First off, it was real delight and honor to spend time presenting, eating, and talking with Walter Brueggemann. Walter is delightful. It's always a bit scary to meet someone you idolize. A lot of famous people tend to be chilly and narcissistic when you meet them in person. Not Walter. He was warm, quick to laugh, and interested in you.
It was also wonderful to reconnect with our old friend, the artist Ro Diaz, and make new friends like singer/song-writer Caryl Paker and her husband Scott.
Finally, we loved getting to know Ryan and Jessica Woods.
Thanks to Mark Love and his graduate program in Missional Leadership at Rochester College for bringing us all together.
I thought I use a few posts this week to share some personal highlights. Let's start with my presentations.
The first presentation I made was a summary of Unclean. The second talk was an attempt to share some things I've been thinking about after the publication of Unclean. Specifically, I've been preoccupied with two different sorts questions.
First, how are we to acquire what Miroslav Volf calls "the will to embrace"? How do we cultivate the deep affectional instincts that promote lives of welcome and hospitality?
Second, Unclean is pretty hard on the holiness/purity impulse in the life of the church. But isn't holiness necessary for the life of the church? Aren't there times when we need to preserve the moral integrity of the faith community? And if this is so, how are we to keep these commitments to holiness (which might even involve church discipline) from trumping the call to radical hospitality? How do we keep a commitment to holiness without allowing "sacrifice" to trump "mercy"?
I'll talk today about the first set of questions and turn to the second set in tomorrow's post.
Regarding the first questions--How can we cultivate the will to embrace?--I introduced the audience to the Little Way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I suggested that one place where we can start working on the will to embrace is in the practice of what I called "little hospitality" (explicitly borrowing from Thérèse's Little Way).
As Thérèse talks about in Story of a Soul, we don't have to wait for heroic moments to practice being the Good Samaritan or engaging in enemy-love. We can do these things every single day. Here is Thérèse describing how we can practice "the office of the Good Samaritan" in how we interact with those we live or work with (for herself Thérèse is talking about the sisters she lived with in the convent):
I have noticed (and this is very natural) that the most saintly Sisters are the most loved. We seek their company; we render them services without their asking; finally, these souls so capable of bearing the lack of respect and consideration of others see themselves surrounded with everyone's affection...Little hospitality is following this sort of path. Little hospitality is seeking out "wounded souls"--the people at church or at work who are socially inept, lacking in manners, annoying or touchy--and carrying out the office of Good Samaritan in their regard.
On the other hand, imperfect souls are not sought out. No doubt we remain within the limits of religious politeness in their regard, but we generally avoid them, fearing lest we say something which isn't too amiable. When I speak of imperfect souls, I don't want to speak of spiritual imperfections since most holy souls will be perfect in heaven; but I want to speak of a lack of judgment, good manners, touchiness in certain characters; all these things which don't make life agreeable. I know very well that these moral infirmities are chronic, that there is no hope of a cure, but I also know that my Mother would not cease to take care of me, to try to console me, if I remained sick all my life. This is the conclusion I draw from this: I must seek out in recreation, on free days, the company of Sisters who are the least agreeable to me in order to carry out with regard to these wounded souls the office of the Good Samaritan. A word, an amiable smile, often suffice to make a sad soul bloom...I want to be friendly with everybody (and especially with the least amiable Sisters) to give joy to Jesus.
A similar thing goes for enemy-love, obeying Jesus's command to love one's enemies. How can we work on this today at church or tomorrow at work? Thérèse's suggestion:
No doubt, we don't have any enemies in Carmel [the convent where Thérèse lived], but there are feelings. One feels attracted to this Sister, whereas with regard to another, one would make a long detour in order to avoid meeting her. And so, without knowing it, she becomes the subject of persecution. Well, Jesus is telling me that it is this Sister who must be loved...Little hospitality is sensitive to the ways our detours around annoying people become forms of persecution. Thus, the practice of enemy-love in little hospitality is refusing to take these detours, seeking out these people with actions of welcome and hospitality.
In sum, the practicing of little hospitality is a spiritual discipline that cultivates within us the will to embrace. And given that these practices are "little" they can be practiced at any time and in any situation. Just as you might strive to "pray without ceasing" you can also strive to "practice welcome--little hospitality--without ceasing."
So that is my recommendation in light of Unclean. If you want to cultivate the will to embrace practice little hospitality.
Wake up each day. Identify someone in your life. And begin.