Practicing Hospitality

[fa icon="calendar"] Dec 28, 2016 9:00:00 AM / by John MacDougall


I’ve read a lot about how stressful the holidays are for alcoholics. They don’t have to be stressful at all if we will practice hospitality towards everyone, everywhere we go. Here’s the idea: God loves everybody, including us, and has offered these recovery programs to everyone according to our needs. A.A., Al-Anon, N.A. and other programs are open to whoever wants them.

We may have been burdened by a false religious idea that God will help us if we have been good, but God will punish us if we have been bad, but that’s not God, that’s Santa Claus. (“He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake” goes the Christmas song.) The truth is that God is good all the time.

God practices hospitality towards us all the time, and is ready and waiting to help us whenever we catch on to the reality that A.A. and the other 12 Step programs are open every day, practicing hospitality towards everyone.

I have a travel schedule this week that I call “blown sideways through life”.  I spoke Tuesday night at St. Olaf’s Catholic Church. Wednesday morning I got up at 3:50 a.m. to make a 6:50 am flight to Washington D.C. I carried no luggage so that I could travel quickly and had a sedan pickup at the airport at 10:50 am to get to my granddaughter, Ana’s college graduation at 1:00 p.m. Then we went to dinner and I stayed overnight with my wife, Priscilla at the Marriott in Washington. She had a change of clothes for me in her suitcase. Thursday I flew back to Minneapolis, carrying nothing and then Friday, today, I’m flying to San Antonio with two suitcases of Christmas presents to meet with the whole family there for Christmas. It isn’t stressful because I benefit from God’s hospitality in the A.A. program and I practice hospitality everywhere I go.

I checked in the two suitcases, and the airline agent’s computer gave her two baggage tags. She tagged the bags and sent them down the chute. Then the computer gave her only one baggage claim check.  She got all flustered, looking for the other claim check. She was upset because she has to give me a claim check for each bag. The computer spits out the receipts, so she looked on the floor, in the trashcan, and between the machines, but she couldn’t find it. She was looking around, trying to figure out what to do.

I spoke up and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. I saw both tags. The first bag’s number was just one digit off from the second one. I’ll just write the first number on the claim check with the second number. The second bag tag ends with 19242. The first bag tag ended with 19241, so I’ll just write it down and that’s fine.” She looked relieved and said “Oh, thank you. I really appreciate it.” I said “Merry Christmas, and thank you for helping me.”

I plan to get to the airport early, especially at Christmas time.  There used to be an old black man named Royal Zeno who had a shoeshine stand at the Minneapolis airport. He employed other old black men and women to do shoe shines, and they were very popular. About 10 years ago, the airport replaced them with a national shoeshine concession. There was a rebellion among the businessmen who were used to seeing Royal Zeno in his accustomed place at the airport, and the Airport Commission reversed its decision. Royal Zeno himself is now dead, but the oldest man in his group is still there, most days, by gate F4. He is nearly 90 years old, a veteran of World War II. He is always nattily dressed.

At Christmas, there are very few business travelers, and few passengers need shoe shines. He was elegantly dressed all in tan and brown. A brown homburg hat, a white shirt, tan suit, brown tie, brown shoes and white spats. I wore black oxford wingtips, and got my shine today. We had a nice talk, and I gave a 100% tip, with a “Merry Christmas” as I went on my way.

I am lucky. I don’t have any argumentative relatives to test my sense of hospitality. However, whatever these weeks bring, flight delays, difficult personal encounters, loneliness, or disappointment, we will do better by remembering God’s hospitality towards us, and practicing it wherever we go.

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Topics: Alcoholics Anonymous, 12 steps of aa, AA Big Book, 12 Traditions Of AA, Recovery Program

John MacDougall

Written by John MacDougall

John MacDougall is the Spiritual Care Coordinator at The Retreat.
His book, “Being Sober and Becoming Happy” is available from

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