It’s the middle of summer, when beach, BBQ, ice cream, and “hazy, hot and humid” are more regularly part of our vocabulary. It’s also a season when more time off, no school schedules, and fewer extracurriculars, give us extra space in our calendars. How do we use it? All for SELF? Or do we think about how to share time, home, and meals, with others?
Just recently, I finished a book by Rosaria Butterfield called The Gospel Comes with a House Key. The subtitle explains: “Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World.” Before I reached the last page, I thought to myself: “This is one of the top-10 most important books I’ve ever read.” I use the word “important” in a specific way. It wasn’t the most entertaining book. It wasn’t the most insightful, or creative, or world-changing, or Pulitzer-deserving book. It was a book that I NEEDED to read—a message, really a testimony, that I believe the Church also NEEDS to hear. That’s what I mean by “important.” Sometimes that means “Peter really needs this truth because of his weaknesses and sin patterns.” But in this case, I believe the need is universal because of common culture, especially here in North Jersey.
Over the years, we have had hundreds of people into our home for social purposes and for ministry events, always accompanied by some food. Inquirer’s Classes and Session meetings used to be held in our living/dining room since we lacked space at our rented building. I still host every Leadership Training Class, with meals a rich part of being together as we study God’s Word. Cedar and I feel called to practice hospitality, and we rejoice that our children enjoy it as a normal part of our family rhythm. So why do I say that this book was top-10 important? Because there’s so much more to building community—with neighbors, and with spiritual family—that we have failed to do, and a big part of that is (let me narrow the scope here) … MY simple selfishness.
I’m an introvert. I like alone-time. I like being able to relax at home and do what I want. When you practice hospitality, you have to grocery shop when you’d prefer not to. Clean up the mess that you’re content living with. Consider others’ interests/aversions when you plan the menu. Cater to others’ needs, and then clean up after the last person leaves. It’s very much other-centered. We actually enjoy much of that! But the “radically-ordinary” element is what makes hospitality less an event, and more of a way of life and a context for powerful Gospel ministry.
We’ve become a society of extreme-individualists. In his latest book titled The Second Mountain, NY Times columnist David Brooks writes this:
When individualism becomes the absolutely dominant ethos of a civilization … then the individuals within it may have maximum freedom, but the links between the individuals slowly begin to dissolve. In other cultures, people are formed by and flourish within institutions that precede individual choice—family, ethnic heritage, faith, nation. But these are precisely the sorts of institutions that the culture of individualism eats away at, because they are unchosen and therefore seen as not quite legitimate. In an individualistic culture, the best life is the freest life.
On a more mundane level, family TV night has become everyone on their own device, doing their own thing, with no possibility of a simple shared laugh or glance at each other to share delight. Even playing video games often involves connecting over the internet with a buddy who’s got headphones on, alone in his basement, staring at his own TV while your avatar battles alongside his. Over-scheduled calendars mean families eat at the dinner table less and less … let alone invite others to join them at their table.
All I’ve had space for in this article, is to present the topic. Next week I’ll share some thoughts on how hospitality can be a key vehicle for Gospel ministry (inside and outside the church community) AND what simple steps we can take toward that end.
Peter Wang is the Senior Pastor of GRC.