Sunday, February 14, 2010

Radical Hospitality

The Rt. Rev. Mark M. Beckwith, Bishop of Newark's address at the 136th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Newark was featured by Canon Kendall Harmon at T19 the other day.

Reading this helped me better understand problem with the code words, “radical hospitality” as understood by the liberal elite of the Episcopal church. The following is from Bishop Beckwith's address:

“So – what I see, is a diocese that dares to embrace the stranger; is willing to listen to the story of the stranger; to be transformed by the stranger – and through all of that to be brought deeper into relationship with God.
This is counter cultural. It may seem radical. So be it. It is what we have been doing; what we are called to do. It is what God calls us to be. Take a deep breath. We’re going deeper – with the hope and justice of Jesus.”

(To the uninitiated, "justice" is another Episcobable code word for the liberal agenda)

The problem I see is with the Bishop's "transforming stranger" analogy. He had earlier referenced the Benedictine rule of welcoming visitors and showing hospitality. He misses the point that the stranger was not going to be allowed to come in to the monastic life and change the Rule of Benedict. The hospitality of the Benedictine might transform the stranger, not the other way around. The Bishop leaves the impression that we are to take in the "stranger" (this is a TEC code name for GLBT person) and be transformed into acceptance of their radical theology. One of my problems with people who argue that Jesus, when going against custom and dining with sinners, demonstrated the radical hospitality of Bishop Beckwith, is the lack of insight into the direction of flow of transformational power. To be a sinner and to sup with Jesus is an invitation to be transformed by Him, not an invitation for me to transform Him.

I have an idea that runs counter to the prevailing liberal culture of the church. This is the thought that these liberal bishops need another invitation to sit down with the Bible and be taught the basics once again. Who is the bishops' teacher anyway?

From today's readings, Luke 9:28-43, we are reminded of the shortcomings of earthly pastors:
"On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It throws him into convulsions until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God."

Just who was Jesus referring to when he said, "You faithless and perverse generation," the crowd, the man from the crowd, or could it be that he was chastising His disciples?


  1. I've always thought the rebuke was directed toward the disciples, because they'd seen Him, His power, and implicitly knew who He was.

    My two cents on that issue.

    As to the "transforming stranger," may I suggest that the good bishop review the first six or so chapters of Joshua, wherein the nation of Israel meets a stranger, to wit: the harlot Rahab. God's chosen people are not transformed by that meeting into Canaanites. Rather she and her family are transformed by her encounter with them and her faith that their God is God. Not only was she transformed, but she stays with them, marries and becomes part of the lineage of Christ Himself.

    The story of Rahab is a lesson which points to the way the Hebrew nation should have responded to the "strangers" around it, instead of the way it did, i.e. trying to meld society's practices into God's decrees. Obviously, it didn't work out very well. See, e.g. the Babylon Captivity.


  2. Go to the parallels in Matthew and Mark - this is definitely about the disciples who "lack faith" and haven't been praying!

    Also, if you keep on reading in Luke, he tells them that there is a traitor in their midst, confronts their egos and their insecure, petty "institutionalism."

    Preached on it yesterday: (Feb. 14)

  3. One might look at the story of Jesus' encounter with a stranger - the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 - to see how he was changed. If we are unwilling to be changed by the strangers we meet, perhaps we will be immune to the transforming power of that greatest of all strangers, Jesus the Christ.

  4. Fr. Weir,

    We encountered that story in a previous post.

    I think a good argument can be made that the woman did not transform Jesus.

  5. I think - as heretical as it may seem to some - that God is in some ways changed by being in relationship with us. Certainly we have the witness of Scripture that Jesus was made perfect by suffering - and I can only understand that as being not only that he completed his life in his passion, but that he was changed in every encounter with sinful humans, that he suffered, not simply on the cross. And the witness in Hebrew Scripture is about God's relationship Abraham and his descendants, a relationship in which God is changed. Now I understand that there is paradox here, for we also affirm that God's nature does not change, that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But God's nature is love and love involves an openness, a vulnerability to the other, and, I think, that means a willingness to be changed.

  6. Fr. Weir,

    I believe that the heresy is called "Open View Theology." Here is a good review.

  7. The problem, as I see it, with our attempts to nail down a proper theology is that we sometimes step over the line and try to nail down God. I am willing to live with the paradox of a God who is unchanging in character but who enters into a relationship of such intimacy with us that it seems that God would be changed in some way. Could I be wrong about this? Of course - and I am because I cannot comprhend God without error.

    One of my friends is a rabbi told me that he thinks we Christians make a lot more of God's omniscience than Jews do. Could God know everything that is going to happen? Of course, but perhaps God chooses not to know and to enjoy the surprises.

    I want to recall where this thread started: not with the question of whether God changes, but with the question of whether or not we Christians can be transformed by our encounters with strangers, ane esp. with strangers who do not profess the Christian faith. My point has been that every real relationship involves the possibility of change.