Christian Hospitality

The topics of last night’s session of the monthly program Christine Luna Munger and I are co-presenting at St. Kate’s this year (our broad theme for the year is Christian Prayers and Practices) were Hospitality and Intercessory Prayer.  A good amount of our time was devoted to a wonderful talk on hospitality by Christine.

We tend to think of hospitality in terms of setting a beautiful table and serving a delicious meal to our friends and/or putting friends and family up for the night when they are passing through town.  But in the Hebrew scriptures, hospitality was consistently tied with welcoming the stranger.  (E.g., Exodus 23:9, “You shall not oppress an resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.”)  And in the New Testament, the consistent emphasis is upon taking care of the needs of the least among us, on inviting the poorest among us to the banquet.

The difference between  the classical Greco-Roman meaning of hospitality and the Judeo-Christian one is what Christine Pohl (in her book Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition) describes as the difference between “ambition hospitality” and “justice hospitality” or what Jacques Derrida describes as the difference between “pious contractual hospitality”  and “absolute hospitality.”  The former often resulted in providing hospitality based on a sense of the worth and goodness of the recipient – including the recipient’s ability to “pay-back” the hospitality, which obviously left out the poor and the marginalized.

We are called, not just to provide nice meals and fun times to our friends or those who can benefit us.  Rather the call – the moral imperative – is to create safe and inclusive space for all those who need one.   And to approach the stranger, not with suspicion and violence, but as a friend and ally.

Next month (January 9) I will be talking about Ignatian Contemplation and Re-membering.  If you are in the Twin Cities, you are welcome to join us, even if you have not attended any of the prior sessions.

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