The Political Nature of Hospitality
The Effect of Social Status on the Hermeneutics of Ethical Instruction by A.T. Hargrave
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to the stranger...” - Hebrews 13:2
I must start with a confession. When the theme of this conference was announced, I was disappointed, for the topic struck me as uninteresting. Believing theology and formation are not to be separated, I decided to explore what presuppositions I hold that would explain why the subject of hospitality seemed trivial. That led me to the exploration of ideas that are written in this essay.
Theologically, hospitality is at the heart of major themes of our faith like reconciliation and adoption. While locating hospitality in theological concepts are necessary, they do not offer a coherent understanding as to why the writer of Hebrews instructs us to practice being “hospitable to strangers.” Why is hospitality mentioned in light of all the other possible ethical instructions available? Is the practice of hospitality a more significant ethical practice in a particular culture? I do not seek to entangle the conversation in theories of ethics but rather focus on the relationship between church and culture that hospitality makes inevitable.
When the writer of Hebrews states, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to
strangers” (Heb. 13:2), he or she is helping us see hospitality as more than an etiquette but a politic. For before the question of ethics (what ought we do?) can be answered, there is a preceding question that informs how this question is answered. That question is, what kind of people ought we be? That question is answered by a community’s shared narrative, history, and tradition. Ethics then is political.
The usage of the word stranger in Hebrews 13:2 notes the separation between the church and the world. Bonhoeffer referred to the “visible church,” meaning that the church is to be visible to the world, requiring a politic that becomes the necessary means for such visibility. When reflecting on Jesus’ call to the disciples to join Him on the mountain at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Bonhoeffer notes, “the followers of Jesus are no longer faced with a decision. The only decision possible for them has already been made. Now they have to be what they are, or they are not following Jesus. The followers are the visible community of faith; their discipleship is a visible act that separates them from the world—or it is not discipleship. And discipleship is as visible as light in the night, as a mountain in the flatland. To flee into invisibility is to deny the call. Any community of Jesus which wants to be invisible is no longer a community that follows him” (Bonhoeffer, Discipleship 2001, pg 113).
Hospitality reveals separation, distinction from others, not for distinction’s sake, but to be in communion with Christ. The distinction exists because of the character and nature of Jesus Christ. The loss of the word stranger from functional Christian vocabulary is not an insignificant consequence of contextualization, in which the word is dropped from our vocabulary for missional linguistic relevance; rather, it represents a fundamental change in the understanding of the political nature of the ecclesia. Stranger is a name that names a people only possible because the church exists. Similar to the New Testament use of the designation world, stranger only becomes a legitimate category of humanity if the church is differentiated from the rest of humanity.
Yet, the distinctiveness of this community of believers, whose existence necessitates the naming of all other people as “strangers” or “the world,” also embodies a politic that
intentionally steps across the lines of distinctiveness. There is differentiation and reconciliation present in the instruction from Hebrews, one that Mislov Volf shows is present in the creation narrative of Genesis. He argues that God creates by separating the light from darkness and reconciling them together in what is called the day. God separates land from water and reconciles it together in what is called the earth. Volf notes that “differentiation consists in ‘separation-and- binding’” (Volf, pg. 65). God creates by distinctiveness, which includes both separation and reconciliation. This community is differentiated from the world for the reconciliation of the world.
The political nature of hospitality reveals that this community has had their imaginations sufficiently captured by a narrative that forms a people of trust, patience, hope, and love. The welcoming of the stranger displays a trust in a world of mistrust, making a people vulnerable to the possibility of hostile treatment, which bears witness to their patience in a world of impatience. Christians believe we have the time to welcome the stranger, which is an eschatologically informed ethic. The foundation for the trust shown in being hospitable to a stranger is not the stranger’s good nature, nor Jean Rousseau’s belief in the “good nature of man,” but a trust derived from the confidence that Jesus is Lord. This is why, three verses later in Hebrews 13:6, the writer reminds them of their trust in the Lord by writing, “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” This confidence is described by Dallas Willard as “the realization that nothing can come to me today that God will not use to prove His steadfast love and care toward me. Therefore, trusting Him in all things [even in welcoming a stranger] becomes my settled character” (Willard, Renovation of the Heart, pg. 130).
To “keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 13:1) is a practice in learning to love those we did not choose nor can control. For we do not choose who becomes a part of the people of God. The dignity shown to the stranger by receiving them as a gift to us becomes the testing ground of such love, just as our treatment of those named our enemy does, as pointed out by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
Much more could be said and needs to be said in dialogue with each other regarding how hospitality is a practice of an embodied politic that reveals the Christian confidence in the narrative of the Scripture. It should not come as a surprise that hospitality is political given the recent Syrian refugee crisis, the importance of immigration policy in present political debate, and the increase in advocacy for adoption and foster care over the last decade.
The Often Ignored Variable of Status
It would not be speculation but a historically verifiable fact to note that the writer of Hebrews writes to a people he/she understands to be a minority group in the world. Jesus expects this minority status of the church to remain, as exemplified in his statement “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life, and there will be few who find it” (Matt. 7:14).
Is the practice of hospitality as a politic affected by the amount of social power one possesses in a particular culture? And how might the practice of hospitality be affected, positively or negatively, when the status of the Christian community moves from minority to the majority? Taking into consideration that I am a young, white, Protestant male from Oklahoma, I will consider the writings of John Howard Yoder, a theologian of a minority segment of Christianity, and the Croatian theologian Mislov Volf from Yale.
It is safe to say that most modern readers do not take into account the significance of the minority status of the faith community in understanding ethical perspectives. Often left without critical consideration is what contribution it makes in shaping the New Testament writer’s ethical guidance that he is not assuming that his listeners dominate the society in which they live. The reader knows this to be the case but often does not take that into account as helping to explain why the ethical instruction given in the New Testament takes the shape that it does. John Howard Yoder observes, “It is only possible to think seriously about what difference it makes that a moral community is a minority if one has come to grips with the difference that dominant status may make” (Yoder, pg. 82). Thus an important detour toward our theme must be a short inventory of the difference created when the ethical guidance Christians derive from their faith is adjusted to their dominance in their society.
At this point, this essay could enter into the ambiguity and complexity of Constantinianism, over which much ink has been spilt. Suffice it to say that when the ruler of an Empire becomes a member of the church, how the church goes about being itself is challenged. However, such challenges present themselves to the church in many different ways in different moments in history. The point that is to be made is not that the church should refuse to be flexible to respond to historical reality, but rather how that flexibility is to be tested as faithful to the New Testament baseline.
At many key moments in history the church has had to make decisions that take it in an uncharted direction. That is the reality of being a historical community. The question becomes does this new branch (new direction) run complementary to the vine or does it run directly opposing it? Do the decisions made in the ambiguity of the historical circumstance negate or
greatly obstruct the practices necessary to live faithful to what is unambiguous in the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament? The goal is not a return to a utopian purity of the early church that is unrealistic but rather a renewal process like that of the pruning of branches to get lower to the base where nutrients are more easily accessible. That renewal process is to be expected of a people marked by repentance and confession.
I will cite four ways the hermeneutics of the ethical instruction of the New Testament might be challenged by Christianity becoming the dominant segment of society, taken from John Howard Yoder compared to Volf, and then applied to our discussion about hospitality.
1. When ethics is understood as political, the tension can be seen with greater clarity. Yoder asks, “Can a ruler meet the challenges of his office in a way that remains faithful to the teachings and way of life of Jesus Christ” (Yoder, pg. 82)? The later Protestant social ethical answer to this question is “the ethic of vocation,” which Yoder critiques by saying “whereby what it means to do the proper thing in one’s social setting is determined by the inherent qausi-autonomous law of that setting, whose demands can be known and fulfilled independently of any particular relation to the Christian faith” (Yoder, pg. 83). If Yoder’s critique of “the ethics of vocation” is accurate, this moves the test of ethics for Christians from the teaching and life of Christ to societal law. This perspective, knowingly or unknowingly, becomes concerned with being legal in one’s immediate social context, whereas a minority Christian ethical perspective might be more concerned with a transcendent commitment, even when their faithfulness to this transcendent commitment is labeled illegal. Bonhoeffer noted in the time of Nazi Germany that to live faithfully to Christ was to eventually lead one to act illegally.
Mislov Volf argues that popular notions of justice not only differ from the biblical understanding of justice but would in fact call the biblical understanding of justice unjust. He does this by creatively comparing the iconic “Lady of Justice” to God’s justice described in both Old and New Testament scriptures. Volf writes, “Blindfolded she pursues no special interest; the scales help her treat each person equally; with sword she warns against disputing her judgments. Should we leave this concept of justice undisputed? If Lady Justice is just, then Yahweh is patently unjust” (Volf, pge 220-21). Drawing from both Old Testament and New Testament, Volf shows that God is just precisely because He is interested. He is not stoically objective but has partiality. For God is partial to everyone; knowing the particularities unique to each person. “Impartiality,” Helen Oppenhiemer writes in The Hope of Happiness, “is not a divine virtue, but a human expedient to make up for the limits of our concern on the one hand and the corruptibility of our affections on the other” (pg. 131). This brief reflection of Volf’s distinction between popular notions of justice and the justice of God is complimentary to Yoder’s critique of the Protestant “ethics of vocation.” That is to say, faithfulness to Jesus cannot be determined by meeting the demands of justice as set forth by one’s secular social constructs of justice.
As it pertains to hospitality, what is the effect on one’s understanding of stranger when Christianity becomes the ideology of a nation or empire? It is most reasonable to conclude that for the minority Christian community of the New Testament, stranger was anyone not of the faith. N.T. Wright argues in The Climax of the Covenant that Paul in Galatians 3:1-4:11 “in the name of one God relativizes the Torah” (Wright, pg. 170). “For the sake of equality Paul discards genealogy as sacred” (pg. 168), and “for the sake of all
families of the earth Paul embraces Christ” (pg. 166). He concludes that identification with Christ transcends ethnic or national identifications. Identification with Christ does not negate other identifications, but rather for the welcoming of all people into Christ other identifications are “de-sacredized.” Volf observes, “Through faith one must ‘depart’ from one’s culture (while remaining in it) because the ultimate allegiance is given to God and God’s Messiah who transcends every culture” (Volf, pg. 49). Therefore, God’s universality requires a distancing from one’s ethnic or national identifications in order to make space for strangers to become reconciled to God.
When Christian ideology becomes the ideology of a nation, one’s ability to locate their loyalties is obscured. This is what we are observing in the Syrian Refugee crises. Christians are finding it difficult to locate what loyalty to Jesus and His way of life looks like when national interests (like national security) are also at play. An attempt to distinguish between “refugee” and “enemy” does little good when the Christian view of how to treat our “enemy” is understood by Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount and not “just war” theory.
2. When Christian ideology becomes the ideology of a secular society the membership of the Christian church grows by participants who do not express a strong genuine faith experience or commitment. This leads Yoder to conclude that there will be a need to adjust the expectations of ethical instruction in regards to how selfless or sacrificial one can ask people to be. In other words, the expectation is reduced to the minimum requirements for maximum participation. Yoder observes, this situation “often leads to Christlikeness being transmuted to inwardness” (Yoder, pg. 84). What might have been normative to the early church’s
understanding of faithfulness to Jesus is labeled “special” or “radical.” One such individual may enter the clergy or choose to withdraw from normal ecclesiastical engagement through institutions such as monastic orders.
By contrast, if Christianity remained a minority movement, the benefit of being affiliated to the church by those who do not hold the same faith commitments is unintelligible. Therefore, the ethical instruction of a minority, especially under pressure, can expect to summon its members to a “heroic” level of devotion, such as instructing the members of the community to be hospitable to strangers in a setting where such an instruction may endanger them.
3. Once Christianity dominates society, a new pathology for ethical inquiry emerges in the church: social change becomes thought of in terms of controlling social process, social behavior, or goal-oriented effectiveness. Whether an issue is right or wrong largely becomes a matter of efficiency interpreted in terms of good or bad outcomes. If we want something to stop happening, we declare it a crime and punish it when happens, and it will happen less or not at all. If we want something to happen, we make it obligatory or sufficiently reward it, and it happens more frequently. When Christianity is the dominant majority, the ethical thinking approach becomes the teleological or the utilitarian approach. A new ethical language also begins to emerge, such as “compromise” or “the lesser evil.” This is the result of a mixture of values in which those with power must measure the ethical decision at hand in terms of what will come out to be the most desirable “for the good of the whole.”
Measuring what is viable political action by its effectiveness to change social structures renders much of the New Testaments ethical instruction (such as loving your
enemies, keeping the marriage bed pure, hospitality to strangers, etc.) largely irrelevant. The church becomes unintelligible to itself. To paraphrase Bonhoeffer, when saints become citizens and citizens become saints, the church is rendered invisible.
4. Accompanying these new approaches to Christian ethical logic are categories for justifying these modes, such as “nature versus grace” or “law versus grace.” For example, Yoder argues persuasively that the classical justification for the “just war” theory by theologians such as Augustine has been based on an appeal to nature and not the teachings of Jesus. Justification by appeal to nature is to be expected in some cases because neither Christ nor other New Testament instructions answer all possible ethical questions. What Yoder notes is not that the just war justifications appeal to nature, but that what it justifies by its appeal to nature contradicts the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. The problem is not that nature cannot be a justification of ethical instruction, but nature cannot be appealed to over and against what the New Testament does instruct. At the least, an appeal to nature over and against the New Testament must be done at the cost of fidelity to Christ. In recent debates on refugees and immigration “nature” continues to be the grounds many Christians appeal to as justification for why one should not be hospitable. It is not my attempt to prove whether or not Yoder’s position is correct or that these changes in approach to ethical reasoning are biblical, logical, or realistically acceptable, but only to help us see it as matter of history in the Western moral thought that their coming into Christian thought is correlated with Christianity becoming the dominating segment of society. What must be noted is that these approaches would not be thinkable or unrealistically accessible from the perspective of a minority ethic.
How might a minority ethic look different?
The minority ethics of a Christian community would take on mission marked by modeling. That is the belief that the church is to be now what the world is to be ultimately. Classically the Jews and Christians have used language common to human experience to describe such a mission. For example, “people,” “nation,” and “kingdom” were not simply poetic language. They imply the calling to see oneself as doing already on behalf of the wider world what the world is destined for in God’s redemptive purposes. The church is then not called to be a chaplain or priest to the powers running the world; she is called out from the world to be a microcosm of the wider society, not just in idea, but functionally.
For example, the church is more able to experiment because not all ministries have to pay off. She can risk failure and loss more than those in charge of the state. Contemporary educational practices, hospitals, and the concept of dialogical democracy in the Anglo-Saxon generalized patterns, now embraced by the state, were all first experimented with and made sense of in the minority segments of Christianity labeled “free-churches.”
Furthermore, the church can focus on a way of life called “sacramental.” By this I mean what makes sense on an ordinary level makes more of the same kind of sense when embodied in a particular history, tradition, and narrative. Perhaps a more concrete case for “sacramentality” can be developed if we look at specific activities the church has traditionally called sacraments. Looking, in a sense, backwards asking the question what might the sacraments of the church mean to what the world should be.
Communion or Eucharist was a practice not only bearing witness to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins, but as Mislov Volf points out, a practice of sharing bread and wine between
those who have and those who have not. In other words, the sacramental practice of Communion embodied an economical politic. Volf writes, “Having been embraced by God, we must make space for others in ourselves and invite them in- even our enemies. This is what we enact as we celebrate Eucharist. In receiving Christ’s broken body and spilled blood, we, in a sense, receive all those whom Christ received by suffering.” (Volf Exclusion and Embrace, pg 129)
Next, baptism not only functioned as the introduction into the community, or sign of covenant membership, but Paul refers to baptism as the bases for the ethic of Christian egalitarianism. That is in the face of male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, etc. all are ascribed the same dignity.
Moreover, the church is to be a foretaste of the peace that is to come. Paul’s theology of peace in Eph. 2 is grounded in the reality that the enmity between Jew and Gentile was overcome in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:15). The enmity between the two and not their distinctiveness was removed; securing both the particularity of individuals and reconciliation. It is one of the functions of a minority community to remember and verbalize utopian visions of the future. There is no hope for a society without the transcendent. The minority ethics of the Christian community recognize that the hope and vision of the transcendent is kept alive not with logical proof but by the vitality of communities in which a different way of being breaks into the here and now. Therefore, some degree of nonconformity is expected as an act of hope in the promise of another world.
From this view, hospitality could be argued as a function of “peacemaking.” Making room for dialogue and exposure to the different way of life breaking in through and among (though not exclusively in) the Christian community. Through hospitality people encounter the
transcendent made available through the embodiment of the teachings of Jesus. Therefore, from a minority ethic perspective, hospitality is a form of witnessing to the degree that formation into Christlikeness is observed. If this is correct, sanctification is Christian vocation.
The Christian realists, exemplified by the likes of Reinhold Niebuhr, want to convince us that the alternative to majority ethics is ineffectiveness; that for the church to not seek the use of power derived from the majority is to be rendered useless. But this assumed alternative only reveals how significantly majority ethics has shaped our thinking. “Use the powers that be” or have no power at all is an ironic conclusion for Christians who believe that the Lord Jesus overthrew the powers that be by refusing the power of the people when the multitudes try to make Him king, or by being silent before Pilot, or the imperative He chose for Himself to serve the Father by being obedient until death. Jesus accomplished all that the Father willed for Him without ever taking advantage of the power of the state.
Given this alternative, ineffectiveness is given more attractiveness by social philosophers such as Max Weber. Concern for effectiveness, we are told, is only appropriate for those who can practically manage social systems. Therefore, instead of challenging the legitimacy of such alternatives, Weber encourages us to choose moral purity over effectiveness. He advocates that true obedience to suffering love must presuppose one becomes disinterested in results. Such a false dichotomy leaves pietism as the only motivation to resist the majority ethic and sectarianism as the most appropriate form of minority. However, such “Weberian” pattern of thinking seldom recognizes that it is based on the majority ethical line of reasoning. John Howard Yoder observes, “only a person who believes that the ‘responsible use of power’ from a
position of domination is necessary in order to be useful will then presuppose that the alternative is moral purity at the price of ineffectiveness” (Yoder, pg 96).
Brief Observations and Concerns
If we can take a step back from measuring effectiveness by what will bring about the greatest results tomorrow by seizing as much control as we can today, we might find hospitality, trained in the patience inherent to a apocalyptic community, as an effective practice unappreciated from a majority perspective. Therefore, I offer some observations concerning the political nature of practicing hospitality in a majority ethic.
1. The difference social status makes will be more observable in one’s perspective of injustice. Any morally aware person associated with the majority that has power is seen as being, in more than an accessory sense, responsible for everything that happens. To let something happen by inaction is to be as culpable as to do it oneself since it is presumed that one could have stopped it. To allow injustice to happen is therefore morally the same as perpetrating it. The entire landscape looks different from a position of weakness. If you could not have stopped something, then you are not to blame when it happens. A whole set of logical and psychological differences arise from this difference. No longer do we simply have two categories—“right” which we must foster or even enforce legislatively, and “wrong” which we must prohibit and punish. A host of options emerge between these two clean-cut categories.
There are evils that minority agents cannot prevent which are not thereby condoned as “right.” There are sins that are not possible nor desirable to treat as crimes, even if one had
the majority status that would permit them to do so. The Prohibition is one example of this. There are sins and evils that cannot properly be dealt with legislatively or by declaring them worthy of civil punishment. This means that it would be an expression of wisdom, and not self-righteousness, unconcern, or isolation, if we accept the fact that there are evil deeds that are going to be done that we cannot stop; rather, wisdom would admonish us to concentrate on doing what no one else will do. To the majority ethic prospective this looks like acquiescence to evil. Perhaps being the minority allows for a more realistic view of our vulnerability.
When Christianity is the majority status and the Christian community takes upon the associated responsibilities, correcting injustice determines much of our lives. Stanley Hauerwas notes, “No powers determine our lives more completely than those we think we have under our control” (Hauerwas, Naming the Silence, pg. 11).
That does not mean that the minority Christian ethic would be uninterested in the prevailing of justice but that the church could deal with injustice on her own terms: from our unique history, tradition, and narrative. For example, a segment of the Mennonite community, being pacifist in their convictions, has been one of the most faithful segments of Christianity to help the healing of war veterans. Hauerwas observes, “We rightly feel that some forms of suffering can only be acknowledged, not transformed.” He suggests, “the distinction between suffering which happens to us and the suffering we accept as part of our projects are not as clear as it may first appear. More important is the question what kind of people ought we to be so that certain forms of suffering are not denied but accepted as part and parcel to our existence as moral agents” (Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader, pg. 564)
Christians cannot simply reject being the majority status. What would be helpful is for us to consider that those who have taken following Jesus and His way of life as the preoccupation of their lives have always been a minority in the world, even when Christian ideology pervades a society. Therefore, training ourselves to think from a minority ethical stance may be possible. If we were to take such training seriously, we might find one of our greatest resources to be our brothers and sisters who have lived faithfully to the teachings of Jesus as a minority in their social context, such as our Latino, Chinese, African, and Middle Eastern brothers and sister. One could also look to the minority segments of Christianity in America, like the Mennonite, Anabaptist, or Messianic Jewish communities. We might take time to listen, or perhaps we might call it engaging in “hospitable dialogue,” inquiring to find out what assumptions about life they have, taking note of their resourcefulness, creativity, and innovation often enhanced by embracing the limits of their status, and what functions occur in the congregational setting that inspires, clarifies, and reaffirms the community’s transcendent commitments.
We must not confuse a Christian minority ethical perspective as being the same as taking on a minority cause. What makes the Christian community a minority is our commitment to the kingdom of God as embodied by Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we remain neutral concerning the cries of injustices from minority voices; rather we recognize that support of a minority cause can be done without challenging the unhealthy aspects of majority ethics.
We must continue to examine ourselves to be sure hospitality does not become a means of coercion, like the usage of the word tolerance has become today. The word “tolerant” is used
positively at a societal level. We are asked to “be more tolerant.” However, at an individual level, it is experienced as a negative. What do you imagine feeling if I were to say to you, “I tolerated you today”? Christians should reject the use of the word tolerant, not for the rigidity of fundamentalism, but because it is coercive. It is language that communicates that the one using it has the power. Similarly, the call to show hospitality to the stranger may become coercive if it is not clearly articulated as a political act deriving from convictions about the life and teaching of Christ and the kingdom of God. The practice of hospitality must not become a means to another end or it will cease to function as the ethical instruction the writer of Hebrews gives it to be and most likely will become a short-lived tactic of “compassion evangelism” or come to mean a way to “play nice” in a politically correct society.
5. Any fears the call to practice hospitality may bring must be given language, and in certain cases, challenged. The fear of some that the call to practice hospitality to homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender, refugees, or immigrants is a propaganda tool of the liberal agenda to domesticate Christianity is a fear unique to the majority status of Christianity. One might conclude that if practicing the ethical instructions of scripture, like showing “hospitality to the stranger,” domesticates Christianity, then Christianity has come to mean something different than it meant for the recipients of the Epistles. Stanley Hauerwas reminds us, “Never think that you need to protect God. Because anytime you think you need to protect God, you can be sure that you are worshipping an idol.” (Quoted from article “Fatih Fire Backs”)
Much more can and needs to be said about the challenges of practicing hospitality from a majority ethical perspective. What I have hoped to do is point out how significant Christianity becoming the dominant segment of society has affected the hermeneutical approach to the ethical instructions of the New Testament.
I did not set to write the essay that I have written. Rather, as my theological journey into why hospitality seemed trivial to me unfolded, I have found this issue of status to be closer to the problem than I would like to admit. It is my assumption that these issues are not simply isolated and subjective to my experience. I have come to see that the social status of Christianity does influence how one understands, interprets, and ascribes relevancy to the ethical instruction of the New Testament. If we can take a step back from measuring effectiveness by societal change, if we can come to terms with the difference between the American “we” and the Christian “we,” if we can seek servitude and not power or protecting what power we have, we might come to see the wisdom and beauty of hospitality as a political act of a community called out from the world for the reconciliation of the world. If we cannot take a step back from the majority ethic, I am concerned that hospitality, as well as many other ethical instructions of the New Testament, will be set aside as archaic and ineffective for other options more relevant to the responsibilities of the powerful. The result would be the further rendering Christianity in the West unintelligible to itself or it might become a temporary coercive strategy to maintain power.
If we can practice hospitality in the strength of servitude embodied by Christ we might find the vitality of our communities strengthened. We might discover the paradox of servitude pointed out by Dallas Willard. “Service to others is the main road to freedom from the bondage
to others. For we are learning to act unto God in our lowest deeds... Service in the Spirit of Christ allows us the freedom of humility that carries no burden of ‘appearance’” (Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines, pg. 314). Service equips us to be what we are: servants of God who are present to engage in good and needful benefit for others. We must then strive to meet all persons who cross our path with openness to serve them—not anxiously nor in an overly solicitous manner, but with the ease and confidence born of a vision of our lives together in the hands of God. When our imaginations have been sufficiently arrested by such a vision, accompanied by the strength of the servitude of Christ made available through the Holy Spirit, we can see the brokeness, dividedness, and ambiguity of the world, and be unable to imagine being anything other than hospitable. In a world of hurting strangers we could not imagine any other way to be faithful to Christ than to welcome these neighbors and strangers because they are essential to our very lives.
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