“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.