I’m reading on table fellowship of late and today I wish to call to your attention three books on hospitality. The first is more for the general reader, the second and third for the more academic setting. Still, each is important if you are interested in exploring the explosion of thought on the gospel as hospitality.
But I begin with a stunning comment (for me) by Peggy on yesterday’s post about Christine Pohl’s book: “Hospitality, in the era of the nuclear family, is almost impossible when your children are young and you have no family nearby. All my time is taken up in surviving…there is little left over for ministry at church, much less hospitality.” Peggy, you’ve touched Point Sensitivity.
What is hospitality? Is it caring for your home and inviting others into your home? Is it worship? Is it more like a B&B? Do you think Jesus practiced hospitality in his table fellowship customs? Were his hosts practicing hospitality? Is a church service — say on Sunday morning — an act of hospitality? What difference does hospitality make? Who has some stories?
Margaret Kim Peterson, the author of a marvelous memoir called Sing Me to Heaven, recently wrote Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life. What Margaret does here is very simple: she theologically explores the routine life of the home. A professional theologian with a sharp mind, Margaret likes being home. And she has reflected theologically on such topics as place, sheltering, clothing, furniture and appearance, food, and a well-kept house.
Elizabeth Newman, who may well have studied with Margaret Kim Peterson at Duke, has also written a book on a similar topic: hospitality. What Margaret does with the home, Newman transfers to the Church in her new book, Untamed Hospitality. Another theologian, but one more from the radical Hauerwasian and even at times a little on the side of radical orthodoxy, Newman contends that all hospitality begins in the Trinity (ah, I like that idea). Worship, when we are summoned to participate in the divine life and commune with God in God’s Trinitarian communing, is what hospitality is all about. She critiques current modes of understanding hospitality and then contends that worship — as hospitality — offers a counter-cultural vision to science and economics, ethics, and the politics of higher education. Entering into the Trinitarian communion enables the Church to extend that life in hospitality.
Finally, Amy Oden has edited a marvelous collection of original sources (in translation) of early Christian examples of hospitality in And You Welcomed Me. Anthologies of early Christian stuff tend to organize documents in chronological order, but Amy Oden organizes the early Christian evidence in topics — and the kind of topics that make for a more interesting anthology and which are more significant for modern practice. I think any church seriously considering the practice of hospitality would benefit from someone reading this book and discussing it with others. Here are the topics: remembering who we are, recognizing the stranger, spiritual dynamics of hospitality, the practices of hospitality, the forms of institutionalization, and models of hospitality.