I admit it: I hate change. My grandmother accused me of being born a 70-year old man. I’ve never liked change. Sure, it sounds good when you talk about it. But when the time comes to actually act, change scares me. It stresses me out. I don’t really know why it’s this way for me. Is it one more reminder that I don’t have total control in life? Is it some manifestation of some childhood baggage? Who knows.
Last week my wife and I packed up our little apartment in Atlanta and moved our lives and everything we own to Macon, GA. As I watched the movers slowly take our boxes and furniture it occurred to me how odd it was that rooms that were being emptied had, only 2 weeks earlier, been perfectly in place (well as perfectly as I can keep things). These rooms and the placement of these objects held in the middle of their bond very fond memories. And within minutes, I realized that these memories were different-things were no longer bonded in their place as they were meant to be. Did I mention I hate change?
I am in the process of ordination as a United Methodist pastor. With this ordination comes a vow to uphold the itenerancy of pastors within the United Methodist Church. This means this particular process of moving isn’t the last time we’ll ever move. The bad news for a “change hater” is that stuff will be removed from its proper places again. Life will be disturbed and we’ll do this stressful process all over again. But the good news is, before all of that takes place, memories will have to be attached to where my stuff is placed in our new place. Life will happen here. We’ll have good days and bad days and many more days just in-between.
As we walked out of our little apartment we didn’t say any sentimental words. It was hot outside and we were ready to eat some lunch. But I walked down our stairs toward our cars for the last time in that apartment complex with the best part of this moving process-an amazing person to share the stress with. And I remembered that we made friends in Atlanta we’ll keep forever and we’ll inevitably make friends in Macon that will join our small club of “life-long friends.” So maybe change isn’t so bad? Well it still is! But if coping with that which I hate is made better with people, then I kind of like my odds of getting through this ordeal over and over and over again.
“When I talk about radical hospitality, it’s got to pervade the whole life of the congregation — every cell has to vibrate with… [an] outward focus…. Churches that practice [radical hospitality] are constantly examining every one of their ministries and saying, “How do we become more… attuned to the call of God to reach out to other people?”
-Bishop Robert Schnase
As a United Methodist I’m taught to speak of Prevenient Grace. Prevenient Grace can be defined as “…the divine love that surrounds all humanity and precedes any and all of our conscious impulses” (UMC Book of Discipline Section 1: Our Doctrinal Heritage). Now if you’re not in the church or seminary trained you might be wondering what exactly this means. I’m afraid this is an example of how sometimes our rich doctrine does nothing more than exist in a box up on some mountain top. One must not only have the endurance to climb the mountain but they must also know the language to crack the code to get into the box. In other words, a definition for the sake of itself is merely a collection of fancy words and lofty thoughts.
Radical Hospitality is what gives feet to prevenient grace. If grace is at the heart of God’s action toward us, then I think Radical Hospitality is what gives it a skeleton and a recognizable form. We’re so good at our liturgy, our own language, and our way of keeping with the rich tradition known as the Apostolic Church (how’s that for a fancy church term?). We forget that for many whom the church has hurt or who’ve never been exposed to such odd ways, much of what we do means nothing.
Radical Hospitality is always a response to the human condition. We can’t act as though people don’t come to church with baggage. Radical Hospitality, when done the way Jesus practiced it, is always a response to the human condition. It seeks to reach into whatever baggage we carry around with us, expose it, name the contents and offer to help carry it from that point on. This isn’t some sick, twisted way of being nosey. No! If we truly love the way Jesus loves then we’re called to climb into the muck and mire of the human condition and risk being exposed to things we’d often rather think didn’t exist for people. Here’s an illustration to help out:
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’”
You see we’ve all been in a hole at some time or another. Why do we waste our time writing theological prescriptions and offering empty prayers for people who need the love of God? All the while we try as best we can to sit in our seats of comfort and offer the prayer of the Pharisee, “God I thank you I’m not like that person” (Luke 18:11 -my paraphrase). You see, Radical Hospitality dares us to be bold enough to jump into holes often before people even know they’re in one. The good news is it’s all too familiar territory for us in the Church.
In the next two weeks I’ll be preaching a sermon that I hope better articulates an answer to this question, Why Radical Hospitality? In the meantime I wanted to expand some thoughts on the topic. This may become a multi-part series over the next few weeks as I’ve found it to be a summer learning project that’s helped form and shape me as both a better pastor and a better Christian.
Let’s begin with the assumption that Christian Hospitality can be defined as-the nature by which we, the Church, receive, accept, nurture, and commission others in the name of Jesus Christ. We then attach Radical to this definition changing it to-the abnormally gracious and exceedingly surprising way we receive, accept, nurture, and commission others in the name of Jesus Christ. I think that will work for now.
Radical Hospitality is the most concrete evidence of salvation through Jesus Christ. If we took a poll of Christians and asked them why should we evangelize, I bet the overwhelming answer will be something like: “so they can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” That’s Christian-talk. What does that really mean? Have we ever sat back and asked someone who wasn’t a Christian to explain that for us? But if we operate a church that works in a spirit of Radical Hospitality, things change a bit. Rather that forcing doctrines on people when they enter our doors they’re rather greeted with a sense of love and acceptance that’s above and beyond anything they’ve encountered before.
Radical Hospitality is not done from a position of privilege but rather out of a spirit of servanthood and humility. I’ll admit it-I have a bit of a problem with the popular notion that we as Christians “make” disciples. Have you seen the way we act sometimes? I’m not sure sometimes if any of us ought to get in the business of “making” disciples for the Kingdom of God. For me, God makes disciples. This happens through the ebb and flow of our journey of discipleship. We can’t assume this power of “making” disciples when, frankly, we’re all still in the process of being made. Therefore, Radical Hospitality assumes that God’s Spirit can and does work through the humble act of love and acceptance toward others. In other words, Radical Hospitality ensures that both the giver and receiver are better formed into disciples. Any and all assumptions of power or privilege are taken away from the giver of the hospitality. After all, who wants a pompous host???
Radical Hospitality is not possible if it’s done selectively. Flannery O’Conner points out that in the South, “we’re not so much a Christ-centered culture as we are a Christ-haunted culture.” It’s funny that in the few weeks since I’ve become a pastor I’ve had numerous conversations with people about the level of hurt they’ve felt over the years when the Church turned its back on them because they were somehow viewed as different. It can be easy for Church to be seen as the haven of stability in an ever-changing world. That’s just wrong and a blog post for another day. But church as a place where everyone looks, acts, talks, and believes like us is just ridiculous. Radical Hospitality therefore sees no difference but only opportunity to humbly offer the love of God to ALL.
This will do for now. We should be evaluating the way we do church along the lines of how well we’re able to offer Radical Hospitality. It’s not a program but rather the way we carry out all of our programs and ministries.