X is for Xenophilia (an alphabet for penitents)

Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.” (Matthew 26:23, NIV)

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20–21, NIV)

Xenophobia is something we are all too familiar with: the fear and disdain for people not like us. It is the default stance of the internet troll and the reason for the uptick in hate crimes towards Jews and Muslims. It is codified in the practices of law enforcement in minority communities and the mass incarceration of black and brown skinned people in our country. It is becoming our national immigration and foreign policy. It manifests itself as fear and hate or the desire for the other to keep their distance.

Xenophilia,  on the other hand, is the opposite: a love for foreign peoples, cultures, and customs.  In the Christian tradition, we call this welcoming the stranger. The Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) has a number of passages that talk about caring for foreigners, strangers and resident aliens dwelling in the land (cf. Deut. 14:29; 26:11-13, Lev. 19:10, 23:22, Zech. 7:8-10). There are also compelling examples within the narrative of hospitality and inclusion of strangers (i.e. Abraham’s hospitality in Genesis 18, Rahab, Ruth, etc).  The whole thrust of the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12 was that he and his descendants would be blessed to be a blessing, a priest to the nations to welcome them back into relationship with God. Christians can glean a lot about hospitality from the First Testament and Jewish practice.

However, our example par excellence of xenophilia is Jesus. I don’t want to be anachronistic. Jesus was a first century Jew and he came to the Jews. He didn’t welcome everybody in his lifetime. Still he demonstrated the stance of welcome in his friendship to tax collectors and sinners, the healing non-Jews (the Centurion’s servant, the Gerasene demoniac, the Canaanite woman’s daughter, etc), his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), and teachings which challenged the exclusion of the Gentiles (i.e. Luke 4:20-30, the parable of Good Samaritan, etc.) His ultimate welcome of strangers came through the cross where the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles was torn down (Ephesians 2:14).

Before we get to Calvary. Jesus dines with his disciples in an upper room. It was Passover, and they were in Jerusalem. These were Jesus’ disciples for three years of ministry. The guys he spent most of his time with. Friends. And yet there was a stranger in their midst. Someone who dipped bread and ate with Jesus, but in his heart, he was neither friend no follower. The stranger Jesus welcomed and called a friend, The friend who gives strange kisses in the garden.

On the same evening, Jesus offered up a missional prayer, that God would unite, sanctify and send his disciples out into the world (John 17). He didn’t just pray for them but for the ones he didn’t even know yet, who would respond to God’s message of welcome.

When they arrived to arrest him, a disciple cut off an ear of someone in the arresting party. Jesus healed the stranger.

How does hospitality, the welcome of strangers and xenophilia, shape your spiritual journey?  How can we follow the example of Christ (and the biblical tradition) in caring for strangers disconnected from basic relationships and security? Theologian Krister Stendhal wrote, “wherever, whenever, however, the kingdom manifest itself, it is welcome” (cited in Christine Pohl’s Making Room, Eerdmans, 1999).

We are at a good news moment in the Gospel story, why we call this Friday good. Let us seek to extend Christ’s welcome of strangers to the world too accustomed to fearmongering and hate. It is time to demonstrate the love of Christ to all those not like us. 

Jesus Subverting Empire: a ★★★★★ book review

Craig Greenfield grew up with a ‘nice’ Jesus. The Jesus he learned about as a kid, had blond locks and the perfect beard. He was always kind, always polite. As he grew older, ‘nice Jesus’ morphed into respectable-good-citizen-Jesus: the Jesus that would save your soul -without challenging the status quo.

T240_360_book-1913-coverhen when he was twenty-two he went to Cambodia where an interaction with a beggar outside a Khmer Rouge genocide museum sent him on a path where he re-thought and re-examined who Jesus really was, why he came and what it means to follow Him. Subversive Jesus tells the story of Greenfield, his Cambodian wife Nay, and their family as they walked the subversive ways of Jesus. Greenfield journey takes him from New Zealand to the slums of Cambodia, to Vancouver’s Down-Town Eastside and to Cambodia again. Greenfield shares the insights he gained from other theologian/practitioners,  notably folks like Charles Ringma, Dave Diewert, and Dave Andrews; yet this book is primarily about what Greenfield and his family learned as they followed their subversive Jesus by challenging empire,  practicing radical hospitality, and loving and advocating for the marginalized.

Greenfield shares about hospitality and community, learning the place his children had in mission, living vulnerably and non-violently in the midst of a violent neighborhood,  and sharing with and including neighbors. Their family would have a community meals where participants cooked together and shared life around a table. Greenfield maintained a hospitable and welcoming stance toward neighbors and friends, yet he also recognized the need for proper boundaries to sustain life and ministry. Dave Andrews phrase, “Bizarre Behavior is okay. Abusive Behavior is not okay,” became a community rule (56). Greenfield observes that in the culture-at-large, the opposite is usually true (the bizarre are shunned and the abusive are praised for their strength).

Sometimes we may be tempted to think that being a Christian means being a good citizen of our country. Greenfield lives a more robust form of discipleship believing Jesus came to challenge empire and the powers of this age. This has led him to take counter-cultural (subversive) stances and the practice of resistance. Greenfield helps us see away to act faithful to God and governing authorities while resisting laws and aspects of culture that are unjust (submitting to the consequences of our resistance to unjust laws, is still submitting to government authority). For him this includes taking lemonade to drug dealers, organizing flash-mob-protests, starting community gardens, and building relationships among the marginalized.

I like this book a lot and loved hearing Greenfield’s story. This is a thoughtful, theologically rich and biblically sound account, but it is also a story of what it means to follow Jesus in broken places and a call or us also to live more courageously as we seek to follow our subversive Jesus.

One episode that was intriguing was the time, Greenfield’s community painted a pentagram as an act of worship to God and love for their neighbor. Yeah, It is terrible for me to give you that little detail without describing what actually happened or the events leading up to it. I guess you will just have to read the book yourself. I give this five stars. ★★★★★

Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Hospitable Grace: a book review and recommendation

Paraclete Hospitality My exploration of the Christian practice of hospitality changed the trajectory of my life. My exposure to hospitality came when I read Christine Pohl’s book Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. Before that I had no concept about what it meant to welcome and love people on the margins. From my church experience, all I knew about hospitality as a Christian practice is that involved bad coffee, saying, ‘hi’ on Sunday morning and forcing people to wear name tags. What I discovered was a robust vision of welcoming the stranger drawn from the Bible and the monastic tradition. Pohl demonstrated convincingly the need to recover the richness of the tradition, the way hospitality operated on the margins and gave sage advice as to how to practice it. I also read Daniel Homan, OSB and Lonni Collins Pratt’s Radical Hospitality which drew heavily on the rule of St. Benedict. Less than a year after first exploring the theme, I found myself living in community in inner city Atlanta seeking to love my neighbors and neighborhood and put hospitality into practice. I was able to share the love of God with people, by welcoming them into my life.

The Paraclete Book of Hospitality is a small but thoughtful volume which treats this theme. If you want to learn about hospitality as a Christian practice, one of the best place to start is the Benedictines. Paraclete Press, a Benedictine publishing house staffed by the membership of an ecumenical Christian community, The Community of Jesus, has produced a short book to help people explore hospitality and ‘deepen their lives with Christ.’ Drawn from their experience as a community in offering hospitality, the wisdom of the Rule, and generously peppered with quotations of Paraclete’s many fine books which treat the theme, this book inspires and gives practical advice about how to live more welcoming lives.

There are stories here about how the simple act of welcoming, or offering something special touched someone’s heart in a special way. there are also ideas, and practical advice about incorporating the rhythms of hospitality in your daily life. There is advice about meals, seasons, prayer for enemies and people we find difficult to welcome. The many quotations, scriptures and passages of the Rule of St. Benedict (and other communityrules) invite reflection on how we can incorporate hospitality into daily life.

My Hospitality Shero, Christine Pohl says of this book, “Grace-filled, wise, beautifully written and practical, this book welcomes readers into the life-giving practice of hospitality. It’s a treasure!” I couldn’t agree more and warmly commend this to any one who wants to discover (or rediscover) this practice. This book brought me back to my first encounter with this Christian practice and got me to reflect anew on the ways I can be more welcoming with those around me and the context I currently find myself in. We who are recipients of God’s hospitality in Christ Jesus need to grow in extending welcoming love for others. This book is helpful toward that end.

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.