Our son has been one of my most persistent, if aggravating, teachers all of his 24-plus years.
Some of what I’ve learned from him has been quite immediate. Much has been time-released - like when what happened 17 years ago makes new and exciting sense to me today.
Brian’s flash-point temper boiled over one evening when he was 7. His tantrum brought loud cries, torrential tears, plus flailing arms and legs.
Finally, the only way I could keep him from hurting himself (and me) was to embrace him and hold him tight to my body. Either he or I would collapse from exhaustion. Fortunately he gave out first.
His sobs became whimpers as he fell limp into my arms.
That memory was nearly forgotten until recent months as I began to think in a new way about how God has to deal with us sometimes. I call that new way God’s Radical Hospitality.
God is always ready to act in ways that seem extreme, or radical, to us if those ways will wake us up to how eager God is to welcome us home when we’ve been acting stupidly.
But “radical” also has an even more important meaning. Radix, you might recall, means “root.” God’s Hospitality is very radical, for it’s rooted in God’s deep-down desire to see every human person live a blessed and abundant life.
We can’t have that kind of life when we’re fighting against ourselves and against others.
“In God’s house are many rooms. …” Jesus spoke these words to his disciples as he prepared them for his death. They are also helpful words when we look at the countless things, often trivial things, that divide people within the Christian community.
We use silly, divisive, usually hurtful labels to separate ourselves from those with whom we cannot agree.
“Leave my house and go back where you came from!” We take foolish refuge in thinking we’re safer when we can shout our disagreements across the fence from different houses.
Living in the same house as our “enemies” certainly isn’t our idea of a good way to live! But along comes the embrace of God’s Radical Hospitality to remind us: We live in the same house, God’s house, even when we choose to live in different rooms.
What can we do with a God who does that to us? For one thing, we can give thanks that God’s Hospitality is so radical, so deep, that we can be eagerly welcomed by God even when we cannot welcome each other - or be civil to each other.
But watch out! Sometimes that radical desire means God is willing to embrace us, to hold us tight until we stop fighting ourselves or others long enough to consider how loved we really are. God’s Radical Hospitality provides us with a “safe place” where we know we are loved enough, as we are, to risk changing into the people God knows we can be.
I grieve a good deal over what passes for Christian behavior in our society today. It’s pathetic how uncivil, how unthinking we can be when responding to Christians with whom we have any kind of disagreement.
The only thing “radical” about our treatment of one another is the extremes to which we will go to degrade each other in the name of our faith. Not to mention how we can treat those outside the church (though not outside God’s grace-full welcome and embrace).
God’s Radical Hospitality is a metaphorical way I use to remind myself we all live within the same welcoming and transforming embrace. Even when, especially when, we refuse to offer that same embrace to each other.
In a famous sermon titled “Catholic Spirit,” John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, offered a gesture of radical hospitality I dare to expand on: “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand …” and let us explore these rooms together, secure in the knowledge that God’s Radical Hospitality has invited us to be here together.
As I explore this holy hospitality in future columns, I’m eager to dialogue with people who live in different rooms from me, from other people. Friends, we all live in the same house! There is room for us all to explore, experience and act out God’s Radical Hospitality in our common and specific searches for truth. So let’s get on with it!