What if the most powerful Gospel witness you could possibly have started with opening your door and sharing your beans and rice?
Rosaria Butterfield’s latest book, The Gospel Comes with a Housekey: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World, could be best described as bracing, like splashing cool water on our faces when we want to wake up and get down to business. It’s a clarion call to remember who we are and what we should be about as followers of Christ: Christian hospitality.
Hospitality is not a performance, she reminds us. It’s not so much “doing” as “being”–we don’t “do hospitality”; rather, we are hospitable people. Hospitality is a lifestyle, not an event. Hospitality is not a hobby for people who like entertaining. It is a Gospel issue.
By refusing to engage in hospitality and making our homes “our castles,” we are neglecting the most strategic and powerful environment for sharing the Gospel that we currently have in a culture awash in loneliness.
Rosaria does not pull any punches: “Our lack of Christian hospitality is a violent form of neglect of [people’s] souls” (p. 71). Conversely, “Practicing radically ordinary hospitality is [our] street credibility with [our] post-Christian neighbors” (p. 40).
Our credibility with our post-Christian neighbors is linked with our credibility with our immigrant neighbors (I recently wrote about this), for “Christians have a moral responsibility to be good stewards, and this includes stewarding…the worldwide refugee crisis. The world is watching–and rightly so. And our lack of visible and genuine hospitality–practiced both inside our community and outside–is speaking louder than words right now” (p. 95).
I love this perspective. It goes against the Martha Stewart misconception of what hospitality means (by the way, I have nothing against elaborate themed centerpieces and gourmet hors d’oeurves if that’s your jam…but remember that it’s the icing and hospitality is the cake). Rosaria invites us into her everyday life (my favorite chapter is called “The Daily Grind”) to show us how simple and unglamorous hospitality can be, yet how important it is.
Rosaria’s own staples are beans and rice, sometimes chicken, and coffee. If you’re over 50, you’re guaranteed a chair with a back when you come to eat at her house–others need to fend for themselves. The appearance of her home is not paramount, because: “People will die of chronic loneliness sooner than they will cat hair in the soup” (p. 111).
What if “someone is spared another spiral binge of pornography because he is instead playing Connect Four with you or walking the dogs or jumping on the trampoline”? (Overconsumption in media in general is a common struggle for immigrants, especially in the winter when many feel even more isolated and depressed than usual.)
What if “someone is spared the fear and darkness of depression because…her place at the table is needed and necessary and relied upon” (p. 111). (Immigrants have high rates of depression which is caused by culture shock in general, but often loneliness in particular.)
What if your friendship provided a place of refuge for immigrants and locals? “Godly community is a sweet balm of safety. It gives us a place and a season where we are safe with ourselves and safe with others” (p. 111).
Creating a place of refuge involves “small things that you may take for granted.” Dog walking. Trampoline jumping. Doing math homework. Couch sitting. Coffee drinking. Doing these things is powerful for the very reason that they are mundane so they happen often. And small connections over time is the way to build commonality and true, authentic friendship with anyone, especially someone from another culture.
We may not agree with every word Rosaria says. We may not be able or willing to live our lives exactly as she lives hers. That’s okay (she’s not asking us to). But let’s allow ourselves to be challenged and encouraged by her clear-eyed application of Scripture, her bold exhortations and her willingness to pull back the curtain to share real life moments of how her family is engaged in “radically ordinary hospitality.”
And let’s prayerfully consider: “What would it look like for me to engage in radically ordinary hospitality in 2019?”