Most of the last six months have been a back-to-the-drawing-board, learning experience for me, and it seems I am not done with it yet. I cannot stress enough how thrilled I am about the suggestion I got on this blog last Christmas to seek out Arthur Sutherland’s book: I Was A Stranger. That suggestion seriously led me from one point to another in a learning adventure.
As a middle aged adult, learning new things meets a natural resistance frequently. So often it means un-learning some old things in order to learn some new things, which is generally a very uncomfortable experience on the one hand, and something not to be engaged in lightly. After all, if there were no such resistance, then I would easily be tossed about by every wind and wave of new doctrine – so a little natural resistance is not entirely a bad thing.
However, in this case it’s not so much a matter of revamping everything from the ground up as a matter of clearing up a snag or two back there behind me which, once adjusted, lends a LOT of weight to things I was already seeing and attempting to clarify. There is new enhancement on it too, but I get such a strong sense of reward and validation that I am deeply satisfied. And the topic of this course of study is CHRISTIAN HOSPITALITY.
It’s amazing to me that I held the word “hospitality” in any measure of contempt, but I see that I did. I was dancing around it for years, but never quite opened that door. It was too easy to associate it with dainty tea parties, but between, Sutherland, Koenig, Jipp, and Pohl, the things I learned from Brueggemann, Walsh, Claiborne, and Campolo suddenly have a much richer fit in my world of thought and faith.
Hospitality is dangerous, but it is The Way of Jesus in the world (Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6).
The faith heritage I grew up in, Churches of Christ, like Catholics observe Eucharist in regular worship services, and I have been enamored with the communion meal for many years now chasing the depths of meaning and possibility I can find in it. Of course I started with a very traditional view of it a long time ago, but I no longer reduce my views to that. I now see it as the core/center of hospitality, but the larger package in which it is the core is also important, and certainly is far, far more than mere dainty, tea parties.
I think one of the driving thrusts in my study of Eucharist for most of the last two decades was chapter six in Walter Brueggemann’s little book called Peace, previously published under a different title. The whole book is worth the trouble, but chapter six, “Ordering and Eating” blew the door of my theological imagination off its hinges. And though I don’t believe this is a direct quote from Bruegg, I nonetheless credit him with this idea: Who you eat with says a lot about how you order the world. The same theologian who, later in the same book, teaches that the tools of the world-saving trade God puts in the hands of the church are a TOWEL and BASIN, all but came out and said that this meal is the fruit of the tree of life.
What can I say? Though he only led this horse a couple of paces away from that living water, he got me close enough to find it for myself and so this horse takes a drink! Thanx Walt!
I also thank Bouma-Prediger and Walsh for helping me to see homelessness in more dimensions than simply living on the streets in their book Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement. The opening chapter compares Kenneth and Kenny, one guy who is fabulously wealthy, but keeps three places of residence on at least two continents, always moving between them and never settling in and making friends or planting roots, and the poor one who lives in a box down by the river under the shadow of the rich man’s penthouse suite, but he knows the local people at the shelter, the migration of the birds and all that. Then the authors ask: Which man is really homeless? There is a lot more to think about when it comes to “home” than normally meets the eye, and this book really helps me think new thoughts in that way. It also gives me pity for a church of white, middle-class Americans who may have fine houses, but live in the despair of divorce, abuse, addiction, debt and frequent moving. How can such a group really help those living on the streets?
We have a lot here to consider.
Between these writers/thinkers and the offerings of others like N.T. Wright, Tony Campolo, and Shane Claiborne helping me to think more imaginatively about the things I find in Genesis, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Amos, and the gospels than it seems my brothers and sisters and the preachers from church allow for, I have begun developing dreams and schemes. But they are dreams and schemes that require the participation of a church that rejects me in favor of the garbage peddled by Robert Lupton, Steve Corbett, and Brian Fikkert. (Thus the sense of validation after a decade of this rejection offers a deep sense of relief.)
What ideas were formulating in this neglected thought world?
I was connecting a lot of dots. I recognize that not every church member can open their individual home to just every stranger. I know that even if we move in largely that direction, which I think we should, we will be on a learning curve as a group and that it will need to be a team effort with a division of labor type of teamwork.
I imagined some people supporting the work in prayer, others with financing, others with space in their homes. I imagined people from the streets initially being invited to worship in our fancy church buildings, fed from our church kitchens, and then hosted to take shelter for the night under the watchful eye of shepherds and deacons who would facilitate round-the-clock oversight, worship, and entertainment. A party celebrating Jesus, celebrating Jesus in his Matthew-25, stranger disguise, his Luke-24 stranger disguise, his Hebrews 13:2 stranger disguise. (Is this starting to sound biblical yet? Huh… Fikkert???)
I recognize that all of this is starting to sound like Luke 14 and 15, like Deuteronomy 14 and 15 and like Genesis 18. But with a twist too.
I imagine that as our street friends join us night after night, some will move on and decide Jesus is not for them. Others will take advantage of the charity, but keep their hearts distant from Jesus and from us. I figure that over time, more and more of them will find they fit deeper and deeper in the love of this celebration Jesus calls us to. I also imagine that as the shepherds discern this among various individuals, THEN the invitation will be made to move in with various church members in their homes with those guest rooms otherwise going empty night after night. And since SAFETY is such a high priority for so many of us, this process provides a fantastic way of showing the sacrificial love of God to needy people AND mitigate risk at the same time!
But now that I am reading Christine D. Pohl’s Making Room, I find her addressing some of these same issues in similar ways. I see I am not the first to come to these ideas. And the term for this stuff is … drum roll please… HOSPITALITY!
And yes. Hospitality is dangerous! Following Jesus is dangerous. I mean, sure he will heal you of your leprosy one day, and then ask you to follow him and carry a cross to your own execution the next.
Anyway, I am connecting dots. learning things, and hopefully correcting some misconceptions as I do it.
I could say a lot more, but I have already made this wordy enough as it is. But the word of the day is HOSPITALITY. Show hospitality to God in a world where he is alien even though he is king. And you do that by inviting him in to eat with you, to stay and rest under your roof. It’s worth the risk.