Connecting Dots, Correcting Misconceptions, and Learning New Things

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.

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A Special Invitation (Preaching To The Outsiders)

Today I want to invite you to be relevant.  It might sound like a novel idea at first, and really in some ways it is.  The idea, that is, in some ways is rather novel, but actual relevance is not, and that might be a bit confusing.  When is it hype?  And when is it relevant?

How might I straighten it out?

I will invite you to Dayton, Tennessee for a quick tour of the Scopes Monkey Trial.

I have never been to Dayton, nor am I a historian with expertise regarding the Scopes Monkey Trial, but that will not prove detrimental to my point.  On the contrary, it might actually help.  Go there with me in your mind to the summer of 1925, a year no one alive today has first-hand memory of, but a time and place which no doubt has had an impact on the way the American public thinks about religion vis-a-vis education, vis-a-vis the Theory of Evolution, vis-a-vis Southerners, Fundamentalism, and conservative politics.

Depending on who you read, which videos you watch, or what schools you might have attended, the Monkey Trial either pitted the State of Tennessee against high school teacher John Scopes for breaking the law by teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in his public school classroom or it pitted Fundamentalist Christian faith against an ever-increasingly liberal culture with it’s relaxed morals and promiscuous ways.  It was just one scenic stop along the road from Galileo peering through a telescope and claiming the Earth was round with a church standing over his shoulder ordering him to say it is flat, but an important one all the same, yet one that by far most of us do not remember today.

Relevant?

Or hype?

Well, if you listen close to the historians, they describe a group of Dayton’s local businessmen concocting a publicity stunt right within the courthouse, playing the judge, the media, and the prosecution and defense for fools, all while putting Dayton on the map with the very first live broadcast media event, with hundreds of newspaper reporters from all over the nation and two from London, with extra telegraph lines strung up just to handle the information overload, and even a chimpanzee dressed up in business attire and performing for the mobs of onlookers who traveled to see it all.  It was the 1920’s version of the media circus and hype of the 1990’s O.J. Simpson Trial, but with religion in the hot seat!  Is religion relevant?

Relevant?  Yes, but way more relevant for the publicity hounds.  For even though legally speaking religion won the case that week, it lost the trial of public opinion and later lost the legal battle on appeal.  Schools are teaching Evolution today all the more vigorously than ever before while Christians are ever more portrayed as ignorant jerks who make power plays of politics but not for the love of Christ.

Yet what could be more relevant than the love of Christ?

But in the heat of it all, there was no room for that on either side of the bench in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925.  But you sure could leave town with a monkey coin souvenir!

I am betting that by far, most of my readers know very little about the Monkey Trials, but even just the small frame I have put on it (flawed to be sure) is good enough for you to see the themes in it that are still alive and well and hotly contested to this very day almost 100 years later.  You might be surprised to know that a play and several Hollywood movies were made based on that event over the years.  Just because we don’t remember the event does not mean we don’t still imbibe the hype.

How about I invite you to Lady Gaga’s for a quickie?

Consider, for a moment, the not-so-long-ago 2011, chart-topping, hit song by Lady Gaga, Born This Way.  Since I am now an old guy, an old crank, I bet my readers here are more familiar with it than I am.  Though I have heard it and find it to be a catchy groove, you can imagine that I have not given it much thought until looking at the idea of being relevant.

Lady Gaga is one of the biggest selling artists of the current era, but the older I get the more irrelevant even that seems to me all the time.  I was born when Hey Jude was a hit, and though that song is still remembered with affection by many, it gets way more attention as an advertising jingle now that it does as a serious work of art.  It’s time has come and gone.  As Lady Gaga’s expiration date fast approaches, I can’t help but remember Madonna before her, who somehow reminded us in her era of Marylin Monroe before her and who can forget Britney Spears?

Oh… maybe you did.

Yeah, hype masquerades as relevance, but it passes by way too fast, too easily, too unnoticed.

I point all this out, not to do justice to the facts of these stories, but to show how little they actually matter, and then beyond that I point it all out so I can talk about the church in today’s world trying to be relevant but confusing that for hype.

Is Lady Gaga gay?  Is she transgender?  To my knowledge she is not.  And though I do not doubt her sincerity for the issues facing minorities and LBGT communities, I can’t help but notice that she is a pop star raking in the money by hitching her wagon to their cause (and vice-versa).  If she wrote a song about McCarthyism, she might be bold and edgy and even have a good beat that I might dance to, but she would not ride the hype or be “relevant” to our time.  Yet somehow her message eclipses the LOVE of Christ for those who suffer the issues Lady Gaga’s song addresses in today’s world while the church (largely, though not entirely) scrambles to the voting booth to elect a “Two Corinthians” quoting, womanizing, self-professed “pussy-grab[ber]” who we now claim is God’s choice as our leader.

I don’t really think this is working out right.  The “truth” is being obscured here.  In my Bible-belt region of this nation (the area where I live), we have huge church buildings, some covering whole city blocks and standing three or four stories high with steeples and bell towers peppering the skyline, yet zoned only 200 yards from strip clubs, adult arcades, and sports bars drawing bigger crowds right under the shadows of those steeples.  We have billboards with pictures of blue jeans and captions reading “Church Clothes” or “Church without Religion” (and I can’t help but think how betrayed those Fundamentalists in Dayton would feel about a church with no religion since they were desperately trying to keep religion in the classroom at school!).  We have pastors dressing up in team colors on game day or preaching five minute sermons so as to let out the worshippers in time to race home and gather in worship around the big game on TV.

All to be “relevant”.

And then I read a blog like that of Ron Highfield at Pepperdine University who claims that the assembly I have been attending all my life is not actually church at all; it’s parachurch.  Yes, I have been devoting my life, my spiritual energy to a parody of church by mistake.  I keep thinking that the songs by the worship team (rock band), the sermons by the pastor (emcee), and the gathering of the saints (concert goers) is church, but Highfield makes a compelling case that it is not.  And most recently, I have discovered Richard Hughes questioning if the church is even still alive or if it is actually dead.  And then just today my old father sends me link to research showing that the Southern Baptist Convention has been in decline for the last 30 years!

I’m starting to think that we cling to any old hype for all we are worth in a desperate effort to be relevant in a world that thinks we are ignoramuses and they are monkeys craving sordid, sexual debauchery!

Well, I have typed a lot of words here in this invitation, and I have invited you to see the hype for what it is.  Those of you with eyes to see and ears to hear, surely do  by now.  But I also invited you to be relevant, and I have not made good on that invitation yet.  But we are now at the point where I hope I have distinguished the invitation to relevance from that of hype.

Here’s the thing:

Monkey Trials, Pussy Grabbers, and Madonna wannabes are going to come and go, and the most constant thing about them will forever be their hype and our endless hunger for the mirage of relevance without the serious sacrifice at the core of the LOVE of God.  Thus I am coming to terms with the fact that my church – ahem – my dead (or dying) parachurch is not going to listen or ever really care much about Jesus.  There is too much Jesus hype to plunder, too much money to be made off gold, cross necklaces and lavender Bible covers, too much political clout to be wielded by “moral majorities” and Evangelicals, too much widow’s pittance to be garnered off the sucker sales of prayer shawls and blessed water.

So, I am inviting you, my homeless friends to host the party.

Here’s what you do:

Get your nickels and dimes together and purchase a box of crackers or a bag of tortillas (NO you cannot afford the official stuff.  But that’s okay, even the fake church with its fake good news claims theirs is only a “representation” of the real thing, so you are in good  company.) and purchase a bottle of grape juice.  Then gather a group of your homeless friends up with crackers and juice in your book bags, and go to Sunday worship TOGETHER next Sunday.  Then respond to the pastor’s invitation TOGETHER!

Man, if more than three of you do this, it will make an impact!  Trust me.  Pastors today don’t see groups of people respond to their irrelevant preaching.  They are LUCKY, and yes, I said LUCKY, to see one or two responses all year most years!  So just imagine if you are able to get a group of 12 to do this!  (That’s a nice theological number.)

And, yeah, go all smelly and dirty and all that.  Let the streets which are making you feel so unwelcome to begin with… so unfit to be here, so ashamed already… to do the talking of Jesus for you as you answer the Pastor’s invitation with an invitation of your own.  Yes, when he bends down in that condescending posture with his hand on your shoulder, which you know he is thinking about washing while he tries to say something spiritual in nature to you, and when he puts the microphone in your face so you can confess Jesus, THEN quote Revelation 3:20 to him and to the half crowd that still attends this irrelevant charade.

Don’t do this as a mere publicity stunt, just to make sport of these people.  Do it because with you Jesus comes among them, and when they find him among them, you too will be welcomed IN.  And when that happens, God comes into the HOUSE.  And any house God comes into is RELEVANT.

Thus you have an invitation to relevance.

 

 

 

 

Storms On Lubbock’s Homeless Tonight – Please Pray

O Lord, I pray for every beggar, bum, and prophet on the streets of Lubbock not welcome in either Your house or mine tonight.  Be with them.  Give them Your hope, Your joy, Your peace, and Your comfort in full measure and don’t delay!

But as they suffer, as we know they do, and as they face tonight’s storms prepared only with Your provision, I pray You help them bear Your image in the world.  Express Yourself through them so that at the sight of You in them, may the mountains bow down, the valleys stand at attention, and the crooked places straighten out like Isaiah told us about in the days of old.  So at the sight of You in them, may the whole economy turn upside down and shake it out on the ground just like You did using those beggars of old at the gates of Samaria.  And so at the sight of You in them, may Your Kingdom Come and Your Will be done in Lubbock, like it is in heaven!

I know that every lowly person on our streets is precious to Jesus even if not to the rest of us.  But with storm winds, tornadoes, and tennis ball sized hail predicted, I pray that You show Yourself in them among us and draw all of us to You now.  For Your own glory, I pray it…

In Jesus name,

Amen.

 

(Can I get an Amen?)

Words To Live By / Quote Of The Day

“We always treat guests as angels –

just in case.”

BROTHER JEREMIAH*

 

 

*Brother Jeremiah, an Egyptian monk, quoted in Alan Jones, Soul Making: The Desert Way of Spirituality (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1985), 13.

And discovered by me in Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 85.

Biblical Hospitality In A Drive-Thru World

After learning so much about biblical hospitality over the course of the last five months, I realize how little I know about it, how little I really appreciate it, and how thoroughly misguided my concept of the word hospitality is for both me and my fellow Americans.  It seems that not only does the word need rehabilitated, but it will take more than a couple of fine sermons to promote it’s value, and even then the way forward in a world so hostile to it at so many levels will be mystifying too find, I think.

There are so many implications, levels, complications, categories of thought, paradigm shifts, and matrices that stand to be impacted that I don’t know where to start.

Modern life has reduced eating to food intake.  Shear calories and nutrients.  Astronaut food, Slim Fast and Ensure shakes, trail mix, and the like.  Of course most of us are concerned with taste, and so there is the secret sauce.  But food and eating are a consumer’s game, not a vital part of life.

Poor people in poor nations even today, and especially in times past, did not eat every day, and for many, bread – simple bread – was their main course most meals.  One might consider it a blessing to get a few vegetables, an occasional fruit, and perhaps a fish once in a while, or a simple bird.

Actually, we see poor people sharing in the daily meals of the church in Acts 2 and 4 or in Corinth who gave the grace of this kind of benefit that they would receive real food shared with love and friends.  And in THAT world, you can see how the poor would come flocking to the church like it was the very Body of Christ!

But even in America 70 years ago, “fast food” was unheard of.  Eating out was considered a treat, not a necessity.  And no one ever heard of a drive-in or a drive-thru.  Seriously… eating in your car?

No.  On the frontier, Mama and your sisters prepared food for you, your brothers, your father, and maybe your uncles while you worked in the field or at the mill.  Everyone sat down to eat together, and no one took a bite until it was properly blessed.  The food was not warmed in a microwave oven; it was not bought in plastic packaging; you didn’t eat alone in front of a TV or while sitting at a red light.  Several people worked in a choreographed fashion to produce, eat, and clean up a meal.  And there was no waste paper or bags full of trash piling up behind a McDonalds.

And all of that I just described is just one small slice of the whole picture.

What about the car?

The automobile alone changed American culture far beyond anything my great grandfather would ever have dreamed.  The car killed courtships, which probably has proven detrimental to marriage.  It gave us drive-ins and drive-thrus, commutes, suburbia, anonymity.

Ever watch the movie Crash?  Listen to Don Cheadle narrate the opening scene about how automobiles factor into the culture of Los Angeles, California.  It’s an interesting notion he proposes.

Life went from the speed of a donkey cart to 75mph in just a generation or two.  We eat, carpool, fornicate, watch movies, commute to and from work, drive too fast, cut off other drivers, talk of phones, and do it all in cars every day.  And we do a lot of these things alone those cars.

What about the television?  What about the internet?  What about our low paying jobs working for long hours each day?

If I go exploring each and every one of these angles, we run into more and more complexity immediately at every turn.  So where do I start?

Hospitality in a drive-thru world.  Hmmm…

I am learning from Sutherland, Koenig, Pohl, and Jipp just how important biblical hospitality is.  I am seeing it as part of the spiritual force that drives the gospel around the world, something both Jesus and St. Paul recognized, but seems to be lost on us modern Christians.

Eating together, making ourselves vulnerable to one another at the meal, in the preparations for the meal, in the clean up afterward, and sharing the space under one roof with others in the dark of night – trusting one another as we do so – almost seems too obvious.

Strangers and enemies transform into friends under such circumstances!  Just imagine Democrats and Republicans sleeping under one roof with a shared meal settling in their bellies!  That’s a God thang!

It was Koenig that opened my eyes to the Bedouin practice of hospitality, the style of hospitality that Abraham and Lot both seem to practice with their heavenly visitors – a practice that includes protection for their guests – their guests who were strangers upon arrival.  And somewhere along the way I recognized that the 2013 bio-pic movie about Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrel’s experience being saved by the Pashtun villager, Mohammad Gulab, though dramatized with much creative license, nonetheless depicts something of the practice and the lengths a host is expected to go to on behalf of a guest who accepts his hospitality.

We are a very long way from the ideal.  And that is so devastatingly clear to me at this point in my research.  I cannot imagine for one moment that a church so hellbent on not listening to me already is going to somehow begin to wrestle with God and embrace biblical hospitality, but then I suppose that is a God-sized job.

 

ABD – HOSPITALITY (my reaction to John Koenig’s offering)

After reading Arthur Sutherland’s I Was A Stranger last Christmas, I immediately looked up “Hospitality” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary and found John Koenig’s offering which then prompted me to purchase and read his book.  The ABD article, though much shorter, covers the subject more broadly, actually, and in some respects excited me even more.  At any rate, just finding this treasure hiding there in plain sight like that was such a huge blessing to me, and I recommend a look at it to any reader I might attract.

That said, I want to quote a couple of bits from Koenig’s ABD publication, and then copy my own notes of initial thoughts and reaction to it.  I hope it gets others thinking, talking, and maybe even making changes in our world for God’s glory.

Koenig Quotes:

“…the word most often associated with ‘hospitality’ in the LXX and the NT is xenos, which literally means foreigner, stranger, or even enemy.  In its derived sense, however, the term comes to denote both guest and host alike.  Typically, the verb used to describe the extending of hospitality is xenizein (Sir. 29:25; I Macc. 9:6; Acts 10:23; Heb. 13:2).  In the NT one who receives visitors is said to be philoxenos, i.e., a ‘lover of strangers,” or to be practicing the virtue of philoxenia (I Tim. 3:2; I Pet. 4:9; Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2…).”

 

“Perhaps the most winsome of all reflections on hospitality by early Christian writers is found in Hebrews 13:2, where believers are urged to receive strangers graciously on the ground that ‘thereby some have entertained angels unawares.’  Clearly the allusion is to Abraham’s enthusiastic reception of the three heavenly messengers.  But Jesus too may come as a stranger.  Matthew, Luke, and John all make the point (Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 24:13-35; John 20:11ff.; 21:1-14).  And so does the author of Revelation when he records the words of the Risen One to the church in Laodicea: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’ (3:20).  The context indicates that this meal with Jesus, like many of those narrated in the gospels, will be one of repentance and reconciliation.”

 

J. Koenig, ABD

Koenig’s offering is, of course, much more extensive than these paragraphs, and, for that matter, the notes I made initially by way of reaction are far more extensive than what I will share here too.  Thus I hope that by paring these excerpts, as I am about to do, that they are not too disjointed for my readers here to find a meaningful experience.  But it is a risk I am willing to take.  My excitement about this research is boiling over, but I have practically no one to share it with (my church shuns me and so we don’t talk).  But maybe a stray reader here and there will pop in on this blog and find some of the treasure I have to share.

From my notebook of chicken-scratch reactions and initial thoughts, here is my response(s):

Actually, there is SO MUCH here in this article to react to that I really must limit myself.

On the one hand, I am blown away by how richly validating this article is to the theological developments I have already worked out for myself over the last 5-8 years!  I mean especially the end where Koenig ties together Matt. 25, Luke 24, and Rev. 3:20.  I never saw those passages put together that way in ANY of the reading I have ever done before (that I can recall) and I came to do that myself all on my own.  But to find them put together in this way – even with other passages I had not previously – and to find them in ABD no less(!!!) is deeply validating.

I recall as an undergrad Bible student that I was instructed to cite ABD at least once for every single Bible research paper I ever turned in for review.  This resource was that highly regarded AND my instructors wanted to make sure us students were familiar with it.

This tells me that, even if the church leaders and professors, with whom I currently have so much opposition regarding my views on ministry to the homeless, EVEN IF they are unfamiliar with this particular article on hospitality by Koenig, they surely know and respect the resource there which validates SO POWERFULLY nearly 3/4 of my thesis that when we open our door and share a meal with the poor, we do so with Jesus AND THAT is a ministry to them, to us, and to the watching world!

-OKAY-

Starting at the beginning…  1st, I am struck by the word xenos meaning STRANGER or even ENEMY and then getting translated as “HOSPITALITY.”  The word HOSPITALITY in my world has become so benign, so tame, so tea-n-cookies.  But Koenig puts it on the razors edge.  His suggestion is that biblical hospitality – or dare we say Christian hospitality – refers particularly to the opening of our homes (and churches) to STRANGERS and ENEMIES.

Do I think we should limit our hospitality to strangers and enemies?

No.  Not at all.  And anyway, as the Koenig article bears out in the latter portion, welcoming ministers, missionaries, and church people will be included.  However, the fact that the word itself centers on “stranger/enemy” very powerfully suggests that strangers/enemies must be included in hospitality specifically and purposely!  They are not an after thought!

-NOW-

I gotta say: I certainly recall in my young adult years finding myself on the committee to appoint elders at our church and looking closely at passages like I Timothy as we determined “biblical qualifications” to be bishop.  Of course we tried to give equal consideration to all of the features listed (such as one wife, believing children, etc.) and the directive that he be a hospitable man certainly was looked at.  However, I sensed even then that the bit about hospitality didn’t get near as much scrutiny AND was largely deemed to mean the brother might open his home for a get-together with church friends after services for ice cream or watermelon once a year.

Thus this “qualification” was already treated as second rate to begin with, and there was NO – and I mean ABSOLUTLEY NO – consideration given to whether this candidate or that for elder opens his home to strangers or enemies.

None at all.

Even now, I expect that the idea is just so far off the radar of practically anyone I know that for me to suggest it has the potential to get me shunned.

But this quickly leads me to another reaction, but one that goes beyond anything Koenig mentions:

The way I see it, our modern, western culture is so riddled with pride and fear that those things really must be addressed BEFORE we can REALLY hear Koenig (and thus (it would seem) the Bible).  The fact of the matter is that strangers and enemies SCARE US!  This is the whole reason we have electronic security systems and dead bolt locks on our doors and windows.  The WHOLE IDEA is to ensure that STRANGERS and ENEMIES DON’T GET INTO OUR HOMES where we are vulnerable.

I said that is the “whole reason” but that is not accurate.  In truth, that is only about half the reason.  We are not apt to admit this (and honestly it’s quite easy to hide this other half of our reason behind the previous half), but we are very proud people who work hard for the things and the homes we acquire.  We get NICE THINGS and NICE HOMES and then it is very hard to think about sharing this NICE STUFF with strangers who might be beneath our contempt – the poor.

I mean, just think about a homeless man who hasn’t had a proper bath in a week or more sitting on your $1000 sofa and eating in your dining room off your fine china!  You might never get the smell off your sofa and he might really drop and break your dishes for which he has no concept of their value!

Now just imagine he smells of piss!

Do you want this guy using your bathroom?

What exactly is he doing behind that closed door?  Is he stealing?  Is he pleasuring himself??  Can he aim his business in the toilet???

-AND ANYWAY-

What is being achieved by THIS exercise of hospitality, REALLY?

I mean, if the bank president came for this meal, I might expect special treatment by the bank next time I have business there.  If a politician came and enjoyed my hospitality, I might get some special attention for that tax break I am seeking!  (It’s what lobbyists do!)

But if a bum comes for dinner…  What possible good can come of it?  Where would this lead?

Suddenly I can imagine all kinds of ways this might (and it seems probably will) go south!

First off, assuming the bum doesn’t steal or damage my property OR threaten or harm me (and/or my family), at the very least, he has NOTHING to give me.  I will spend a week or more trying to get his smell out of my sofa and his piss off my floor.  Odds are very high that he will hit me up for money (for booze no less) AND come back AGAIN and AGAIN.  After all, if you feed a stray dog, you can’t hardly get rid of it after that.

But secondly, and honestly, I’d be an idiot to NOT CONSIDER the very real possibility that the bum might steal or harm my property or kill me.

THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS HOSTING THE STRANGER/ENEMY MAKES US COMPLETELY 

VULNERABLE!!!

Yeah, so, I’m thinking that with all this static in the atmosphere, it’s almost impossible to hear what Koenig and/or the Bible has to say.  And this static is not being addressed in Bible class, in Bible college, in books like When Helping Hurts, or hardly anywhere else either…

EXCEPT

…by the open markets of commerce that sell us insurance policies, home security systems, suspense movie/thrillers and protectionist politics.

Yeah, those sources all have a LOT to say on the subject while the church sits quietly by not protesting or taking the lead either way.  The church is ducking for cover right at the point she has something substantial to offer the world!

Even Koenig only barely alludes to this stuff, and even then, pretty much only as far as his translation observations on xenos.  Hospitality in the Bible is directed to the STRANGER/ENEMY.

I’m thinking we need to examine WHY that is – or better yet – what such hospitality achieves in God’s hands.

-THUS-

I make this/these brief and preliminary observation(s) at this early stage in the research process – with an eye toward further development to follow:

I notice, with careful observation, Koenig’s frequent assertion that this biblical hospitality (and particularly the meal it centers on) prompts divine revelation.  SOMETHING or SOMEONE is frequently revealed in the meal – the Eucharist.  Not always, for as Hebrews 13:2 indicates, there are times when the Angels in fact are NOT revealed, but nevertheless, the biblical norm (if we can call it that) actually goes the other way and APOCALYPSE happens during the meal (or because of the meal).

Well… as we just noted above, this meal/hospitality in which all this revelation occurs is also heavily characterized by VULNERABILITY.

Want to have an “ENCOUNTER” with God?  (Don’t you just love that word “encounter”?  It’s a good Christian buzzword.)

Well, that generally occurs in a context of intense vulnerability!

Certainly the cross of Christ bears this out!  Wanna see Jesus?  Go to the cross and REALLY SEE JESUS – GOD!  He is the one taking all the shame, pain, and despair.  But if you see GOD in that, then you are accepting VULNERABILITY too.

Seriously.  Stand there among all the scoffers at the crucifixion that day, and I dare you to turn to them and say, “Surely this man is the SON OF GOD!”

The moment you do, you indict the whole system that put him there and risk the scorn of every person in that system!

Yeah.  This stuff is THAT  KIND of foundational.  And of course Jesus tells us that if we want to be his disciples, we must take up our cross and follow him.

Perhaps that is a part of the message we need to stress before we get to talking about biblical/Christian hospitality.  For surely anyone who finds value in a dead (or dying) Jew-boy on a Roman cross can also begin to imagine why/how hosting a bum – a stranger/enemy – in your home/assembly and sharing the celebration meal with them has value too – in fact MORE VALUE than sharing your hospitality with the bank president or your favorite politician.

-AND SO-

In the midst of this vulnerability as you share the meal with a stranger you otherwise have reason to fear or hold in contempt, you can EXPECT a divine revelation!

Now there are times that you will be entertaining Angels unaware!  But there are also times (Gen. 18) when God himself comes and reveals his plan for your life (even as you laugh at his bum who reveals it to you like Sarah!).  Or there are times when that stranger (Luke 24) reveals that actually he is Jesus himself risen from the grave!

And we must not neglect to notice that if the stranger turns out to be a gracious guest after all – AND ESPECIALLY if he reciprocates your hospitality with favor of his own given back to your display of vulnerable kindness and charity – THEN he is revealing his true character to you!

It might be that he is discovering his true character at the same time himself!  I mean, think about it.  Street bums don’t get vulnerable hospitality from people they don’t know very often, and so it is entirely reasonable that IF this bum is confronted with the kindness, the generosity, the charity of heaven (as it is worked out in YOUR obedient hospitality to the stranger/enemy) that he might be finding his truest character being revealed to him too!  In fact, this would be true whether he repays you with good or evil!

-AND IF-

all that is true, then it is also true that YOUR TRUE CHARACTER as a child of God is being revealed to you as well – AND to the bum – AND TO THE WATCHING WORLD!

-SO-

It occurs to me that all this REVELATION Koenig writes about is far more real and powerful and multidimensional than even Koenig suggest.

Worth considering…

The Assault On Hospitality

Excuse me if this post rambles a bit, but I am literally multitasking as I write.

 

Coldest May 10th On Record

I saw the weatherman’s report during the morning headlines on TV today, and he claims we are set to have the coldest May 10th for the city of Lubbock, Texas in recorded history.  It’s not exactly a blast of winter, but it sure reminds me of Seattle.  Our high temp is projected to be 49 with a 20mph wind, meaning it won’t feel like 49.  But it’s also wet, very wet with drizzle and rain projected to fall all day long.

Think about that a minute.  Imagine yourself soaked to the bone in 40 degree weather with 20 mph winds.  Clouds fill the sky, and there is no sunshine on this fine May day to bask in at all.  It’s a recipe for hypothermia if you don’t find some relief after a few minutes.

Now imagine you are homeless on the streets of Lubbock.  Most years we are well into the 90’s by this point in the season, almost on a daily basis.  Some years we are already suffering triple digit heat some days in May.  May is not a stable month, weather-wise, but today’s conditions are off the chart.  And if you managed to shed your winter coat last week when the temps did graze the 90’s thinking you wont need it anymore (OR if it is soaked in rain because you didn’t have a closet to keep it in last night), then you might be a bit desperate today.

Maybe not, but let’s face it.  Being homeless is a pretty good indicator of unpreparedness.

If Jesus Was Landlord

What if Jesus lived in Lubbock, Texas?  What if he was Lord and Master of a nice house here in this town?  WWJD???

Which house do you think he would live in?  A big one on the nice side of town?  A small one on the other side of the tracks?  Perhaps one that has the word “CHURCH” posted on the front???

So why are there no news reports of all the many churches in this town (and there are MANY!), opening their doors to the poor and needy?  Small churches on the other side of the tracks… big churches on the nice side of town… literally any “church” at all???

Do you think the local newscaster would be interested in sharing the story of this GOOD NEWS to the poor?  Do you think we might have the power within our grasp to really show the LOVE of God to a culture filled with darkness and selfishness – a culture where the seed of the Good News is otherwise choked by the worries of the world and the deceitfulness of riches?

So what’s stopping us?

The Evil Spirit of the Age

In the last 10 years, I have been a regular member and/or minister at four different churches in the city of Lubbock.  At least three of these churches have embraced the teachings of Lupton, Corbett, and Fikkert, three published Christian authors who produced (among other works) Toxic Charity, When Helping Hurts, and “Seeking Shalom”.  Each of these teachers have built a career in Christian ministry, not based on the teachings of Jesus but, on theories of economic development.  Basically they have tried to baptize Capitalist ideals, and then teach the church not to give the gifts of time, money, or service to the poor.  And in fact, by the end of WHH, Corbett and Fikkert endorse the idea that poor people should be given loans at interest which they then should be forced to pay back as a means of saving them.  (Never mind that God’s word prohibits exactly that in Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:35-36 or that Jesus himself preaches forgiveness of debt in Luke 4:16-21 and Matt. 6:12 (among other places too).)

It all gets pretty complicated, so it’s wise (according to this kind of teaching) to leave care for the poor to the professionals who can sort it all out on behalf of the church.  And anyway, no need for American Christians (among the most powerful and rich people on earth) to worry their pretty little heads about it.  If you really want to help, buy a latte at the charitable coffee shop or endow a grant to the 501c3.  You would never know Jesus charges the church with this work by reading these books and taking the classes your church offers which are published by these authors.

And really, it all fits so well with the spirit of the age.  But perhaps it’s best not to think too hard about all that.

Theologies of Hospitality

Way back at Christmas time last winter, a reader at this blog left me a comment suggesting I read Arthur Sutherland’s slim book called I Was A Stranger: A Christian Theology of Hospitality.  That suggestion has proved to be one of the most valuable exchanges I ever had on this blog.  Sutherland gave me a new terminology to consider, and as I did so, I began searching ABD and several theological dictionaries for more.  That led me to John Koenig, and then I found his book New Testament Hospitality.  But soon I discovered Joshua Jipp and his book Saved By Faith And Hospitality.  And then most recently I found Christine Pohl’s Making Room: Recovering Hospitality As A Christian Tradition.

None of these books are specifically geared to teach the church how to care for the poor, per se.  But they all illuminate the Bible’s concern for hospitality, and as part of that package, they demonstrate that biblical hospitality is right at the heart of God’s care for the poor in particular.

Hospitality?  Is that where it’s at?

Yes.

But the word “hospitality” has lost it’s true meaning over the course of church history, and it’s Christine Pohl who is teaching this to me at the moment.

Yes, I was familiar with the term all my life, as is probably any English reading visitor to this blog.  And like probably most readers here, I grew up with a familiarity with Hebrews 13:2, but it was a verse which I had no biblical context for all through my life.  It was kind of a free floating bit of the mysterious ways of God – sort of a reverse ghost story that held the promise of warming my heart rather than haunting it.  But the two main experiences I ever had in life where Hebrews 13:2 seemed to apply both involved opening our lives up in vulnerability to strangers who either required intensive sacrifice and care or facing fear that this stranger could do us harm.  Both times, the grace was not cheap, but costly, but both times when the stranger moved on and disappeared into the midst of time, we looked back in awe at what God had done through us and with us.

But actually, despite all that, the word “hospitality” still represented in my mind the idea of inviting family or friends over to eat a meal and possibly to play cards or some table game afterward in an effort at good, clean, Christian fellowship.  And sure enough, as I went searching for theological books on the subject, I found a number of Christian authors, usually women, had published books on entertaining guests in just about that way.  But I also thought of my uncle running a motel for weary travelers, and the restaurant conveniently attached to that resting place – all part of what we call the ‘hospitality industry” which serves people who can pay.  And Christine Pohl points out that like these examples, us modern folk often think of large churches with “hospitality committees” too, who are responsible for greeting visitors, serving them complimentary coffee from the coffee bar, and perhaps directing them to the good parking spaces.

Somehow modern people have “hospitality” reduced to concepts such as these, and I am one of them.  Starting with Sutherland, my research into biblical hospitality has been deeply challenged, and I am finding that Hebrews 13:2 very likely has Abraham and Sarah’s experience in Genesis 18 in mind, but I am also finding that those passages (and the stories of Lot and his visitors, of Rehab and the spies, Elijah and Elisha and their respective widow encounters) begin to resonate with the story of the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, with Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 14 and 15, and certainly with his statement in Revelation 3:20.

All of this Bible purposely engages the church with the poor, the stranger, and thus with the mystery of God’s own presence.  And yet you won’t find a single iota of this in Lupton, Corbett, or Fikkert.

I am reading Pohl’s analysis, presently, of how the term and thus the concept of hospitality morphed and suffered down through the ages of church history, and it seems clear that the church’s praxis of hospitality reached its zenith right about the same time Constantine baptized the empire.  In fact Pohl shows us that the empire was jealous of the church specifically because of it’s practice of hospitality and care for strangers.  It turns out the empire realized that the church was winning the hearts and minds of its subjects and wanted in on the action.  However, as the empire “perfected” the practice, it also subtly shortchanged it too.

The spirit of the age robbed the church of its edge.

It’s actually an assault on hospitality.  One that needs to be rebuffed.

I can’t help but think how easy it would be, sacrificial to be sure, but easy all the same, for the church of Lubbock to open the door to the poor in this town – especially on a day like today.  The Kingdom Cause would be advanced in leaps and bounds, but we are beholding to the spirit of the age rather than the Spirit of God, and so we are doomed to chase our tails yet another fine spring day.

Rightly Did Campolo Prophesy

“30,000 kids died of starvation and malnutrition”, and “…most of you don’t give a shit”.

And Jesus said,

“Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:  This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.  But in vain do they worship Me, for… Behold!, though I stand a the door and knock, you do not open the door and let Me in to party WITH you, but rather leave the “least of these, My brothers” outside in the cold and wet while you serve complimentary coffee in your lobby and put on a rock concert as if this assembly were for My sake.

 

A New Look At An Old Tradition

Since last Christmas, I have begun studying biblical/Christian HOSPITALITY with great excitement after a reader of this blog left a comment directing me to a book taking a theological look at the practice.  My study, beginning with that suggestion, has begun transforming my whole concept of church and ministry.  Really it is the vocabulary, I think.  For I am finding my own insights deeply validated and given language I seldom used before or even appreciated, but it’s more than just validation too.  It’s permission to explore the heart of God in the open door and to meet Jesus in the stranger who comes with so much need.  It’s finding out I am not alone in this, nor have I thought of everything either.

Most recently, I obtained (just yesterday) a copy of Christine D. Pohl’s Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition.  And already, after reading only three chapters, I am so overwhelmed with validation and fresh insights.  It’s almost like Pohl set out to write a book that fills in the gaps of the research I was already conducting.  I want to recommend this book (and others) and give you just a taste.

From her introductory chapter:

“Today when we think of hospitality, we don’t think  first of welcoming strangers.  We picture having friends and family over for a pleasant meal.  Or we think of the ‘hospitality industry,’ of hotels and restaurants which are open to strangers as long as they have money or credit cards.  Perhaps large churches come to mind, with their ‘hospitality committees’ that coordinate the coffee hour, greet visitors, or help with the parking.  In any case, today most understandings of hospitality have a minimal moral component – hospitality is a nice extra if we have the time or the resources, but we rarely view it as a spiritual obligation or as a dynamic expression of vibrant Christianity.”

Pohl, Making Room page 4

“In a number of ancient civilizations, hospitality was viewed as a pillar on which all morality rested; it encompassed ‘the good.’*  For the people of ancient Israel, understanding themselves as strangers and sojourners, with responsibility to care for vulnerable strangers in their midst, was part of what it meant to be the people of God.  Jesus, who was dependent on the hospitality of others during much of his earthly sojourn, also served as the gracious host in his words and in his actions.  Those who turned to him found welcome and rest and the promise of reception into the Kingdom.  Jesus urged his human hosts to open their banquets and dinner tables to more than family and friends who could return the favor, to give generous welcome to the poor and sick who had little to offer in return.  Jesus promised that welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry person, and visiting the sick were acts of personal kindness to the Son of man himself.”

Pohl, Making Room page 5

 

* Pohl’s footnote-

Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate 8:8-10, translated in The Apostolic Fathers, by Kirsopp Lake, Loab Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1914; hereafter cited as LCL), vol. 2. See also John Koenig, New Testament Hospitality (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 2.

 

 

(Btw, I read Koenig’s book too.  I found it helpful, but honestly Pohl and Jipp are the truly exciting writers on this subject that I have found so far).

Pretend You’re Jesus

At the end of the episode of the Lone Ranger, someone asks the obligatory question, “Who was that masked man?”, and someone else says, “I don’t know but he left of one of these,” and they hold up a silver bullet.  The Lone Ranger not only saves the day, but he mystifies and plays a bit with your imagination – your sense of wonder.  There is goodness in this world that comes from unexpected places and surprises us.  Serendipity.

In today’s church-world, there is a strong push to educate Christians who encounter the poor, the needy, and street beggars NOT to give money, but rather to direct such people to the professionals who will give “effective” help.  Give that beggar a phone number, an address, directions, but don’t give them what they ask for; it will only do more harm than good.  Jesus never warns about this, never offers such a class, and (on the contrary) instructs at least one rich man to sell all he owns, give it to the poor, and come follow (Mark 10:21), AND we see the church in Jerusalem as depicted in Acts 2 and 4 taking that direction collectively for themselves – all with absolutely no help from professionals and no reports of it doing any harm.

I recall taking an evangelism course with Randy Becton at ACU many years ago.  Becton infused us students with the idea that as we broach the anonymity of strangers in our world with a gesture from Jesus, sometimes we will plant, sometimes we will water, and sometimes we will find ourselves helping with the harvest.  But it is Jesus these strangers are meeting, not us, and Jesus will be working through others as well as us, and we may or may not ever know to what part of the process we just contributed.

One of the class projects my group completed went like this: we pooled our pocket money together one hot, Spring day in Abilene and it totaled up to around $10.  We got a Styrofoam ice chest and filled it with ice and cheap soda pops.  Then we drove around town looking for people working in the hot sun.  We found landscapers, road construction crews, farmers and the like.  We followed Becton’s direction and offered a cool drink to strangers who were pleasantly surprised and grateful and simply said, “We are doing a good deed for Jesus,” before walking away.

Of course we looked at our small supply of drinks and quickly realized we did not have the financing for much of this.  Fearing our project would be over as quick as it started AND that we might encounter a work crew where we did not have enough to go around, we moved forward on faith.  This is Jesus’s mission, not ours.  We cannot just engineer it; that’s not actually for his glory.

But then we found a guy on a steamroller who wouldn’t just let us walk away.  “A good deed for Jesus?” he asked.  “Well…” and he whipped out his wallet and gave us $20 and said, “Keep this going.”  So we did.  And when that round of drinks ran low, we found another unexpected financier.

Nobody was baptized by our crew during our mission, but Jesus got a good reputation that day from the work we did.  I have to just imagine that some of those work crews talked about our little mission later over lunch.  I wonder if anyone said, “Who were those kids?”  And maybe someone else said, “I don’t know but they left us with the love of Jesus!”

It’s not good for me to tell this story because it violates Jesus’s commands about giving and talking about it in Matthew 6.  (This is why I use a pseudonym; it keeps the glory with Jesus and keeps my name out of it.) However, it was an academic course which we were required to share with our teacher and the rest of the class at the time.  So I will make the exception on this again.

Surely I don’t need to make all the connections for you here.  This little group of missionaries did not hold Bible studies, argue doctrine, or even persuade anybody of anything.  We merely showed kindness and honored Jesus.  There are times and places for all that other, but there are also times and places for such as this too.  And anyway, it’s Jesus’s mission, I am not in charge of it, nor do I engineer it.

When a man approaches me as I am on my way into the store and hits me up for $27, the amount he lacks (so he says) in getting his car going on down the road, I get a lump in my throat.  Do I have $27 to give?  I am not sure.

And see… It’s right there that my church is being trained to hold this man in suspicion, on the one hand (Is his story even real?  Can it be verified?  Is he going to use the money for something evil?), and my sacrifice which is Jesus’s gift to him, on the other, (Will cause him harm? -Rob him of dignity, cause him to become dependent, or enable his addiction?).  We don’t learn even one ounce of this from Jesus.

Here’s the thing:  I could give the man $5.  I mean if that is all I have to give, then it puts him that much closer to his stated goal.  And honestly, if Lubbock is really a Christian town, then he could seriously encounter five more people like me who will get him to the goal rather quickly.  Or I could send him away empty handed.  Or I could scrutinize his story and go looking for holes in it (funny how no one ever brings up robbing him of dignity when that idea comes up).  Or, if I have the money, then I could give it to him and let him walk away with his stated need met.

OR…

Or, assuming I am so equipped, I could give him MORE than he asked for.  And that might take the form of money, but surely Jesus would be more creative than that.

What if I hitch his car to the back of my truck, take him to my mechanic, get the lube job, the brakes and hoses checked, AND the stated repair done for the man, AND pay the bill too.  AND what if while I am at it, I take him home with me to share my food and lodge in my guest room until his car is out of the shop?

What if in showing this kindness I discover some holes in his story?

Oh, man… I say, pretend you are Jesus.  What would Jesus do if he encountered a man bleeding on the side of the road?  Wouldn’t he be like the Good Samaritan?  What if he encountered a woman married to six men?  Wouldn’t he confound her with talk of LIVING WATER and elicit confessions of true story out of her?  When does this stuff apply?  And WHY are we not teaching THIS in our Bible classes at church?

But since I am not so equipped, perhaps I could give him $30, which even he recognizes is MORE than he asked, AND offer him the second bag of tasty, salted peanuts I bought while in the store.

Oh… and tell him, “It’s a Jesus thang!”

Is it not likely that he will recall this exchange in his mind later in the evening?  Is it not likely in fact that he will recall it with the joy of one experiencing serendipity many nights later – and maybe even talk about it with friends?

I am grateful for my time with Randy Becton.  I see the world differently after his teaching, and I see Jesus in it differently too.

I think the Lone Ranger’s got nothing on Jesus.  If I meet a needy person and they see Jesus in me (like a mask, kinda) instead of all my fear and suspicion, and if they get a taste of the sacrificial love he offers them while they are with me, then when I am gone, I really think they will ask, “Who acts like that?”  And unplanted soil will get seed, seeds will be watered, and mature plants will be harvested whether I play any further role I that process or not.