“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” Henri Nouwen
Let me introduce you to a friend of mine, Michael Minutoli. He is one of the most brilliant souls I have ever met. He is the greeter in Laguna Beach and his life purpose has become putting a smile on the face of each driver that passes his corner at Brooks St. and PCH.
He has been greeting for over 6 years, earbuds in place, dancing and spinning away, his beaming smile and wave causing ripples of joy throughout the commuter traffic, the tourists, and the ones out for a leisurely drive, inching bumper to bumper along hwy 1. His happiness is contagious. His elaborate clothing only heightens the playfulness of his countenance. You can’t help but wave back.
Michael is homeless, but doesn’t panhandle. He has chosen his life and loves it, despite the difficulties it presents. His story is a collection of miracles, one after the other. You wouldn’t believe him but for the photographic proof of himself standing alongside just about every A list celebrity you can think of.
But let me tell you why I, personally, love this guy so much. Because that warmth that spills from him every day on his greeting corner is just the tip of the iceberg. He is a man with such a generous heart. I remember one morning Mia and I were grabbing breakfast at Heidelberg. He swung quickly into line behind us and handed the cashier a gift card before I could pay. It’s on me, he said. I started to protest. I know how little he has. And yet I could see in his eyes how much this mattered to him. How humbling to accept this gift! Such lavish generosity. I’ll never forget that, nor will my daughter.
He comes, from time to time, to my church. I feel so honored to have him sitting there in the pews. This is a man who teaches me how to love and give from his deepest reserves. How to spend his life emptying himself for the sake of others.
Michael has endured some heavy persecution over the years. It is shocking, and yet not surprising, that people would see fit to return his happiness and joy with mockery and abuse. Several times he has pedaled his bicycle past the church and come in for prayer. His heart is so tender and fragile in these moments. I pray for his strength, for courage, for protection, and for a heart full of compassion. His eyes well up with tears.
Michael does what he does because he has been called to do it. His has the gift of hospitality, and that is no small gift. There is such brilliance in the simple blessing of happiness. But the effect goes much deeper. It provides healing. This is what true hospitality brings.
When I think of my own calling, I am usually fantasizing about some elaborate, self-important future. But Jesus is always pushing us in the opposite direction. To see God in the simple acts…giving a cloak to someone in need, visiting the sick or incarcerated, or giving a meal to someone who is hungry. These acts aren’t just godly. They are done as if to God himself.
Whenever I see Michael he greets me with a nod of his head, and with his thick New England accent he says, “hello passta!” My heart leaps. Thank you, Michael. Thank you for the light you bring!