These days every smart person has a “side hustle.” The side hustle is a gig beyond one’s full-time gig, a freelance folly to fill one’s evenings, provide some regular fun money, or fund the shortfalls from one’s real-gig cash. Side hustle suggestions inundate Pinterest pages and now deserve a whole “economy” of their own.
My dad had side hustles two generations before the idea became a social network celebrity. In those years we were tenant farmers. We lived long stretches with little cash flow. Side hustles filled the gaps. Six dozen eggs bought the weekly groceries and gas. But the best side hustle, at least in my mind, was his custom feed-grinding business.
I remember the ancient hammer mill mounted on a decrepit yellow Chevy truck. The fenders were laceworks of rusted steel. The grinder was known to throw metal hammers against the flimsy casing. After one such adventure in centripetal force, we upgraded to a red, tractor-towed, New Holland model. The pressure of loan payments increased the urgency of the appointments.
Sometimes Dad exchanged his services for welding or a tractor overhaul or a new breeding boar. Sometimes he got cash. Always he got fed–with one exception. Dad studiously avoided appointments near meal time with a neighbor he affectionately called “Turtle.” He never said this name publicly. It was no compliment. Turtle had two speeds, according to Dad–slow and stopped. Turtle was the butt of dozens of neighborhood jokes.
The mealtime scheduling issue, however, focused on Mrs. Turtle. She was a terrible cook. Dad said her food could lead a starving man to consider dieting. Her catastrophic cooking was inversely related to her kind and generous hospitality. Dad knew from hard experience that he dare not refuse her invitations to the table. Thus the intense focus on scheduling discipline.
Sometimes in the summer I rode along on the feed-grinding gigs. I might have the rare chance to play with friends. Absent that, the customer’s wives plied me with cookies. Dad approved. A side hustle with side benefits was a bonus. But I had strict orders to avoid any such invitations from Mrs. Turtle. Dad was unconcerned about the quality of the treats. That was my problem. But if I accepted the invitation, Dad would certainly be reeled in as well. So I spent a lot of time hiding in Turtle’s corn crib.
Turtle and scheduled time were not well-acquainted. Even Dad’s best laid plans sometimes got derailed. One such day the job was only half done by about 12:30 p.m. The culinary catastrophe commenced. “Come on up to the house for dinner,” Turtle drawled. “Ma has it all ready.” For the uninitiated, lunch is what one eats mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Supper is the evening meal, often after a fourteen hour day. Dinner in such settings is the midday meal.
Dad sighed and shrugged in defeat. “That sounds good,” he grunted. “We’ll be up to the house in a minute.” As Turtle plodded up the hill, Dad grabbed me by the arm. “You be sure to eat whatever is on your plate,” he growled. “I don’t care what it is. You eat what’s set in front of you. Don’t say a word. Don’t make a face. Just eat it.” I nodded, and we headed up to the house.
“Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you,” Jesus instructs the seventy (two), “eat what is set before you…” (Luke 10:8 NRSV). There is certainly no room in this text for rock star preachers and private jets! The seventy (two) are called to work as Minimalist Missionaries (MM’s), living off the land “like lambs in the midst of wolves.” The laborers deserve to be paid a living wage–more properly, perhaps, a subsistence wage. But no one is going to set up a 401(k) under these arrangements.
There will be no picky eaters in the crowd. Not once, but twice, Jesus tells the missionaries to eat whatever is on the table in front of them (verses 7 and 8). For the Trekkies among us, this has the flavor of the Prime Directive–do not interfere with the local culture any more than necessary. The instructions focus a great deal on the appropriate way to receive a welcome.
So this is vulnerable mission work. Brenda and I have joined a local congregation as I prepare to move into retirement. Our first Sunday with the new folks was a jarring experience. For thirty-five years I have been one who invited, welcomed and included the newcomers. I was on home turf, with the powers of place, position and insider knowledge. I was one of those who could bestow the gifts of place, position and knowledge to the newcomers (or not, in my less-than-stellar moments). All the vulnerability was on the other side of the conversation.
Now I was the one being welcomed. The welcome was warm, genuine and enthusiastic. It was more energetic than I would have preferred (introvert that I am). We did, however, note aloud that we are members of that congregation. Thus the invitations to various congregational activities was appropriate. I felt more engulfed than embraced, but I had asked for it. After all, I had in my insecurity asserted a place in the community. I got what I had coming to me.
We worry so much in the church (or at least we should) about being welcoming places and communities. But the focus here is on being welcomed. The MM’s enter the space of others. They are at best the guests. At worst they could be seen as colonizing invaders. Galileans and Samaritans would know all about cultural conquerors who were happy to tell them how backward they were and how life could be better if only they would adopt Greco-Roman norms. The MM’s were to be prepared for normal village suspicion and for cultural defensiveness.
My experience connects me to Jesus’ instructions to the MM’s. Going out means embracing vulnerability. It means being like lambs among the wolves–not a place of comfort, by any means. Leave behind the familiar supports and props. Don’t go shopping for the best house on the block. Instead, go in to the first one you find. Offer the gift of peace with no expectation of a return response. Do the work as you are permitted, and hit the road when you are not.
Most of all, eat what is put in front of you. This is about food, and about so much more. As I arrive in retirement, I must sit at tables and listen far more than I speak. So this is about humility. This is about learning the culture prior to making pronouncements. This is about receiving gifts as they are given rather than judging them according to my preferences. Otherwise, colonization masquerades as mission. This is the risk that my experience may change me more than my words may change others. The MM’s are called to incarnational mission.
And the dinner at Turtle’s table? More to come…