Couchsurfing as Commandment: Don’t Get Comfortable

Disclaimer: This is an old post, from my old blog. I don’t write on that blog anymore, so I’m moving some of my posts to this site. I figure I wrote them, I own them, and I want to make it look like I write as much as I wish I did.

Once, in a job interview, I told the truth. The supervisor interviewing me asked what I wanted to do in the future, and I told him I wanted to write a Sex-and-the-City-style blog, but about religion. I’m not sure how sexy this blog is, but I find myself thinking and writing about religion quite a bit. Life goal achieved, apparently.

Generally, I find the Bible sometimes annoying, sometimes infuriating, sometimes boring. But every once in a while, someone (usually Jesus) comes through with a real zinger of a verse. One of my favorite passages has always been some version of Matthew 10:5-14 (which is virtually the same as Mark 6:8-13 and Luke 9:1-6). It goes like this:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts — 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

I hear a lot of babble about persecution of Christians, being “martyrs” for Christ, and “carrying one’s cross.” Not that there aren’t people in the world who are truly suffering for their religion; I just don’t place a lack of hand sanitizer on a one week mission trip in the same category. I know a lot of Christians see themselves as the ones going out “into the world” to, as Luke says in his version of the above passage, “proclaim the good news and heal people everywhere.” And I see beautiful people doing just that on a daily basis.

But what if Christians started seeing themselves as the “worthy people” Luke talks about in verse eleven? He says, “Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.” It is this passage upon which I hinge my argument that if you are a Christian, you should Couchsurf. (I would also argue that if you are human, you should Couchsurf, but that’s a blog post for another time.)

I have met many people lately who are resistant to the idea of Couchsurfing. If, for some reason, you have missed one of my evangelisms on Couchsurfing, let me explain to you the premise. You sign up on the website and create a profile. Then, you either find people willing to host you in their homes during your travels, or you offer your own couch/spare bed/patch of ground for travelers to stay on when they pass through your town. The resistance I hear to Couchsurfing comes in various forms (“I don’t know them!”, “I don’t want to get raped!”, “I don’t want to get murdered!”), but it all stems from a fundamental lack of trust in strangers.

Which is reasonable…to a degree. I don’t feel the need to explain all the safeguards Couchsurfing has in place to protect surfers and hosts. To me, the bigger issue is that people don’t trust others anymore. It doesn’t seem to matter that fifty people have vouched for a surfer, showing that he is a real person, and apparently a gracious guest at that. What are we really afraid of? I don’t think it’s really about murder or rape or even someone stealing your things. I used to think it was about stuff, because most of the people I’ve met through Couchsurfing are pretty poor, and most of the people I’ve met who would never let a stranger stay with them are quite wealthy and have plenty of beds to spare. But now I think the real issue is about being uncomfortable around people we don’t know, who may be different from us.

Everyone–Christians included–likes for interactions to be on their terms. That’s why we go to the park and make the homeless stand in a line for sandwiches, rather than inviting them into our homes and letting them rummage through our fridges. It’s why we go to churches and small group meetings and avoid the people on the street corners who approach us about religion. It’s why we don’t Couchsurf.

At the risk of admitting that I do like at least one contemporary Christian artist, I will quote a man who I think really gets it, Brandon Heath. He has a song, “Don’t Get Comfortable,” that I’ve always liked. And I think it’s an appropriate sentiment: don’t get comfortable. Put yourself out there. Sleep on a stranger’s couch. Eat a meal with someone you don’t know. Open your home to people.

I don’t know which part of Matthew 10:5-14 I like most. I really dig the whole vagabond spirit of verses 9-10: “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts — no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.” I also love the last bit of verse 8: “Freely you have received; freely give.” It’s beautiful. But maybe the part I like best is what Jesus doesn’t say. Oh, sure, he goes on about how “it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” I don’t usually get involved with all that Sodom-and-Gomorrah-judgment-day stuff, but I think I understand what Jesus was getting at: If you close yourself off to new and beautiful experiences, your soul will suffer. In eternal hellfire? I dunno about all that. But I can say for certain that my soul has been enriched by the people I’ve met by putting myself in awkward and “dangerous” situations.

I’ll leave you with the story of one of these situations. We let two strangers stay at our house, who had few references on Couchsurfing. But we took a chance and let Jesse and Monique stay with us. They were a young married couple who were traveling across the U.S. on their way to Haiti. They were going to live in a tent city there while they launched their nonprofit, which connects classrooms in America with schools in Haiti. They were great surfers and lovely individuals with big hearts. And I have to think that it was better for them to stay with us than to stay in some hotel. Yes, it’s cheaper, and the money they saved would be used for bigger and better projects, but I’m thinking selfishly here. It was better for my soul to meet Monique and Jesse and be inspired by their work than to stay “safe” and comfortable in my home, alone.

So when people ask, “What would Jesus do?” (and I’m obviously using a hypothetical example since I haven’t seen anyone with a WWJD bracelet since the mid-90′s, at least), I would say, “Couchsurf.”

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