Mercy not Sacrifice (5): Redemptive Hospitality

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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).

12 thoughts on “Mercy not Sacrifice (5): Redemptive Hospitality

  1. Overcoming repugnance to the “Other” does not come easily to me, but, like I have to do when an attractive woman hints of a flirtation with me ( something that for better or worse gets rarer with each passing year), I have to throttle my atavistic impulses and engage my reason.

    The best defense against this is to review the excellencies of my wife.

    I live in Mean Suspicious World, but there is no doubt in my mind that Christ’s Venn diagram of the Church, the World, and My Neighbor are three identical circles (with Him at the center, not me). However, like His manifested Kingdom, there is a tension between the actual and the eschatological, which tension I feel acutely.

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  2. What we don’t comprehend is the mystery of how in the process of helping others who are wounded, we ourselves are healed.

    I don’t understand it, no;
    but I know it happens.

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  3. ‘they will take advantage of you’

    “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
    23 gentleness, and self-control.”

    so let them be cared for ‘from the deep well of the Holy Spirit’ . . . and it will not run dry 🙂

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  4. A big part of hospitality is just how you treat people you don’t know – do you default to trusting them, or to treating them as a potential threat?

    Why does it have to be either or? One can be hospitable without trusting, can they not? With some of the street people, for example, it would be crazy to fully trust them by default. But one can still treat them right.

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  5. “It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.”

    That is what I am afraid of. Often they will take advantage of you and I understand that, I am even OK with that happening to me. But sometimes it goes beyond that, when those you help try to suck you into their toxic and debilitating life focus.

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  6. > person’s attitude toward strangers is influenced by their faith as opposed to just how they grew up

    Agree, I’ve not been able to discern the role of Faith either.

    It’s family, and experience, and I would add Built Environment. We design our places on the premise of “Mean World”, reinforcing the notion that the response to grief, tragedy, and pain should be a perception of threat. 😦

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  7. > And THAT should put a stop to any sort of defense of cultural war as a calling of the church.

    Yeah. This is a good post, well written, spot on. Yet, in the end, my only reaction is sadness.

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  8. 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.

    In most tribal languages, the word for the tribe is “The People” and the word for anyone outside the tribe is “The Enemy”.

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  9. This reminded of me of a quote from St. Vincent de Paul…

    “You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting master you will see. And the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.”

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  10. A big part of hospitality is just how you treat people you don’t know – do you default to trusting them, or to treating them as a potential threat? But I’m not sure how much a person’s attitude toward strangers is influenced by their faith as opposed to just how they grew up. I had a relatively happy and safe childhood, so I tend to go around the world assuming that people are mostly good and trustworthy. I find it easy to judge the folks caught up in “mean world syndrome,” but who knows what personal trauma brought them to that place of suspicion and fear?

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  11. “…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””

    And THAT should put a stop to any sort of defense of cultural war as a calling of the church.

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  12. There’s a double risk in Jesus’ practice of hospitality. By extending hospitality to those outside his own tribe, and viewed by his tribe as unworthy and unclean, he obviously made himself subject to the same rejection and exclusion by his tribe that the outsiders were subject to. The other risk he put himself in was that his hospitality might be, and sometimes was, spurned by the outsiders whom he extended it to. Outsiders can form their own in-groups, based on commonality and even a pride of identification. “Beggars” can be choosers, notwithstanding the old saying, because they are and remain fully human, and like anyone else they don’t necessarily have to accept an offer of hospitality extended to them, if they determine that what is offered is not needed or wanted, or even is demeaning or humiliating. When this happens, those who offer hospitality may experience a double rejection, finding themselves rejected by their own original in-group/tribe, and by the out-group/tribe they extended hospitality to. Anyone who offers hospitality in a Christ-like way must be ready to endure this kind of double-rejection, for there is no guarantee that the offered hospitality will be accepted.

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