No crosses, no fish

The hotel's integrity is all the symbolism that's needed

Issue: "Digital Revolution," Nov. 27, 1999

Why do I find references to "Christian jewelry" and "Christian amusement parks" repugnant but am still willing to make "Christian music," "Christian colleges," and even "Christian journalism" and "Christian newsmagazines" part of my vocabulary?

Oddly, it took an overnight stay last week in what I might earlier have called a "Christian hotel" to help me sort out such contradictions. More and more, that overnight stay might also prompt me to drop the word Christian from my vocabulary whenever I'm tempted to use it as an adjective. But if you're serious about a Christian worldview (and yes, I know I just used Christian as an adjective), maybe you should go spend a night or two in the same hotel.

It won't be super easy to get there. Located in Perry, Iowa, the Hotel Pattee is half an hour from the nearest interstate highway, and an hour from the nearest commercial airport. But it's a first-class destination, and also a first-class illustration for Christians everywhere of what it means to apply your Christian perspective in every aspect of life.

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I grew up in Iowa, which is part of the reason the Hotel Pattee intrigues me. I can't remember the first time I stayed in a hotel; I may already have finished high school or even college. Through my childhood, our family either camped or stayed with relatives and friends. But then I got spoiled. I worked for an employer who encouraged us staffers to stay in some of the best hotels around the world, including the Peninsula in Hong Kong, the Hilton in Nairobi, and the InterContinental in Rome. My parents had always reminded us that the Apostle Paul said he "knew how to be abased, and how to abound"-and I concluded that abounding in five-star comfort sometimes feels better than pitching a tent or being "abased" at the Super Eight.

So you should know for starters that the Hotel Pattee tends more to help you abound than it does to make you suffer abasement. For very Midwestern rates (ranging from $85 to $240), you'll discover a kind of hotel excellence surpassed at only a few places in the world.

That's a brash claim. But it's a claim matched by the absolute uniqueness of the hotel's arts and crafts architecture and appointments, the carefulness of its service (three well-trained staff people per room), and the warm and personalized overall comfort experienced by the hotel's guests. In short, the Pattee leaves you saying on a dozen fronts: "That was a wonderful experience. I want to go back, again and again." And patrons of the hotel do exactly that.

It's at that point that you'll want to know something about the hotel's owners-and their motivation in life. Howard and Roberta Ahmanson bought the hotel at auction in 1993. They were attracted to it because Perry is Mrs. Ahmanson's hometown. Although the Ahmansons live now in southern California, she was eager to express her thanks to her home community for the good things it had contributed to her childhood. The downtown of the 6,600-population county seat had gotten a little dowdy, so the restoration of the hotel seemed like an appropriate thing to do.

Whether the $12 million invested in the hotel over the last six years was good for the Ahmansons is their business. For Perry, Iowa, the decision was gangbuster. The whole community talks about "the hotel," and so do national and international travel magazines and critics-with unrestrained enthusiasm. In October, a multimillion-dollar biotechnical company announced plans to build a plant in Perry, citing the hotel's presence as a key draw. More than 200 new jobs will be created.

All that, and much more, because the Ahmansons decided not just to do something fun, but to do it right. People talk about the Hotel Pattee, and choose to go back again and again, because it does seriously and with integrity what a hotel is supposed to do. Mrs. Ahmanson says: "The Bible makes it very clear that societies were to be judged on how they treated wayfarers, strangers in the land.... Amazing as it may seem, modern-day hotels, even though they usually operate for profit, stand in that tradition.... We hope that you will be able to say we were 'downright hospitable.'"

For Christians, that is part of what it means to speak God's truth. In the totality of our lives, we are to let the work of our minds and the work of our hands speak with integrity. Music done by Christians is not faithful just because it uses a lot of "God words" or focuses on themes of morality; music done by Christians is faithful when it does what God meant music to do. A newsmagazine is not faithful to God just because it talks only about Christian people and Christian organizations; it is faithful when it does well all that people expect a good newsmagazine to do.

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