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?
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.