Monday, August 18, 2008

Open Hearts, Open Homes

One of the things I love about my church is that we have a class about hospitality that meets on Sunday mornings. It's not about how to serve tea and crumpets. It's about many things, but mainly how to make a difference in our church by sharing our homes and lives with strangers--the new students on campus this fall, internationals, non believers, the marginalized, and needy.

Today, at the Hospitality class at church, we talked about Caroline A. Westerhoff's article "Boundary and Hospitality" from Good Fences: The Boundaries of Hospitality. A really great book that I would love to read someday.

In community, it is natural to have different kinds of boundaries, tangible and intangible. Some are deliberately set, and some are unintentional. An outsider to the community runs into them, and how the community reacts, sets the pace for inclusion or exclusion. In other words, the community can appear welcoming and hospitable or unwelcoming and inhospitable. Some communities even unintentionally appear hostile. It all depends on how it communicates the boundaries and its reaction when they are "broken".

On the other hand, indiscriminate inclusion actually contributes to the breakdown of the community. Identity is sacrificed on the practice of "anything goes". We stand for nothing if we stand for everything. So how do we welcome the "stranger" into our midst, as Jesus often did, without losing the sense of what makes us different from the world? If we need boundaries in order to have something to invite others to.

I think this is a valuable thought, as we often work as a community in evangelistic outreach. As the great Catholic hymn goes "They will know we are Christians by our love" sort of thing. I won't share what our group shared with each other, but it was an amazing discussion. We learned that there is a way to be genuine and sincere in our generous and loving hospitality towards nonbelievers without making compromises in our belief and convictions. We draw the line around to protect the most important issues, and have the wisdom ignore the less important ones. At times, we will have to restrain our own liberty, at others we will have freedom, perhaps more than we usually embrace. It's about knowing when to be inflexible and when to be flexible.


"God continues to offer us new and surprising opportunities to amend our ways, to modify our boundaries, and practice hospitality, and we must pray for a continued willingness to make our confessions of sin and grow to maturity in Christ.

"But even with this warning against prideful inflexibility in our stands, we must have a rock-solid foundation if we are to be and act with vitality and meaning. We must have something to which we will give our lives if the Church is to endure with integrity and perform with courage, if the Church is to be at all different from the culture in which it finds itself. We preach that Jesus is Lord of the Church, his Body.

"Many talk a great deal about includion in our increasingly pluralistic society. But although well intended our words and practices of inclusion too often reflect sentimental, sloppy thinking. When we say that everyone is included in our family of faith or at the table [the Lord's supper], I think we are confusing inclusion with welcome. True, if we are to be the ones whose particular work is the restoration of all people to unity with God, each other, and creation in Christ, then we must welcome all into our company. To welcome is to receive with pleasure, to delight in another's being among us for a time, to be hospitable.

"But an inside requires an outside. we must have something into wich we can extend authentic invitations. In this light, inclusion and exclusion paradoxically become opposite sides of the same coin. Neither makes sense without the other..."

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