At the Boundary of Holy and Unclean: Monsterous Hospitality

Last week I shared a story from the prison, about a paradoxical object created when someone had thrown up on a bible. The book was simultaneously holy and unclean, too unclean to be used or touched, and too holy a book to be thrown into the trash.

As I noted in that post, my book Unclean is an exploration of the psychology of the holy and unclean and the tensions that are found at the boundary.

For example, since Halloween is coming up, I explore the topic of monsters in Unclean.

One of the things we see with monsters is hybridization. Many monsters are mixtures, say, half human and half animal. When this mixing is illicit and transgressive--bringing holy and unclean into contact--a monster is created.

And once a monster is created an explusive psychology is set into motion. We expel monsters from community.

All this creates a quandary for the missional community aiming to extend hospitality to the unclean, the way Jesus welcomed tax collectors and prostitutes to table fellowship. In the eyes of the religious leaders Jesus' hospitality was monstrous as it brought the clean into contact with the unclean. Jesus' table fellowship with notorious sinners was the most scandalous part of his practice.

And the point I'd like to highlight here are the psychological tensions and paradoxes that have to be attended to and managed in the act of hospitality. Hospitality isn't intuitive and easy. Hospitality can be troubling, paradoxical, scary and strange. And these psychological tensions cause churches to turn away from extending welcome to the outcasts and the unclean.

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