Eccentric Christianity: Part 3, Welcoming God in the Stranger

In the last post we discussed the eccentricity of God as a way to understand the Otherness and transcendence of God and how when God is experienced as being "outside" the boundaries of current social, political, economic and cultural arrangements this creates the imaginative capacity for prophetic utterance.

In this post I want to discuss how the eccentricity of God helps us envision something else: hospitality and welcoming God in the stranger.

Welcoming God in the stranger has been such a huge theme over the last ten years I don't know if I need to review that idea here. I simply want show how the notion of eccentricity nicely informs our theology of hospitality.

The insight should be obvious. If God is always coming to us from outside the boundaries of the faith community then God is always approaching us as the stranger. Strangers, by definition, are eccentric. In all the shades of meaning. Strangers are different from us. Strangers are on the edges. At the margins. Outside the boundaries and borders. Strangers are Them rather than Us.

Thus, the welcoming of the stranger is an eccentric encounter.

Consequently, a hospitable community will be eccentrically oriented, moving out from the center toward the edges and then past the boundaries to the area "outside" the faith community.

We encounter Jesus eccentrically, going to find him "outside the gates."

A missional community is an eccentric community, a community facing outward toward the stranger rather than inward upon themselves.

The eccentric, hospitable and missional community is not incurvatus in se--curved inward upon themselves--but is, rather, excurvatus ex se, curved outward in welcome to others.

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2 thoughts on “Eccentric Christianity: Part 3, Welcoming God in the Stranger”

  1. I wonder if this excellent idea of eccentricity is only half of what's happening in it. If so, I think the other half would be contained in the idea of "centers". The sun for instance, serves as a center in our galaxy and so we enjoy the resulting orbit and seasons and such. Sometimes though, centers are invisible; some biologists I know would argue that cells showcase such centers as they can identify all of its "componentry" but for the center.

    The work of "centers" seems to be about integration: if a centered organism can't integrate the otherness about it, it will dis-integrate.

    So maybe there's a correlation between the strength of center and strength of eccentricity. Those individuals or groups that drive toward homogenaity in the pursuit of one-ness, and are thus less eccentric, also have weaker centers that can't integrate otherness. Those that pursue one-ness by means of "unities" (dynamic systems made of diverse entities sharing centers- like cells for instance) on the other hand, demonstrate stronger centers as they have more capacity for otherness without disintegrating.

    If this is right, what is it to develop stronger centers?

  2. I think the eccentricity of God is a pretty key idea, though almost never talked about. Thanks for posting about it.

    I've been thinking lately about the word "alterity", as used by Volf when he said "Guided by the indestructible love which makes space in the self for others in their alterity, which invites the others who have transgressed to return, which creates hospitable conditions for their confession, and rejoices over their presence, the father keeps re-configuring the order without destroying it so as to maintain it as an order of embrace rather than exclusion." (Exclusion and Embrace, p. 165). I really love his take on the story of the prodigal. In any case, he seems to be approaching the eccentricity/alterity from the other side of how we are to God.

    And then I wondered, does the fact that Christians are striving to be Christlike and (human nature being what it is) tend to think of themselves as successful in this, mean that we are not likely to consider ourselves different from God?

    If so, perhaps the tendency is to think of those who are different, especially when the difference relates to moral and social codes, as being opposite of [us and God], and therefore bad, instead of opening our arms and hearts to them as God opened his arms and heart to us....

    Still have to ponder this some more, but welcome any thoughts you or other readers have to contribute.

    Warm regards,

    rob g

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