertain a guest yet that guest brought along a stranger whom we had not met before? In these cases, I think that this dictionary definition might need to say “guests and strangers” instead of “guests or strangers”.

And while I think that “tag-along” strangers that come along with intended guests are indeed strangers, I think that the intent of this mark is to drive our imagination out to care for the strangers for whom we cannot even call “friends of friends”. 

Some of you may have seen the Africa Trek television series, where Alexandre Poussin and his wife Sonia walk across Africa from south to north. During this amazing adventure, Alexandre and Sonia walked through remote parts of Africa that were far from any hotel. As they walked, they often encountered strangers who insisted that the two of them stop and stay with them for the night. Much of their journey centered around the hospitality of these perfect strangers who then became friends. In a very real sense, this cross-continent journey was not Alexandre and Sonia’s alone, but also the journey of the friendships and hospitality that they found along the way.

So what is the hospitality that we should offer?

I could offer a list here, yet I think that the yearning to be hospitable should be whatever is truly and uniquely on your heart to do.

At its heart, true hospitality, whatever it is, is, ultimately, an expression of love. It must be something more than a mere “bargained-for exchange”. True hospitality is all about giving of yourself and expecting nothing in return.

I also believe that hospitality is an expression of home. Hospitality is where strangers and friends are welcomed in and truly made to feel “at home”, if only temporarily. And please remember that sometimes we are the ones who bring the hospitality, that true sense of home, to others by visiting those who cannot go out themselves: the shut-ins and the prisoners, for example.

What prevents us from offering that hospitality?

1.  Well, I think that the first mark has to come first: relocate to the abandoned places. You first need to be a location where strangers are more likely to be found.

2.  Second, you should be practicing the second mark: sharing with friends. If you are already being hospitable to friends, it will be a lot easier to do so with strangers. Here, you are already practicing the habits of hospitality with each other.

3.  Hoarding prevents us from giving to others: to friends or to strangers. After all, we each need to be reminded that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive. Giving is a lifestyle choice (as is hoarding, BTW).

4.  Strangers often come at times that are the most “inconvenient” to our personal schedules. Because we don’t yet know them, there is no way to “synchronize our schedules”. Yet this inconvenience becomes convenient when it’s something that marks our lives. Showing hospitality to strangers is all about putting other people first, even when it adversely (and probably temporarily) impacts our time.

5.  Finally, sometimes we’re scared. After all, strangers are not people that we know and trust (at least not yet). Yet this, in and of itself, should not be an excuse. Depending on your own particular circumstances and as you are led by the spirit of God, you should be able to practice hospitality to strangers in a way that is safe and secure.

Hinge Point

Posted in: Current Events,Spirituality by bill-o on January 24, 2009

The use of the term “hinge point of history” by Pastor Rick Warren during his Inauguration Prayer for President Barack Obama on Tuesday, January 20, 2009, has received some interesting discussion.

For example, please see:

Evidently, an exact definition of the term “hinge point” is not known. The phrase seems to bring us to images of how a door swings on its hinges, thus allowing a door to close or to open.

Regardless of the “official” definition, I think, though, that Pastor Warren’s intent was to say that history, with the inauguration of the Mr. Obama, is now making a clear turn from one era to another.

Whether Mr. Obama’s ascent to the highest office in the United States represents a new era (the Age of Obama, perhaps), I’ll leave it for others to decide. As is usually the case with such things, time will tell. As a history professor once told me, it really takes at least 25 years of time to pass before past events can be put in the proper historical perspective. It’s at that point that politics begin to pass into history.

What I can say here is that, for the spiritual seeker, the true quest in life is to find the door, the “hinge point”, between time and eternity. As the book of Ecclesiastes says, we are each born with “eternity in our hearts”. Yet, at the same time, we have been placed in a world where the eternal is somehow restricted. The desire to press through from this present world to the mysteries of the everlasting can never be completely pushed away. For this is the journey for which are spirits yearn for, cry out for. It is the spiritual call which gnaws at us and drives us forward, yet it is also the search from which we are sometimes so easily distracted.

As you consider the term “hinge point”, please consider not just politics or doors, but the spiritual journey. For it is this eternal hinge point that matters most.


Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on August 29, 2008

In the ancient Sanskrit epic poem the Ramayana (which literally means “Ram’s Journey”), one of the principal stories is about when Prince Rama (Lord Ram) went into exile for 14 years. The eldest of four princes, Rama was about to crowned by his father as king in his place. However, King Dasaratha, Rama’s father, had promised one of his three wives (not Rama’s mother) the granting of any two wishes since she had once saved his life. Kaikeyi, Ram’s stepmother, asked that her son be installed as king instead of Rama and that Rama be sent into exile for 14 years. Reluctantly and heart-broken, Dasaratha agreed to her requests.

For the sake of his father’s honor, Rama did not contest the throne but accepted his fate. As he began to leave his city, all of his devoted subjects followed him out to the edge of the forest. Rather than have most of the city accompany him on his long, epic journey, Rama released the men and women to return to their homes and resume their lives. His exile was his responsibility alone.

As Lord Ram stepped into his exile and most of the people walked back to their houses, a certain smaller group did neither. These were the eunuchs. In that society, eunuchs were considered to be neither male nor female. Since in their minds their lord had not released them to go back to the city, they remained faithful and stayed at that very spot waiting for their lord to return.

When Lord Ram returned after 14 years, he found those eunuchs waiting for him. When he saw them, he blessed them and said that eunuchs would one day rise to power in the earth.


Kaikeyi was faithful to the letter but not to the spirit of her husband and king. Her request was based purely on a contract: “I will give you two wishes”. When she came to collect on these IOUs, this fulfilled her wishes but certainly not her husband’s, and so the hearts of the people were pointed towards her stepson and not to  her son. Her desires were not based on relationships of love but on an engine of selfish motivations steering a vehicle of obligation.

The eunuchs, on the other hand, waited patiently for their prince and lord without being asked. They had not been promised any reward for doing so. Such is the heart of faithfulness. It goes beyond mere laws and rules. It flows from a life of devotion and love.

Yet, Rama was also faithful to his father. Even though he had not done anything worthy of such a severe punishment, he was faithful to respect his father’s commands and not to dishonor him even when that meant banishment and exile.


“But the fruit of the spirit is … faithfulness, …; against such things, there is no law.”