The following article comes from the Cripps Vault. It is an old blog post from 2006 which was condensed from a speech I gave sometime in the 90s. All I can say is the once-great virtue known as Southern Hospitality has really gone down hill further from the time I wrote the original speech.

SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY

The South is known for its hospitality. In fact, the phrase “Southern hospitality” is recognized around the world. We use it as a motto and wear it proudly as a badge of honor.

While it may be said that the South, as a region, is still more hospitable than other regions on the continent – yet it is a vanishing virtue. I believe there are many reasons for this, too many in fact, to address in one article. But there are a couple of disturbing trends I wish to point out. Now let me lay down a “disclaimer” up front for you folks that have no sense of humor and for those who “absolutize” everything I say. This article speaks in general terms. Not everyone from the South is kind and hospitable and not every yankee is a “rude lyin’ dawg.” Not every Southerner is a fine, gracious host and not every Southern guest is kind and respectful.

So, whence cometh this Southern hospitality? Most folks will tell you it’s genetic. They say, “It’s just in us and we can’t help it.” On the surface it would seem to explain why a whole expanse of land is known for this virtue while “Northern hospitality” and “Western hospitality” are unknown terms.

While I acknowledge that some nationalities tend more to one temperament than another, I do not believe this virtue is “genetic.”

Let us begin with a definition. Webster, in his 1828 dictionary, defines hospitality as: “The act or practice of receiving and entertaining strangers or guests without reward, or with kind and generous liberality.” Our English word comes from the Latin hospitalis which is actually derived from the Celtic hospes. It refers more to a stranger of wanderer than extended family and close friends.

So what’s the point here? Simply this, we tend to think that being hospitable refers to having some friends and family over for a barbeque. But this word goes further than that. Obviously folks are hospitable to those close to them but this virtue extends far past that “comfortable” estate to encompass those who are strangers.

Now, we in the South are normally a bit cautious when it comes to strangers until we ask those two all-important questions: Where are you from? Who are your folks? There is a “proper” and an “improper” answer to both questions.

If you reply that you are from Massachusetts, there will be a change in countenance and only a perfunctory kindness from there on – wrong answer! If you say you are from Opossum Hollow, Alabama, you have given a correct answer. Further, if the folks can hit on someone known in common – a friend or relative – there is an immediate bond and the red carpet is rolled out. However, if you give two wrong answers – you are out of the game. You see, in this ballgame, its two strikes you’re out. There was even a time when: if you made fun of our accents, said you hated grits and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and did not acknowledge Jefferson Davis as our only president – you had better take off running until out of buckshot distance. But you need not fear this anymore.

My point here is that hospitality shown only to friends and family is not a virtue high enough to be worthy of worldwide fame. And while I could write the remainder of this article on the need to be more hospitable to strangers, I believe we have a bigger problem in Dixie. I find hospitality as extended to our friends and family to be disappearing and if we cannot be hospitable to those closest to us, we will never learn to be so to strangers.

Of course, we might say that all virtue, in general, is disappearing down South. We might also say that there is a direct link to the decline of Christianity among our people. But let me ruffle some feathers and say that even “our good ole church-going” folk are losing this virtue of hospitality. Why is this so?

It all started with friendly debate

Recently there was some discussion in our church about hospitality stemming from some comments made in a sermon that was preached by a distant pastor. The pastor apparently made some needful points about the necessity of opening our homes to others and being hospitable people – and that our homes are to appear to others as warm, friendly and inviting. And indeed they should! In addition to these points, there were apparently some comments made about how wrong it is to have any area of the house in which children are forbidden free roam. Such divisions were said to make a house “cold.” Along with a couple of other points it opened up a discussion about hospitality from the viewpoint of the host and the guest along with the responsibility of children.

Many today believe that children ought to be allowed to have the run of the house, whether they live there or not. For visitors, hasn’t their family, after all, been welcomed in to the home? Should not hospitality require our homes to be opened up warmly and completely. Whoa, what “Book of Virtues” did that come out of?

If you get nothing else out of this article – please take note of this: hospitality is a two-way street. A street, I might add, that has speed limits and traffic laws. We are made to believe that if we have someone visiting, hospitality requires us to bend to the will of the visitors – as if we owe them something. This is backwards thinking! It is the visitor that is indebted to the gracious host, though a hospitable host will make a kind caring visitor forget their debt.

Taking a poll

During this period of friendly debate I polled some folks a generation older than myself on the subject of guests in the home and “old-time Southern hospitality.” I didn’t know what I was getting into. It was certainly a very passionate subject to discuss.

We are seeing the warm hospitality of old vanish in our day and I do not wish to put the blame (in general) on the host, but rather the guests. Yes, I believe folks have become less hospitable because as visiting families we’ve become worse company.

As I said, some of the people I’ve polled on this subject have been very passionate in their response. Often couples who are otherwise quite hospitable cringe when certain families with rowdy children come to pay a visit. It seems the peculiar manner in this age for parents to come calling and let their children loose to “do their own thing” without any supervision of the parents.

The folks I polled were all aghast at this modern notion of letting children “loose” unsupervised and unrestrained. To a person they stated that when they went visiting their children remained within their sight and supervision and did nothing without having first been given permission. One person told me that if her children wanted to look at something, say on a shelf, they would have to ask permission first and then, if granted, got up and stood before the shelf with their hands behind their back – so they were sure not to touch something.

Now what is wrong with that? Is that not simply being tender to the Eighth Commandment and seeking to protect the property of others. Our children have no right whatsoever to go to someone else’s home and run banshee-wild all over. They have no right or privilege to handle things that belong to our hospitable hosts without permission and supervision. The Bible teaches us that each home is a miniature church and miniature commonwealth. Each family has their own “house” rules about life within the bounds of their domain. When I enter the dominion of another – I don’t bring my rules with me. Rather, I come under their rules.

Particular circumstances

My children know what the rules are around my farm. They know what they are allowed to do and where they are allowed to go without supervision. When we have visitors with unrestrained children, they just seem to do what they want even though there are certain dangers around our place. For instance, I kill several poisonous snakes each year around our property. So many that we consider it a real problem. Several of us have had scary close calls and tend to be very cautious. In this past, I also had some ornery critters including one billy goat that gored someone (and then gored me trying to rescue that person). These and other potential dangers beg for some rules and supervision – but that’s really not the point here is it?

After “wild visits” I ask my children what their thoughts are about such conduct. When they were younger they questioned why others seem to have more “freedom” than they did. As they got older, it became more apparent to them. In fact, they would attempt, best they could, to “rein in” the wild ones and then get terribly upset when they were ignored. Now, my children aren’t perfect and they also require supervision while visiting others. Occasionally one or two of them will have to go for a walk with their father.

Who then is right?

Now, I have to agree with the ancient wisdom on this subject. I have had a lot of personal experience in the past years. We had a family from afar visit not long ago and their children were doing hand stands and cart wheels in our living room, without a single rebuke or comment from the parents. These little ones ran all over our farm leaving destruction in their wake. We have had children over that went around the house opening drawers and closets and so forth snooping around. We have seen visiting children open kitchen cabinets and the refrigerator looking for food without asking first. My parents would have tanned my hide for such conduct. I could go on and on with examples.

No guest should ever abuse the property of their host and no guest should ever go through cabinets, drawers or closets. It is rude and disrespectful of the privacy of the hosts. If a child or parent needs something, they should always ask.

It is disturbing when children do these things in the presence of their parents without a word a rebuke. It is even worse when the parents themselves do it. Yes, we are becoming an inhospitable society – but who is most at fault? Are we inhospitable hosts? Are we uncaring disinterested guests?

As for the point brought up in our debate about having certain areas of the home off limits to children – what is wrong with that? I was never allowed in my parent’s bedroom as this was “their sanctuary”. The elderly I interviewed said is was just common custom. Many families have formal living rooms where you may find the finer furniture which is not intended to be exposed to the daily use of children, being set aside for the entertaining of company. What is sinful in that practice? Why does that make a house cold?

Folks, we have to remember a very important Biblical principle: children are not on the same level as the parents. There is a distinction. There is a chain of command and there must be subjection. Children must not be allowed to do or say everything that an adult may do or say. They must not be allowed to enter every adult conversation. They must not be allowed to read or view everything that may be permissible for a parent. There is a distinction and the family is not a democracy. Rather, it is a benevolent dictatorship.

Is there something here that we can all learn from? Certainly, we could all learn to be more hospitable. We could all learn to make others feel welcome. But I believe where the greatest work needs to be done is to learn how to be better guests.

This past fall we had the privilege of receiving into my home several Southern gentlemen who were in town for a conference. It was a pleasure to host them. They were kind and considerate. The shower happened to be out and I was quite embarrassed about having to ask my guests to shower outdoors behind the garden with no hot water, just cold well water. They were most understanding and said nothing but kind things. After eating dinner, they all picked up their plates and offered to do the dishes. One guest even insisted that he be allowed to help with the dishes.

This is the kind of company we must be if we are to expect our hosts to be hospitable to us. It used to be the practice that when you went to visit you brought something with you for your hosts – either food, drink or maybe even a gift. This practice implied that there was a sort of debt in being graciously invited into the home of another. A guest that showed up empty-handed once was considered rude. A guest that showed up empty-handed several times was considered a leech. I suppose most of my family and friends are good guests. My aunts and uncles always bring something with them. Uncle Gene can come anytime he wants. He always brings homemade hot sauce and peanut brittle. Frank Swords always brings a new drawing for me (framed at that!) and gifts for all the kids…and he never even stays the night. The shelves are lined in my den with all the gifts brought by my gracious guests. The guest that brought me a huge sack of blue corn as a gift introduced me to the best cornbread I’ve ever tasted. I could go on and on. There are still signs that Southern Hospitality is not dead. However, as I’ve already mentioned…all of my experiences have not been so good. Ask yourself, who would I want to come back for another visit: the kind, helpful guest who never comes empty-handed…or the wild, snooping, lazy guest who come with a hand out and places a burden on me during their stay.

A gracious guest is never imposing. A guest that puts a burden on the host makes even Southern hospitality a difficult endeavor. A guest should always find a way to be helpful and minimize any inconvenience placed on the hosts. There are numerous ways to do this.

Lastly, we must not forget that there must be an heavenly motive for hospitality. Some lend or give only to those they know will repay. Hospitality gives not expecting to be repaid. We should all remember that God has given what we cannot repay. He forgives our debts as we should also forgive our debtors. He has made us to be guests at the great wedding feast – those of us who were strangers indeed have been invited to the greatest of houses to attend unto the most excellent of feasts. When we have been afforded such hospitality, shall we not extend to invitation to others?

Proverbs 11:25, “The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.”

Closing note: This article was edited from a very long unpublished article written a few years back. It may suffer a bit in continuity but I felt it necessary to reduce it to a more “bloggable” size. As an appendix, I had one of the most enjoyable visits after Hurricane Katrina from a friend who lives in Indiana (that’s North of the Mason_dixon line for those who are geographically-challenged). Due to the circumstances only half of the family came – the father and three children. My friend came offering his help, bearing welcomed gifts and expecting less than hospitable conditions, due to the storm’s wrath. In the midst of all the disarray, he managed to give oversight to his well-disciplined children. I know a lot of Southerners who could have taken note! So much for Southern hospitality – though it may wane, may it not become extinct.