Must we be “radical”?

As is already clear to the three people who read my blog, I’ve been thinking a lot about community these days. One of the reasons, among many, is that I wrote a cluster book review on some books about new monasticism for an upcoming issue of Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics. (The issue itself is called “Monasticism Old & New” and is quite good–I can say so, since I did the layout for it in InDesign and read it already in its entirety. I’ll link to it when it’s posted online in a few weeks. If you like hard copies of these sorts of things, you can subscribe for free to the publication by clicking here.)

So reading these books over Christmas break got me thinking more coherently and precisely about it means to be hospitable, and my reading coincided with J prepping for a class he taught in the Spring on ‘Vocation.’ When we’re both thinking about similar things and talking about them all the live long day, you better watch out.

We’ve been asking ourselves these questions a lot lately: What does it mean to be called to a life of radical hospitality? What does it look like in a normal person’s life?

A few days ago, we were eating dinner with some friends who’d recently visited Jesus People USA, an intentional Christian community, church, and assorted ministries in downtown Chicago. Our friends are normal people like us (if college professors can ever be called “normal”), and while they are sympathetic to the this idea of a calling to a radical way of life, what came up in the conversation was a resistance to the suggestion that we were all called to a radical life.

It’s true that writings coming out of some of the (I add scare quotes on purpose, because I hate labels) “new monastic” communities make it sound as if if you’re a real Christian, then you’ll live like us. But not all–probably not even most–new monastics are like that. (Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church is one example of someone applying general monastic principles more broadly, out of a concern for the church universal, rather than suggesting we all need to do it his way.)

But here’s the thing. Call me crazy in the way I interpret Scripture, but I think we are all called to a life of radical hospitality. (We probably need to start by defining “radical” and “hospitality” but I’m not going to.)

And I don’t know what this radically hospitable life looks like, but before you decide to ignore this blog post in the name of “that’s not very practical,” let me just say that a radical life doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll all be eating with homeless people at our tables any time soon. It does, however, mean that we need to be noticing the homeless people, really seeing them. They’re there, even when we’re driving by in our air conditioned cars. They even exist in my lovely, seemingly wholesome, little town.

This radical life probably doesn’t mean that we’ll all be organizing neighborhood potlucks every week, but maybe it does mean we shouldn’t avoid inviting someone over to dinner because our floors haven’t been cleaned lately or there’s clutter on the coffee table.

It probably doesn’t mean we’ll be living like the early church in Acts, sharing everything in common, but it might just mean inviting someone in to share your life,* even when it’s messy and you’re renovating a house with one functioning toilet upstairs and one functioning shower downstairs, and you can only get internet in the musty unfinished basement.

So yeah, I think we all do need to be radical. And maybe we should spend a little more time discerning what it can look like. I know I should.

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* More on this soon!

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6 comments on “Must we be “radical”?

  1. Elaine Wise says:

    My mother always said, if you are coming to see me, come anytime – if you are coming to see the house, call ahead and I’ll clean. And she lived this too!

  2. Lisa Manis says:

    I’ve been thinking about this, too! I’ve been known to say often that we need to bust up this need for everything to look perfect before inviting people into our homes. I’m looking forward to more on this! Practical tips for how to live this hospitality? I read a book called A Life that Says Welcome in my book club about opening our homes and lives and using this hospitality to share God’s love. Miss you, Friend. Enjoyed your thoughts.

  3. elizabeth says:

    Lisa,
    It seems that lots of people “our” age are really thinking through these ideas. Very exciting. Miss you, too.

    Elaine,
    I do like this. For this summer, I think I should add, “…and if you’re coming to work on the house, brace yourself.”

    • elizabeth says:

      This is a book I’ve been meaning to read, so I’m glad you recommend it, Rebecca. Christine Pohl wrote an article for the Hospitality issue of Christian Reflection a few years back, if I remember correctly, and I’ve hoped to read more ever since!

  4. Rebecca says:

    Whoa runaway link… sorry about that. I should also say I felt a bit like she was preaching to the choir. I wanted less “why hospitality is important for Christians” and more “how do we do this in our world today”.

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