Sunday, September 06, 2015

Trading Places--From Host To Guest: Radical Hospitality Is About More Than Welcome, or How Jesus Was Reminded What God's Love Looks Like

In a time, again, of broken communities and lives creating widespread refugees and those without houses or places of their own, when great gaps of inequality are growing wider, when mercy is seen as weakness, we need reminded, as Jesus did once, that offering radical hospitality is more than having a big fancy welcome mat and sign out front of your church, your home, your country. It is about more than providing for strangers. More than what the photo above, as nice as it is, says. It is, at heart, about what God is about---trading places, moving from places of privilege to oppression, becoming a guest in your own world, the way in the biblical story God becomes a refugee from Heaven and becomes a poor helpless infant without a home whose family is forced to leave their country to go to another one. 

When our small church decided in 2007 to move across the street into a vacant space three times as big, and when in 2011 to move again a half mile away into another space three times bigger again, and also at the same time to transform a block of rundown properties into a community garden, we did it so we could become more hospitable to the community around us and so we could help our community become more hospitable itself. We didn’t do it so we could become bigger; in fact we became smaller. But we did it so the heart of the community could grow bigger, and to save lives. (speaking of which, It is wonderful to celebrate this week the news that in the 8 years since we made that missional move that the life expectancy gap in our zip code has been reduced from almost 14 years to 10.7 years, between us and the highest life expectancy zipcode on the other side of Tulsa; still outrageous, but shows that radical hospitality and partnerships can indeed save lives.)

We did it in a radical hospitable way, by becoming a guest in our own place. We took down the signs that we used to have up that labeled our space as a church. This leads many of those who then come into the community center or gardens we created---to use the health clinic or get food, clothes, to use the computers they don’t have at home, to get free books, to watch television, to get cool in the summer or warm in the winter, to make art, to attend a community meeting, to party---to often not know that a church worships at times in that space too, or that a church started it all. That is fine with us.

We connect with people first, and as our relationship grows, so does our knowledge about one another; then, if one is needed, an invitation grows from that to serve with us, to party with us, to learn with us, and to worship with us, right around the same tables or on the same sofas, or at the same garden deck and tables, as we use for all our other gatherings.

Becoming a guest in our own place. This mantra grew for us from two related sources.

One is the powerful spiritual connection to place, to the scandal of the particular, to an ecological truth that we are all guests of this place we call our home. Others prepared our place for us; others will tend it after us. We do not so much own what the law says we own as we are owned by this place that calls us into being and puts us into mission to make it a more loving just hospitable place in our time.

We first understood this in our own yards and homes. When we have a healthy place, the soil, the insects, the birds, the animals that come and go through our places, all remind us that fences and buildings and lot lines do not define our place. What we set down amidst the place is what is transient. We are the guests. Nature’s corridor for all that is seen, and most often unseen, is the permanent. Our church’s mission is to create and protect and make visible such corridors for the healing of the land, the people, and the community---all of which here in the 74126 has been damaged by the intersections themselves of racism, environmental neglect, classism, greed and fear.

It is no wonder, in an acknowledgment of this source of our radical hospitality, that our very first act of transformation when we bought an abandoned church  building for the latest incarnation of the community center was to have a community art day and to paint over boarded up windows with a part of a Wendell Berry poem used as a reading in the Singing the Living Tradition hymnal: “the abundance of this place” is painted on one board; “the songs of its people and its birds, will be health and wisdom and indwelling light” is painted on another.

The other source is connected to the two main names we are known by: A Third Place, and The Welcome Table. Booth are grounded in our mission of radical hospitality.

Our community center was first known as A Third Place, and the foundation we created is now called that. It comes from the global movement to reclaim free common spaces where people who are different can meet to make a difference. The first place is your home; the second place is your work or church or friends or affinity group where you are with people who share common values or experiences with you. But we need the “third places/spaces” where, as the bumper sticker on our front door says, “the most radical thing we can do is to introduce people to one another.” Our mission is to create such third places, especially in the places and with the people where others do not wish to go, or to hang out with, and where there has been a decimation of gathering places.

We now call our community center, our gardenpark and orchard, and our church The Welcome Table. We commission people to go create welcome tables in their lives and neighborhoods. The other boarded up windows in front of our building are now painted with signs that also come from our hymnal, that say “We’re gonna sit at the welcome table” and “All kinds of people”. Our source for this is the radical hospitable way of Jesus, who time and time again creates in a variety of ways welcome where welcome has been denied. From birth to death, from manger to cross, with the despised, the sick, the powerful, the oppressed, making a welcome space and offering all the bread of life and the spirit of the Beloved. Whether in a home, on the road, by the sea, in synagogue, making visible what the Empire sought to hide: God’s radical love for all.

Jesus himself will fail at hospitality. He forgets he is a guest too. The power of the Empire’s way of hospitality based on influence and honor is ever-present and corruptive. In the biblical reading for today in the revised common lectionary used by many churches like ours, we encounter this story, which is itself like Jesus encountering the woman; we often try to turn away from the story and what it means. 

While travelling as a guest himself in her land, with the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), he acts more like a racist, sexist bouncer outside a nightclub than the one who turned toward all those whom others would not touch. But though we fail at hospitality, we are still welcomed back by the hospitality of others, even especially those we have turned away. So it was with that desperate mother seeking healing for her daughter. She did not take her emotional slap in the face and turn away, but became the true teacher and the healer, the true host,  and reminded Jesus in word and deed of the kind of God of radical abundance he himself made room for within himself and sought to share with others.

The purpose of hospitality is for the mutual transformation of ourselves, for the transformation of the world into one Welcome Table. We can only do so by turning toward and responding to the inhospitable within ourselves and within our communities. Wherever we do not wish to go we need to go. Whomever we do not wish to hang out with we need to hang out with. Only by becoming guests, do we discover our true place, and from it our true mission. 

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Risking Theology

Weaving together the web and issues of theological touchstones; each is embedded in one another. Imagine it as a sphere not a chart. Imagine these as points of departure, as collections of questions more than, or not only, of responses and answers. They help us to see and frame life. They are not the only lens. 
theology=study of God, and the Image of God
cosmology=study of Creation/Universe/Nature
theological anthropology: study of humanity
hamartiology: study of evil, suffering
soteriology: study of healing, salvation
Christology: study of a particular form of soteriology, views of Jesus as/and The Christ
missiology: study of the mission of lives and communities growing from soteriology
ecclesiology: study of the church, a product of missiology
eschatology: the vision of the ends, be it of beloved community, of death and life eternal in God. 
This is my beginning lecture to supervised ministry students in first semester of their field work. It is about applying "the theological map" to the practice of ministry. Our text for these beginning semesters is Laurie Green's Let's Do Theology, so there is some reference to that, and in subsequent lectures I bounce off of Green's work. But here it is about how constructive theology illuminates the practices of ministry, and vice versa. 
As a foundation for ways that I will be helping you "connect the dots" of your theological reflection on your ministry this year is to refer back often to the "theological map" of constructive or systematic theology which you got a glimpse into during your first theological courses. It is a way of reading the world and particular conflicts. It seeks to lift up and make visible the theological default modes we operate with, and which others are often operating out of, or in rejection to. So it is good to take an early break to refresh about the map and how it shows theology at work in the small and large ways.
Supervised ministry is a course that will enable you to put into practice and further reflection the theological learnings from your introduction to theological work from the first year of seminary, and any other theological courses since then. Among the many lens we will look at, and look through, this semester, this one lens of "the map" is one of the ones that will grow and develop your ministerial skills and will be revisited often during your theological education. 
Professor Joe Bessler of Phillips Seminary is of course noted for the use of the map and its language to illuminate various ways theology is used. I was fortunate in my studies to have 27 credit hours studying with Prof. Bessler, and so whatever shortcomings there are in this synopsis they are mine, and whatever is useful in it is credited to his thought. 
In short, specific particular issues in church and world and within ourselves, and tension points and questions that come up in ministerial settings can be “diagnosed” by thinking about them as points on the theological “roadmap” and considering ways they are connected to other points on the map. 
How people in a given situation may differ or employ the imago Dei will affect how they “read” and “interpret” and “respond” differently in the same situations. It is good at this point in the semester to remember the learnings you have gleaned up to this point in seminary education and how to use them, rethink them, when brought to bear in practice so reflect back to your entry level theological. By the way, the way the map works, is that the imago Dei is also a part of this web of touchstones, and so issues and reflections of any of the map sites, such as evil and suffering, or human nature, nature itself, of the church responding to suffering, or of ethical issues, or conflicts over church and its mission and what it should focus on, or issues of the ends and the end, of heaven and hell, all the eschatological issues, all of these as we work in them will also often affect and change ours and others Imago Dei. 
The issues of church life that we focus on particularly in this course, and there are legion of them, fall under the point on the map called ecclesiology and missiology (the being and the mission of the church; or the mission that calls the church into being) and they are often connected back to what we find salvific, to soteriology and Christology views. When there are differences of soteriology (what brings healing) between people, for example, there will often be differences in how churches are seen by different people. Same for how they view Jesus as the Christ.  
And so dealing with ecclesial issues this semester, what the church should be doing and how, what ministry is, and how we are as ministers, on a variety of issues, is often more about other theological issues than just the issue at hand. As many of you have noted already, you understand that there are systems at work. 
Keep in mind that what some find salvific is connected to what they often see as the "major wrong” in the world, especially in what they see as where suffering is, to how we view evil and sin, and "what needs saving." Classic case is those who see sin mostly as a personal issue, or those who see it mostly as a social issue. But our understandings then of that point on the map called hamartiology, of sin and suffering and evil, and what we find amiss and in need of salvation, is itself connected to our views of human nature and its essence and goals, to what is called theological anthropology; this in turn is connected to our view of Nature and Creation itself, out of which humanity comes and is connected, and how humanity is seen as part of the universe and life itself, which of course is connected with our images and ways of describing and understanding God. Which brings us back to the Imago Dei. 
And on the other side of the ecclesial point on the theological map, the issues of how we see and do and be the church affect and are connected to outcomes of lives of faithfulness and grace and praxis and ethics, all of which contributes to one's overall eschatological understanding, to what we picture as beloved ultimate community, toward the ends or aims or end of life in God. 
So there you have the sphere of the theological map (more sphere than linear).
All questions, conflicts, issues on any of the theological map points, or stations or doctrinal points, are shaped by how we view and see and experience the other points, and how we respond to the issues at any one constructive theological point will have a bearing on the others in the web or weave of the fabric of our theological world. 
When there is a specific issue "within" the church it often has its deeper roots "without" with how different understandings of salvation, christology, or missiology are viewed; often differences "within" church mask differences of other theological stations and responses. Conversely, how we resolve issues within the church and in the church's relationship with the world has effects in other theological ways. Be attuned, again, as you encounter questions, issues, conflicts (healthy or not) to how the theological map might be running throughout even though it is not at all part of the explicit issue at hand. In this way this year can be seen as another continuous step in connecting the dots of theology and of your own ministerial formation and theological reflection.
And as we will be seeing throughout the semester by reflecting out of Green's text, Let's Do Theology, and out of our practices of ministry, there are many other models and ways of engaging in this important work of reflection. Reflection itself is often a word that can come with baggage, I might add; it has a passive air about it, as something that comes received if we just still our minds and meditate on it; there is some truth to this of course, and mindfulness is key in discernment. But I will end by saying that doing theology, applying different lens and being conversant in their use, is also about risk. It is, as Greene says, an activity. I would say in this age it is a risky activity, and one we should take and help others risk taking too. ype your summary here Type rest of the post here