Thursday, October 30, 2008


A (Very Brief) Introduction to Christian Hospitality

One of the creative aspects of Christian theology is learning the ways that our Jesus stories subvert the stories that the rest of the world is accustomed to telling. When I talk with people about my work, I nearly always use the phrase "Christian hospitality" instead of simply saying "hospitality." When we talk about the subject, there are two normal stories that our alternative version seeks to subvert and replace.

When people hear this word, "hospitality," they often think of the "Southern" version. This is usually understood as the practice of pretending to like people you really find annoying or distasteful, and pretending never to be inconvenienced by even the most outlandish impositions. It has a built-in "martyr complex," in which the most successful (or perhaps godly) host is the one who can suffer the greatest inconveniences with the most convincing show of warmth. This is often called mistakenly called "grace."

The other story is related to the "hospitality industry": hotels, restaurants, and related businesses that cater to traveling businesspersons. Good hospitality in these terms is associated with anticipating and fulfilling the desires of clients and customers, who are often called "guests." While these stories will in some way echo the soundings of the Christian hospitality tradition, they are different stories altogether.

Christian hospitality starts with a story about persons, relationships and space. Like all Christian stories, it starts with the Christian God taking loving initiative in the world. In the act of Creation, God made a space brimming with life in amazingly diverse forms. He filled the space with all manner of flora and fauna, and placed people in that space - people who somehow looked like a God who can't really look like anything - in order to live in loving relationship with them. In ancient Israel, the Law required the people to make allowance for strangers, widows and orphans. The prophets railed against those who betrayed the Lord by failing those who could not help themselves. Israel was in a sense meant to be both a physical as well as a cultic/religious space in which outsiders of all kinds could be cared for and taught to worship and live with the true God. This is the same God who made reconciling space and the possibility of new relationship for us by the execution and raising of Jesus Christ, and presents that reality to us continually through the liturgical life of the Church.

This is just a summary, but the point is this: Christian hospitality is the practice of creating safe, healing space for others by which and in which they are invited to move into the abundant, beautiful life that Jesus has for them. It is both a story, and a set of diverse practices grounded in the reality that God has made safe, reconciling space for all of us. It looks like throwing parties, a quiet chat in the coffee house, a beer at the kitchen table, a place to stay for the night, an unexpected phone call: all of these things that are about sharing life and creating space, both physical and relational, in which other people are valued and loved. This is something distinct from being "polite," or doing the expected thing, or anticipating desires. These things can fit into the matrix, but they are not the substance, and they are not central.

What do you think of when you hear the word "hospitality"? What are some memorable ways you've received hospitality from others, or shown it to them?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


As some of you will recall, one major and public aspect of my mission at Georgetown College is to help the community enrich it's corporate prayer life by engaging the Daily Office. Each weekday at 4:30, I walk to the student lounge below the chapel to lead evening prayers.

I'd decided that using actual prayer books could be needlessly complicated in a context where regular public prayers are an odd occurrence, so I adapted the Office readings from Celebrating Common Prayer, an abbreviated Anglican Franciscan Office. The office begins with an opening sentence from Scripture that introduces a few moments of silent reflection in the Lord's presence. With the invitatory, we invite the Lord to enable us to speak his praises:
Lord, open our lips
And our mouth shall proclaim your praise
Then we say the Phos Hilaron together. This is the oldest hymn in continual use in the Christian Church, and I used the 1979 BCP version. Chris Tomlin has done an excellent interpretation as well, which we'll use from time to time when I can snag a guitarist.

Then we continue our praises by offering a Psalm, spoken in unison.

This is followed by an Old Testament Canticle, or song. We often say this antiphonally. Traditionally it would be chanted, but hey, I want people to come back. This selection varies according to the day of the week, and I've got it in a 5-day cycle. This is followed by a short reading of Scripture that I invite students to hear rather than read, in a meditative fashion. Then we spend several minutes in silent and spoken intercessory prayer for the campus community, Christ's Church, our own needs, and those of the world God loves.

This is always followed by the Song of Mary (Magnificat), often spoken in unison. We conclude with the prayer the Lord taught us, and by giving thanks to God.

There are a few students who regularly attend prayers, and their friendship and participation is a great encouragement. I know it will take a long time to develop a culture of prayer and meditating on the Scriptures here, but I'm ready. I've also been encouraged by the friendships the Lord has given me with a number of students; I was afraid I'd be too isolated back here in my cubicle with my cataloging, but that's not been the case at all.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Politics: Please, for the Love of God, just be Good

My colleague, Fr. Thomas McKenzie, has offered a videoblog entry titled, "An Appeal to My Fellow Christians." He invites believers to vote their consciences (and presumably, not vote if their consciences so dictate), and stop demonizing people who disagree with them. Since, after all, we're called upon to love one another. If you find yourself getting a little big excited about politics lately, this is a must-listen.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Stuff I Did Today

Opened the library
Cataloged and processed 5 audiobooks (this takes an amazing amount of time)
Cataloged, processed, and notified profs upon the arrival of 6 documentary DVDs
Attended a guest lecture in sociology, and had lunch with that department
Waited to assist students at the Reference Desk
Taught the use of NexisLexis to a student for speech class research

Time to go home soon.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Introduction to Anglican Christianity 1.3

Part III: The Anglican Communion

Despite my fancy rhetoric, the limited structures of Anglicanism cannot be seen just as a slightly reformed version of the Roman Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not equivalent to the Pope, and the Anglican hierarchy is just a little more flat. Remember that I said earlier, that bishops are figures of unity. In the ancient world, for example, the Church at Carthage could be said to be in communion with the Church at Alexandria only if their bishops recognize the validity of each others' episcopal ministries; that is, they understand one another to to be properly ordained and consecrated as bishops, and that they both teach the Catholic faith as witnessed in the Bible and the Creeds.

Bishops function as shepherds and teachers of the Faith in the context of their wider college of bishops, united under an Archbishop, Metropolitan, or Patriarch. The five ancient Patriarchates were located in the cities of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. Bishops who had departed from the Faith might be deposed and replaced by an orthodox bishop, but usually not without a fight, a colorful trial, and a banishing.

The point is, in the ancient churches, in Anglicanism and (I believe) in Orthodoxy, a bishop is a bishop is a bishop. The bishop is the chief shepherd of his diocese, and his priests function there by his will and in his name. The college of bishops might depose a bishop as a heretic or correct him in a council, but outside of that, bishops function in a flat organization, and the episcopacy is a ministry that they share together. This is why Anglican bishops outside of the Church of England don't swear obedience to the Archbishop of Canterbury; it would not be expected, nor asked for, nor in any way proper.

Wherever the British Empire planted a flag, the Church of England planted a mission. In many places, indigenous churches emerged, and were especially active in evangelism in the wake of decolonization: this is why the most representative Anglican today is a black woman living in the two-thirds world, even though the word itself used to mean "English person."

The Anglican Communion was established by default, when the first British colony gained independence (sometime around 1776, I think). I think you can guess when the other member churches were established. The Communion consists of 44 member churches across the world, each with its own bishops and system of canon law. There is no unified church law across the Communion, and there is no binding decision-making body. They do have the Bible, the Creeds, the Councils, and the 39 Articles of Religion (the principles of the English Reformation) - and some member churches hold them more loosely than others. Does the problem become apparent?

Next: Re-Alignment

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Introduction to Anglican Christianity 1.2

Part II: Anglican History, the Reformation, and the Struggle for Anglican Identity

I am occasionally asked how (in the hell) Anglicans can think of themselves as Catholics, rather than another stream (or splinter!) of protestantism. Here's a basic outline (yes, it's way simplistic):

Once upon a time, Christianity came to England. The Celtic church flourished.

Rome's claims for the supremacy of the papacy grew in scope, and over time the English church submitted to the secular power of the Bishop of Rome. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, English bishops started doing their homework and took a good dose of courage from a certain Father Martin Luther. And decided to mark a big "return to sender" on the papal supremacy package.

Make no mistake, the "Reformation" wasn't an organized, monolithic event. The rebellion against a corrupted papacy went to different extremes in different places, and reform in the teaching and practices of the Church went in very different directions, too. The English Reformation was heavily influenced by both Luther and Calvin, and Cranmer especially was sympathetic toward Luther.

(Don't forget the one thing they all managed to agree on was the necessity of executing Baptists. Ugh. I'm not saying it's right; I'm just saying y'all shouldn't kid yourselves about how awesome either the Romans or the Reformers were or were not.)

Anglican reformers had a lot of discussion about what God thinks monarchs are for, compared to what popes are for, that I find frankly embarrassing and very wrong. It happens.

Anyway, what you have at the end of the day is meant to be a Reformed Catholicism. The Church of England didn't throw out the apostolic succession and its order of ministry, nor run head-long into the rationalism that Geneva represented. It worked out a political compromise in support of an essentially conservative version of the Reformation. The nature of this political compromise sets us up even today for the problem of how the Anglican Church can accommodate people who see themselves as essentially Protestant, as well as those who understand themselves as Catholics (although it becomes harder for the latter group by the day).

And yes, I'm still calling for the reform of the institution of the papacy, along with a few hundred million other Christians. Remember that the Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian communion, but the the second and third largest, the Orthodox and the Anglicans, still think we have a bone to pick over that whole thing.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Introduction to Anglican Christianity 1.1

As some of you may recall, I started designing a parish-based course on Anglicanism last summer. I don't teach all of the sessions, but I thought I'd share my outline for them.

Part I: The Formation and Mission of Christ's Church

Missio Dei / the Mission of God

When Jesus ascended to the Father, to reign from that dimension where God lives and reigns (a.k.a. "Heaven") he left behind his band of followers to apprentice others to the Jesus way of living with God in the world, and invite them to be joined to His own Life through baptism. The Church is the new Humanity: a community of persons who are meant in their life together with God to demonstrate what it looks like "when God is in charge." Followers of Jesus have stories to tell about how God has saved the world - and saved them - in and through Jesus Christ. If we are faithful to this charge, our lives will have the transparency to demonstrate what it looks like when God heals, restores, and loves people.

Jesus calls the Church to continue his ministry of teaching, healing, meal sharing, and exorcism.

Divine Gifts

God created a physical world, and called it good. God continually affirms the goodness of creation by mediating his presence and power to his people through the Sacraments. The Church itself is offered as a gift to the world, a community in which people can find healing and an "abundant life" - the kind of life Jesus came to give. In this the Church actually becomes a vehicle of transformation as we learn to live with God. The Church is also gifted with particular orders of ministry, specific ways in which Christians serve the world and one another, and are invested with holy power for these purposes.

The Laity, or "people" of God, is the first order of ministry. We are called to engage spiritual disciplines in our life with God in the Church, and to teach the faith and guide others into the Christian way.

A deacon, or "servant," is a minister oriented to carrying for the poor in the name of Christ's Church, and to guide and empower the whole People of God in their service to the last, least, and left out. This order emerged in the middle of the first century, when Stephen and several others were set apart for service to the community's widows based upon the servants' reputation as being "full of the Spirit, and wisdom" (Acts 7). For this reason deacons are often called upon to serve in a ministry as teachers of the Faith.

The order of presbyter, also known as "priest" or "elder," is established to preside over each community's sacramental rites, to guide community members in their spiritual development, preach the Good News of God in Christ, and teach the Faith in its fullness.

The "local church" in place is typically understood as the collection of local congregations in a particular geographic area. A bishop is called to serve as a figure of unity, to teach the Faith, guard the flock of Christ from heresy, and to represent Christ as shepherd to the churches in his care. The bishops of the Catholic Church share this charge, and the unity of Christians with one another is bound up on the mutual recognition of episcopal ministries.

Next, Part II: The History of the Anglican Church, the Reformation, and the present Anglican identity crisis...