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God and the Risky Call to Hospitality
And, Yes, Hospitality Is Not Optional.
Welcome to my newsletter, “Global Witness, Globally Reimagined,” where I dream about mission in a postcolonial world. Every week, I share one thought that has spoken to me in the week, a resource I trust will be helpful to you, and three exciting quotes about mission. I pray one of these will energise you in the coming week.
1. Thought I Can’t Shake Off
If it is true, as I argued here and here, that God is our only host and that we are all guests at God’s table (as we are all strangers and sojourners in the world), our ministry of hospitality to one another is critical to our existence as the Body of Christ. We are all here because God has been hospitable to us. We meet at God’s table as equals because God has extended us all an invitation and has, in doing so, modelled for us how to be hospitable to one another. The Bible urges us to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it (Heb. 13:2) and, of course, because “you were once strangers in a foreign land.” (Lev 19:33-34). God must know that hospitality is risky business. God’s own Son was crucified by the very people he was trying to invite into God’s kingdom. Yet, God calls us to be hospitable. In a sense, hospitality is a form of laying down one’s life—a giving up of one’s power—to humanise others. It has no limit. However, hospitality only works when it is given in a way that makes sense to the receiver. You cannot be hospitable while expecting the stranger to always play by your rules. Or when you are doing all the talking. This is critical because our cultures understand hospitality differently. For instance, hospitality in individualistic Western cultures often takes the form of charity—you help people from a distance, in a transactional manner, avoiding all forms of relationships. (“You can only rent the church hall for your services, but do not use the kitchen—the smell of your food lasts all week—and do not expect to worship with us.”) Such an expression of hospitality makes no sense at all to those who grew up in cultures that bend over backwards to make sure strangers are comfortable. (My favourite hospitality story is Genesis 18, but I cannot get to it here). This miscommunication of hospitality is, to a large extent, the reason we have migrant churches. It can explain the pain of Christian segregation that we see in most Western cities, (here in the UK, from the Windrush Generation in the 1950s to the current struggle against racism in the Church of England). Hospitality often starts with a patient listening ear that says to the stranger, “I see you.” Can you hear the strangers among you? Can you see them? Can you be hospitable to them? Again, too many questions. I know.
2. Resources I am Enjoying
In this episode of the Faith Across Borders podcast, Graham Joseph Hill welcomes Soong-Chan Rah to a fascinating conversation about mission. While the conversation is set in North America, its insights are relevant to the global church and missionary enterprise. Rah rehashes the reality of global Christianity’s population shift from the global North to the South. He also highlights the “browning of Western Christianity,” particularly due to migration, leading to the “de-Europeanisation of American [or Western] Christianity.” He critiques the “mismatch” of theological paradigms and resources (which are largely Western) with the current “reality on the ground,” especially the multiculturalism or diversity in the church. Of course, Rah was spot-on with his assessment. We must be more deliberate in projecting other theological voices from the various cultures that now represent the face of Christianity in the world. He reminds me of two articles I read a few years ago: Andrew Walls, “Structural Problems in Mission Studies” and John Mbiti, “Theological Impotence and the Universality of the Church.” These two also come highly recommended.
3. Quotes I am Pondering
… the perspective of church communities from other contexts can help the local church in addressing the challenges she encounters in the particular social and cultural context in which she is called to live out the Christian life. — Benno van den Toren
Many mono-cultural churches, I believe, underestimate the changes required to accommodate worshippers of different cultural backgrounds because they do not realise the extent to which their own expression of worship is influenced by culture or how alien that culture can seem to others. — Modupe Omideyi
To the extent that the African endeavour has achieved a measure of success, it may hold promise for a modern Western theology which is now also asking seriously how the Christian faith may be related, in a missionary sense, to Western culture. — Kwame Bediako
I pray that you will be faithful to the mission God has for you this week.