Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Hospitable Places

I liked this passage from an essay in the June 2006 Pro Rege (PDF; h/t: prosthesis); the subject is Christian (and in particular Reformed) education:

Second, I am called to create hospitable space. As teachers and administrators, we are always serving as hosts. To host is to make room for another to be at home; or, as the writers to the Hebrews puts it, "do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it." How do our schools look when they become hospitable places?

First, it is not we as teachers and administrators who are serving as hosts; rather, it is our schools that are serving as hosts. Therefore, inherent in Christian education is the process of teaching our students how Christian hospitality looks. Our classrooms are both places that are hospitable and places where hospitality is learned. Our students must come to understand how generous Reformedness looks. They need to see that every new person they meet might be an angel whom they are called to entertain; the new person may come bearing gifts that will stretch them so that they can grow as children of God.

More and more I have begun to think that a serious flaw in modern ethics, particularly compared with ancient ethics (compared to which it often comes off quite stellar) is the loss of hospitality as a central virtue; and one of the major flaws of much Christian ethics today, formally and informally practiced, is a loss of the principle of theoxeny, one form of which is that found in the verse from Hebrews noted above.

The author, Stanley Hielema, has a poignant story about a girl, Catholic in background, who found it hard to grow at Dordt as a Christian because of the way she, as a Catholic, was treated; and draws, I think, the right conclusion from it. If the Calvinists at Dordt were doing what they were called to do, such people should find (perhaps to their amazement) that it's easier to grow as a Christian among these Calvinists than elsewhere, even coming to it from a very different background. And this principle is generalizable to every church and denomination. It is a principle that condemns most of us rather spectacularly; but it is a principle that we all need to face squarely.

Of course, the same goes for non-Christians, as well; for while they may not be called to precisely the same hospitality, are clearly called to some kind of hospitality. People generally need to make sure that they are not acting in such a way as to make their position inhospitable for people who are sincerely looking for the truth, whatever their background (and no matter how kooky or wrong we may think it). After all, even if the sincere pursuit of truth isn't something we all have in common, it should be. And as we are all strangers on that road, trying to reach home, we should be as hospitable to our fellow-seekers as we would wish them to be to us, were our positions reversed.

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