Mercy not Sacrifice (5): Redemptive Hospitality
We are thinking through Richard Beck’s illuminating book, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality. So far, we’ve talked about disgust psychology, contagion logic, sociomoral disgust, and contempt. Beck’s goal is to help us understand the impulses we have that move us to reject or accept, to see as “clean” or “unclean,” to determine if something is “toxic” or healthy for us. The core of disgust is related to the food we allow or reject. But the psychology of disgust becomes how we access the world and people.
Today we will look at the acceptance side of the disgust spectrum and see what Becks says about hospitality.
It could be argued that hospitality—the welcoming of strangers—is the quintessential Christian practice. (p. 121)
Beck traces how hospitality to outsiders (of various kinds) was the central, distinctive, and most provocative characteristic of Jesus’ ministry. Not only in his welcome of others and in his ethical teaching, but also in the way he described how the world greeted him. Jesus is the ultimate “stranger” to be welcomed. He presented himself as a stranger even after his resurrection. Even today he longs to be welcomed by faith.
The early church followed Jesus’ example of welcome, and extended it not only to the family of believers but to their neighbors as well. Beck quotes Christine Pohl: “Writings from the first five centuries demonstrate the importance of hospitality in defining the church as a universal community, in denying the significance of the status boundaries and distinctions of the larger society, in recognizing the value of every person, and in providing practical care for the poor, stranger, and sick” (p. 122).
Beck writes about how hospitality is not only gracious, but redemptive and healing.
If hospitality is a defining, central, and quintessential facet of Christian mission, then we learn something about the shape and character of sin and brokenness in human affairs. Specifically, what is so special about extending welcome? What wound is being attended to in the act of hospitality? What sin is being challenged and redeemed?
Our analysis of sociomoral disgust suggests that sin is often characterized by the forces of dehumanization. These forces may be subtle or shockingly brutal. But they all share a common core: the stratification of humanity along a divinity dimension with superior groups (defined as “my tribe”) elevated over other (“outside”) groups. These forces of dehumanization affect how we treat others (e.g., the moral circle), how we select scapegoats, and how we choose who is worthy of love and affection.
Given the impact of sociomoral disgust upon human affairs, it is not surprising that the act of hospitality is fundamentally an act of human recognition and embrace. If exclusion is fundamentally dehumanizing, hospitality acts to restore full human status to the marginalized and outcast. (pp. 122-123)
And so, as Richard Beck shows, “sociomoral disgust and the practices of hospitality are opposing forces within the life of the church” (p. 123).
…the practice of hospitality is the antithesis of sociomoral disgust. Where the dynamics of disgust and dehumanization foster exclusion and expulsion, the practice of hospitality welcomes the outcast and stranger as a full member of the human community. Hospitality seeks to expand the moral circle, to push back against the innate impulse that assumes “humanity ends at the border of the tribe” (p. 124).
Or, in the words of the verse that has become the theme of my own ministry: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us” (1John 4:12).