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Toward a Christian theology of hospitality to other religions on campus.

The need for hospitality

At the very root of the Christian tradition is the biblical model and mandate to offer welcome to and share hospitality with "strangers," those who are outside one's particular community or community of faith. In the Hebrew Scripture hospitality is underscored with classic stories, such as the welcoming of the three strangers by Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18), and with God's command to Israel to welcome the stranger and sojourner because the Israelites themselves were in those categories during their slavery in Egypt (e.g., Lev 19: 33-34). Hospitality in the New Testament includes the entire ministry of Jesus in word and deed in the canonical Gospels as well as the continual encouragement of the apostle Paul and other writers. Even though many Christian communities and individuals may have lost a firm perspective on that heritage of hospitality over the centuries, "hospitality is a way of life fundamental to the Christian identity." (1)

On today's college campus, there is a great need for Christians to rediscover and renew that heritage of hospitality. The pressures of religious pluralism on campus have the potential to divide students, faculty, and administrators. Students have the developmental need for safe places to explore their faith and other faith traditions. All people of faith, but particularly college-age Christians, who are questioning their inherited tradition and making it their own, have a need--and a rich opportunity--to see their faith heritage as a gift to be shared. Christians of all ages and circumstances have a moral mandate to be hospitable. Christians on campus and elsewhere have the calling to be a community that embodies the gospel message and lives its identity. Finally (although other reasons could be added), Christians on campus need to rediscover and renew their heritage of hospitality, because hospitality as a public act is different from students' common understanding of hospitality as intimacy, which actually excludes the stranger instead of welcoming. Each of these needs is further explained in the following paragraphs.

The pressures of religious pluralism on campus. Robert Nash, in his book Religious Pluralism in the Academy, sees a profound need for religious conversation in American universities: "My somewhat dramatic contention is that religious pluralism, if left unattended, is a phenomenon that in the future will threaten to divide students, faculty, and administrators in a way that makes all other campus divisions look tame by comparison." (2) Nash is concerned that campuses could be fragmented and Balkanized by religious groups if they do not have opportunities to come together for open dialogue in intentionally designated multifaith dialogue spaces. Without such attempts at understanding, he asserts, the result is continued triumphalism, suspicion of others, and unmitigated grief. (3)

Because institutions of higher education seem to have systematically defined diversity and pluralism in ways that exclude religion, Nash argues that colleges and universities ought to expand their understanding of pluralism "to include open, challenging, spiritually and educationally revitalizing conversations about genuine religious difference." He advocates "unbounded religious dialogue" by on- and off-campus religious groups with scholars, administrators, and students in the campus community in a carefully structured "moral conversation," which, unlike adversarial discourse, can offer a respectful structure for such critically important conversation. (4) His six moral principles, elaborated later in this essay, may or may not be the structure preferred by Christians in offering hospitality to people of other religious traditions, but his points underscore the need for hospitable conversation by Christians on campus that is in harmony with the roots of our heritage.

The developmental need to explore faith. Campus ministers and others who work with college students recognize that the college years are a critically important time to reexamine the faith of childhood and to reassemble a personally considered, critically examined, deeper faith that grows as the intellectual life of the student is also maturing. Often such growth in faith is quite painful as one has to let go of cherished, assumed childhood faith perspectives, because those perspectives no longer fit with new experiences and learnings.

Students need a safe place to ask critical questions, work through doubts to a deeper understanding of faith, and even firm up the appreciation of their faith heritage by comparing it to other traditions and talking with those who espouse them. A mentoring environment can provide such a safe place for students' religious imagination to tackle the big questions of faith.

Sharon Parks recently wrote an important work describing this process for young adults. As mentoring environments, campus ministries can grow in their role as important "communities of practice." (5) In this setting of hospitality, students can experience safe and inviting "hearthside" conversation that supports critical questioning and the search for new understanding. Conversations around food offer a welcoming and nourishing atmosphere for persons with different faith perspectives to be comfortable and authentic around one another. For some traditions with common roots, even worship time can be a time to celebrate, in spite of differences, the common connection with the mystery of God, a mystery larger than any of our differences and under which we all stand together.


Our human search for such places where life can be lived without fear and where community can be formed is the foundation for the insights on hospitality shared by Henri Nouwen in the middle section ("From Hostility to Hospitality") of his seminal reflections on reaching out to ourselves, others, and God. (6) Although Nash underscores that pluralistic dialogue can begin, if "unbounded," in the classroom or counseling office or coffee house, campus ministers find that campus ministry is an ideal place of hospitality where dialogue can happen about "what truly matters to students: their heartfelt search for religious and spiritual meaning." (7)

A gift to share: particularity. When students have an opportunity to share their "heartfelt search for religious and spiritual meaning," they are sharing part of their gift of particularity: talents, faith, joys and sorrows, and other life experiences that form the uniqueness of a person. Not only for college students but for all of us, our faith journey--including our current perspective on faith, doubts, questions, concerns, and related life experiences--is part of what we offer to others in conversation, dialogue, or friendship.

To view one's faith journey as a gift not only for oneself but also for others means that such a gift needs to be honored by the giver as well as by the receiver. Rather than apologizing or minimizing or even avoiding the particularity of our own faith journey, we will find common ground in any religious conversation or dialogue only by pursuing with one another the depths of that identity. (8) Only then can we be surprised by the grace of God in the faith-journey gifts of others. Indeed, when host and guest in hospitable dialogue share the promise that is within them, each brings new life to the other. (9)

In such sharing of faith and religious traditions, many students and campus ministers have found that they not only receive a gift from another tradition that enriches their own faith perspective but also that their own faith is strengthened rather than threatened by the experience.

Christian obligation. The need for Christian hospitality toward other religious traditions on campus also comes from the biblical mandate for Christians to be welcoming and hospitable people. The evangelists portray Jesus as embodying the welcoming realm of God in all of his words and actions. These writers underscore the command of Jesus to live out that same hospitality by welcoming the stranger (Mt 25:35), expanding the boundaries of those included in God's community (Mk 8:27-29), including the marginalized (Lk 15:1-10), and embracing a servant role to others (Jn 13:1-17). Paul encourages this posture frequently, especially in articulating the "fruits of the Spirit" (Gal 5:22-23).

These references are but a brief glimpse into the pervasive attitude of and expectation toward hospitality by followers of Jesus in the New Testament. Hospitality, especially to the stranger, is a metaphor for the moral life to which Christians are called. (10) Henri Nouwen affirms strongly that "it is possible for men and women and obligatory for Christians to offer an open and hospitable space where strangers can cast off their strangeness and become our fellow human beings." (11) The point for Christians is to live out of the posture of the Spirit-empowered grace they have received, to share with others the love and care of God that they have experienced.

A plausible community. In spite of human limitation and weakness--which underscores the need for the activity of God in Jesus Christ!--Christians are called to live in a community of faith that bears concrete witness to the new reality and activity of the Spirit among them. If Christians cannot practice what they proclaim, the world will not see the plausibility of faith. It is not that Christians should manufacture a contrived life for evangelistic purposes; a genuine Spirit-led community can be a social reality as that community is shaped by the story of Jesus. Lesslie Newbigin underscores this need passionately: "the only hermeneutic of the gospel is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it." The community of faith must live out that faith as a community of truth. (12)

As Christians offer hospitality to those of other religious traditions on campus, they embody an incarnated, plausible community of faith that lives out its Christ-shaped story and embodies the truth of that story.

Recovering a genuine Christian hospitality. In her book about recovering hospitality as a Christian tradition, Christine Pohl has given us a gift of seeing the biblical roots of hospitality, the riches of Christian hospitality in the first centuries, and a pathway to reconnecting our current communities to those early resources to help us live out our vocation of hospitality more faithfully. (13)

Parker Palmer cautions us to be careful how we define hospitality in contemporary communities of faith. When Christian communities picture themselves as "families" to attempt to embody what they believe to be hospitality, that image actually undermines the public life in the church in such a way that strangers feel excluded rather than included. Christian communities are called instead to practice the living presence of God, who in Christ bridged gaps, healed wounds, and surmounted obstacles in such a way that all--especially the stranger, the outcast, and the marginalized--were accepted into community. (14)

Part of the critical but unfinished agenda for the Christian community, says Patrick Keifert in his book Welcoming the Stranger, is that these communities find an accessible model to embody the public virtues of hospitality for multicultural situations. (15) For Christian hospitality toward other religions on campus, the task that Keifert articulates is especially poignant--and the goal toward which this essay points.

Biblical roots of a Christian theology of hospitality

The primitive custom of hospitality in the ancient Greco-Roman world benefitted the foreigner in ways similar to biblical stories, (16) but in that Hellenistic context the Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament were formative in the understanding about hospitality in these biblical communities of faith and informed both early Christian tradition and our attempts to recover the roots of that tradition for our day. In the Hebrew Scripture it is God and in the New Testament it is Jesus who play special roles of both guest and host and who define the basic rationale for hospitality for people of faith. The Bible is full of references to the command for and the practice of hospitality, but for my purposes here I limit detailed discussion of the biblical roots of hospitality primarily to those classical passages where God and Jesus provide the foundation for Christian hospitality through the role of guest.

Hebrew Scripture. Throughout the Hebrew Scripture God models hospitality by providing a "good" created world, caring for wayward pillars of faith (Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, David, and others), rescuing the Israelites from Egypt, providing sustenance for the chosen people in the forty-year wilderness journey to the Promised Land, and embracing an exiled people. Much of this Scripture also centers on the reciprocity of welcoming the stranger and sojourner, because the Israelites also were strangers and sojourners in the land of Egypt (Exod 22:21-27; Deut 10:17-20). Widows and orphans, also among the powerless, were frequently included in the categories of those needing welcoming and caring. Although such reciprocity is reason enough for Israel's sensitivity to the needy, the added dimension of God as divine guest offers a special reason for hospitality, a rationale that is captured in the New Testament: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it" (Heb 13:2 NRSV).

In the classic passage of hospitality in the Hebrew Scripture, Gen 18:1-15, Abraham and Sarah host three men lavishly by nomadic standards, unaware that God is among them. In the heat of the day, Abraham runs to meet the guests, offers to wash their feet, provides shade, instructs Sarah to prepare bread, hurries to choose a calf for the feast and quickly has it prepared with other food, and stays with the guests under the shade of the tree while they eat.

The surprise comes when God, who is the anonymous guest, takes on the role of host, not merely reciprocating for a gracious meal but offering a blessing far greater: that Abraham and Sarah, despite their advanced age and Sarah's barrenness, would have a son. In spite of the physical, emotional, and spiritual risks that would be evident in providing hospitality in his day, Abraham took the risk and rose above the threat to himself and his household to encounter the ultimate Stranger, (17) and that Stranger and Guest blessed the encounter in a way that was totally unexpected.

This episode, along with the creation theology of Gen 1:27-28, which says that human beings are made in the image of God, provides a profound rationale for hospitality in the Christian community.

The New Testament. In addition to the inherited perspectives and mandates about hospitality in the Hebrew Scripture, the Christian communities that produced the New Testament also had the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth that continued as well as transformed their inherited understandings.

In the Gospels, the custom of hospitality is extraordinarily important. The daily life and work of Jesus were dependent on hospitality being extended to him. In his parables and teachings, hospitality was of great significance. The meals that Jesus shared with outcasts (e.g., Luke 15:1-2) underscored the extravagant welcome that Jesus embodied. (18) The welcoming hospitality of God is the central point of Jesus' proclamation and life. (19) Even the Last Supper and the death of Jesus point to the depths of Jesus' sacrificial sharing. (20) Luke especially emphasizes the theme of hospitality in Luke-Acts with stories like the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, Zacchaeus, the Emmaus narrative, and Paul's missionary journeys. (21)

The letters of Paul--along with 1 Peter (4:8-9), Hebrews (13:1-2), and James (2:1-7)--underscore the linkage between the love of Christians for one another (philadelphia) and hospitality (philoxenia, literally "love of the stranger"). (22) Among the many notable Pauline expressions of this kind of caring are "extend hospitality to strangers" (Rom 12:10 NRSV) and "welcome one another ... as Christ has welcomed you" (Rom 15:7 NRSV). (23)

However, just as the story of Abraham's hospitality to strangers revealed that the stranger was God (who blesses the host), so also two classical references in the New Testament emphasize the critically important point that hospitality to strangers is hospitality to Jesus, who also blesses the encounters.

The first reference of offering hospitality to Jesus as a stranger is the story of the post-resurrection walk to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35. Two disciples--only one, Cleo-pas, is identified by name--are going to the village of Emmaus on the evening after the resurrection, when Jesus as a stranger joins them. The two disciples tell the Stranger about Jesus' life and death and the account of the empty tomb. They are kept from recognizing Jesus until he explains the real meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures and reveals himself in the breaking of bread, a strong eucharistic theme for some interpreters (Lk 22:19), which also recalls Jesus' hospitality in the feeding of the multitude (Lk 9:10-17). Only by inviting Jesus in and offering him hospitality do these two disciples enjoy the blessing of his identity and company. Jesus reverses roles, as God did with Abraham, becomes their host, and blesses the two disciples by his presence in word and action. Not only does this encounter highlight the promise of Jesus' presence in the shared meals of disciples, the Emmaus story also is an anticipation of the Eucharist in Luke's community as well as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come. (24)

The other classical reference of offering hospitality to Jesus as a stranger is the Last Judgment scene of Matthew 25:31-46. In verses 35 and 43, Jesus as returning Son of Man asks about the welcoming of strangers by the unsuspecting "sheep," who act according to the higher righteousness (which exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, Mt 5:20), (25) and the "goats," who do not display such righteousness and compassionate behavior. The nations now have been made Jesus' disciples, and, in effect, Jesus is holding the entire world accountable to the criteria of love and care for the "least" (26) in society, the very people to whom Jesus himself was especially reaching out in his ministry. Regarding the welcoming of strangers, Jesus is holding the world accountable for reaching out to the outcast, the marginalized, and other "strangers" who are not perceived to be of one's own kind or kin. Not only are the nations responsible for this kind of outreach and care to the most difficult to love, but when they give such caring help to the "least of these" in society they are doing it to Jesus himself (Mt 25:40, 45). (27) The Matthean Jesus identifies himself with all the needy of the world, including the stranger.

A unique hospitality. In both the Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament there are deep biblical roots for hospitality to strangers. In the Hebrew Scripture, hospitality was closely tied to the reciprocity of caring for strangers and sojourners, because the Israelites themselves were cared for in such circumstances by God, not only in exodus and exile but in an ongoing special relationship. (28) In the New Testament Jesus embodies the welcoming hospitality of God to all in his ministering, in his dying, and in his sending the gift of the Spirit--and he calls communities of faith to exercise that same hospitality.

These are profound reasons for Christians to continue the practice of hospitality, but a deeper calling has also been shown in Scripture: to minister to others is to engage in a divine activity where God and Jesus are the beneficiaries of our ministrations and, later, the benefactors of resultant blessings to those who ministered. If we view the stranger from only a human perspective, we will not see the presence of God through the stranger. (29) In the Abraham story and in the Emmaus account we also find that the divine stranger-guests are the ones with the gifts, bringing the promise of new life to the host (30) as the host grows through the encounter. The Gospel of Matthew also reminds Christians that to minister to the stranger is to minister to Jesus himself (25:35, 40), and that is what the angels were doing for a weakened Jesus after his temptation in the wilderness (4:11). (31) In Scripture there is certainly an ethical mandate for Christians to show hospitality to strangers, but the most important reason for such behavior is that to be hospitable to strangers created in the divine image is to offer hospitality to God and God's own Son. (32)

Defining a Christian hospitality toward non-Christians

Christians often misunderstand what hospitality is, what it is for, what its goals are, and how it should be offered. To define Christian hospitality toward non-Christians today, we need to clarify what hospitality is not, understand better what hospitality is, and perceive the blessings inherent in being hospitable to "outsiders" because they are outsiders.

What Christian hospitality is not. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians, the Christian community in Corinth was called to respect differences and diversity (chap. 12) in a spirit of mutual care (chap. 13). Palmer emphasizes that the implicit pressure of a familial metaphor for the Christian community can suppress conflict and undermine the community's public life by excluding the stranger. (33) A hospitality that depends on personal ties or a connected history is also opposite Jesus' own inclusive sense of "family" as those who seek to live as God intends, regardless of clan or kin (Mk 1:31-35 and parallels). Christian hospitality can even be "impersonal," not in the sense of being unkind but rather in not demanding friendship as a result (34) nor presuming church membership as a motive. (35) Affirming the shared foundation of a common humanity with a stranger is enough, says Palmer, without having to become friends or family, but instead valuing the very strangeness of the stranger as a gift. (36)

What Christian hospitality is. Christians are called to a hospitality toward others that is based on the foundational reality that the face of Christ himself is in every stranger to whom we can be hospitable (Mt 25:35, 43). Strangers--those outside the community--are also welcome because they bear the image of their Creator (Gen 1:26-27). (37) Biblically, God and Christ have as similar a sense of foreignness as do strangers, and even Christians are seen in later New Testament writings as foreigners who depend on the welcome and hospitality of others in the faith. (38) In addition, the image of God and the image of Christ in others also prompts a sense of wonder and awe as we relate to the stranger. (39)

Along with Palmer and Nouwen, Keifert underscores the public nature of hospitality for Christians. For Keifert, rather than helping the stranger toward a hospitality of feeling "at home," Christian hospitality is centered on "opening one's world to the stranger" (40) in the realm of public life. The Christian community, instead of being only a warm family, embodies Jesus' own posture as a "community of truth." (41) This kind of community includes wisdom, love, and justice as part of the public hospitality rather than only intimacy, warmth, and familiarity. (42)

Palmer notes ten characteristic functions of public life that are the fruit of the kind of public hospitality to which he and Keifert invite us all--especially benefitting campus Christians and the ones to whom they might seek to be hospitable: (43)

1. Strangers meet on common ground (without having to become friends).

2. Fear of the stranger is faced and dealt with (destroying stereotypes and revealing a common humanity).

3. Scarce resources are shared and abundance is generated (because of a public response).

4. Conflict occurs and is resolved (a healthy public life gives daily experience with inevitable conflict and teaches us that conflict is not terminal).

5. Life is given color, texture, drama, a festive air (the foreign and exotic stretches minds).

6. People are drawn out of themselves (in service to others).

7. Mutual responsibility becomes evident, and mutual aid possible (as we learn how intertwined our lives really are).

8. Opinions become audible and accountable (public expression tempers opinion).

9. Vision is projected and projects are attempted (and makes private visions fully real).

10. People are empowered and protected against power (influencing and protecting against excessive power as people stand together).

Opportunities for this kind of public interaction with strangers, especially in a setting of hospitality for people of faith, brings growth to host and guest and community.

For Nouwen, what emerges from the biblical foundations and the cries of humanity is a hospitality that, if it is to be true to our identity, is obligatory for Christians, part of our vocation. (44) For Nouwen, such hospitality invites strangers to a new relationship in which each person can listen with attention and care to the other's voice as well as his or her own voice, each allowing the other to be "sensitive and obedient to their own stories" (45) without trying to convert or coerce or own the other, for that is the opposite of hospitality.

In Palmer's view, hospitality is a basic component of the mission of the church, to love the world as God in Christ loved--and loves--the world. (46)

We are blessed in the doing. The act of hospitality for people of faith is a blessing to the giver, who becomes the receiver. The host and guest indeed reverse roles and the host is blessed, not as a manipulative necessity but as an inevitable benefit to those who genuinely open their hearts to the stranger. A God-blessed and God-given opportunity is presented as the host welcomes the guest in the spirit and manner of Jesus' own ministry. The sacredness of the encounter is perceived, as both host and guest are ready to enter the other's world. (47) The host is especially blessed by the gift of the stranger's life and story (as were Abraham and Sarah, and the Emmaus disciples), by the precious blessing that the strangers bring, and by the new life that results. (48)

Part of that gift is that assumptions are challenged, perspectives are broadened by the "intrusion" of the stranger, and familiar things are seen anew. (49) That is what the ministry of Jesus was all about as he stretched and challenged the disciples, the crowds, and his opponents to see the blessing of God more fully in their midst.

Empowering for hospitality

For the Christian, to seek to provide hospitality is to engage in a process that is larger than oneself, a process that can be over-whelming and discouraging. Pohl reminds us that there are "spiritual rhythms of hospitality." (50) Indeed, from a Christian viewpoint, it is the Spirit of God that empowers the process for the host: encouraging the risk of outreach to the stranger, providing a welcoming atmosphere, prompting the sharing of one's own faith story, and respecting the faith journey of the guest. Even the unexpected blessing that the host receives from offering hospitality to the stranger is the fruit of that same Spirit.

The following five points reflect the main emphases from the ninth chapter of Pohl's book Making Room, with additional reflections about the Spirit-graced process for each that is fundamental to the perspective that New Testament writers have about Jesus and the early Christian community.

Worship. In worship, the life of hospitality is born as one experiences the grace and generosity of God and is filled with a Spirit-prompted response of love and gratitude. Without such a grateful spirit, hospitality can become a grudging response that injures guests. (51) In worship we again experience the hospitality of God and are renewed and empowered for our task. (52)

Stories. Biblical stories of the hospitality of Jesus are a tool of the Spirit to renew and inspire our opportunities to welcome others. Based on that biblical foundation, the stories of a faith community's experience of hospitality--one's own or another's--can also renew and revive that community's intentionality toward hospitality. (53) Biblical stories and references about the lack of hospitality--for example, the situation of using one's spiritual gifts in abusive and hierarchical ways that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 12-13--can also help Christian communities today note the need for corrected, Spirit-empowered perspectives.

Experiencing hospitality from others. Children learn from the hospitality of their parents, especially a hospitality where they themselves are included. Travelers learn hospitality in their travels. Habits of hospitality can be formed from the experiences of a lifetime, and those habits are fundamental to our Christian identity as we live out our gospel calling. (54)

As we experience the hospitality of others, we are led to a compassionate understanding of the components of hospitality that we can pass on to others: a warm welcome, good food and drink, focused listening, offering one's full attention, setting aside enough time, respecting the situation of the guest, sharing insights, offering orientation or direction, and gracious farewells. (55) For the Christian, that compassionate understanding and motivation is the Spirit's work.

Rest and renewal. Periods of rest, solitude, and other spiritual nourishment, including prayer, are essential to renew one's spirit for hospitality. (56) In Mark 1:35, one of several episodes of the Markan Jesus finding a deserted place for prayer and renewal, Jesus himself is the model for this important spiritual self-care. Nouwen eloquently connects prayer and solitude to the task of helping strangers feel at home. (57)

Embracing small steps of progress. The opportunities for hospitality can be overwhelming in size and scope. Rather than being put off or paralyzed by the vastness of the task, it is crucial to underscore the importance of small, achievable steps in reaching out to others. (58) Pohl mentions the ministry of Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity to exemplify the importance of small acts of hospitality in the face of enormous need. As Christians encourage one another to such realistic, achievable tasks, they are manifesting the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7).

A model for Christian hospitality

Any model for Christian hospitality to other religions on campus must acknowledge the pressures of religious pluralism, the need for students to explore faith in a safe place, the biblical call for Christians to be hospitable, the acceptability of each person's location in a faith heritage as a starting point for conversation, the mandate in the New Testament for Christians to embody the caring love of God in Christ in the process, and a renewed understanding of a genuine hospitality that is a public openness of oneself to others, especially in the multicultural situation of campus life. Christians know that in those from other religious or cultural traditions we are seeing the image of the Divine, who promises to bless the encounter with growth to both host and guest and who continually renews and empowers the process.

Principles of moral conversation. Nash is passionate about the need for unbounded, honest, intentional religious dialogue on campus, so that religion and religious life in the university may not be fragmented and Balkanized but rather revitalized to the benefit of the campus community. In attempting to initiate a process that avoids adversarial discourse about religion and spirituality, Nash offers six principles of moral conversation on campus: (59)

1. Declarations of beliefs are not necessarily conversations about beliefs. Empathy, genuine dialogical encounter with difference, and mutual understanding are key criteria for success.

2. All views in moral conversation deserve at least initial respect. Humility, faith, self-denial, and charity are necessary for respecting, rather than changing, the views of others.

3. The golden rule of moral conversation is a willingness to find the truth in what we oppose and the error in what we espouse before we presume to acknowledge the truth in what we espouse and the error in what we oppose.

4. Either-or, all-or-nothing thinking is always a threat to moral conversation.

5. In matters of religion, we do not live in reality itself. We live in stories about reality.

6. Moral conversation is not without internal contradictions, however, as its basic premises tend to lean leftward toward a liberal-postmodern view of the world.

These six principles of moral conversation complement the ten characteristic functions of public life articulated by Palmer and listed earlier. Nash believes that college students are developmentally ready for this kind of moral conversation (60) and that religion is too basic a part of humanity to exclude it from ongoing dialogue about meaning (61) in the university. For Nash, a liberal education ought to be about such "fearless, open-ended, intellectually stimulating, cross-campus dialogue about religio-spirituality." (62)

Implicit for Christians but unintended in Nash's formulation is the concept of grace, God's magnanimous, all-embracing love and care for humanity, which Christians could model in adopting Nash's principles. Grace for the Christian is a gift from God, modeled by God in Christ, and passed on in Spirit-led behavior (not always consciously) to others. The challenge for Christians in such moral conversation on campus is to be more conscious of the responsibility we have to be bearers of God's grace at every opportunity, embodying the truth of which we speak. That grace-filled, evangelical conversation is part of the servant role of the Christian community in following the example of Jesus. (63)

Constructing a model. Conversation with faculty and staff is an important part of a comprehensive approach to hospitable dialogue on campus and should be offered with care and intentionality. However, especially because of the developmental need for students to be engaged in this process, focusing on the needs of young adult students is an ample beginning task.

In her discussion of the features of a mentoring environment for young adults, Parks offers some helpful "environmental" components that Christians can adapt for constructing a faithful hospitality to those of other religions as well as those of similar faith traditions on campus: (64)

1. A Network of Belonging: a trustworthy network that facilitates faithful imagination;

2. Big Enough Questions: extending hospitality to questions that stretch students;

3. Encounters with Otherness: constructive, transforming encounters with those outside one's own "tribe";

4. Dialogue: two-way discourse that is essential to relationship;

5. Critical Thought: developing the capacity to step outside one's own thought

6. Connective Thought: recognizing the interdependence of life;

7. A Contemplative Mind: moments of pause for reimagining and reconnecting and repatterning thought;

8. Worthy Dreams: envisioning and reaching for the ideal and congruent vocations;

9. Realistic Images: about suffering, mystery, self, people different from us, renewing the world, and worthy institutions.

For Parks, these features of a mentoring environment must be grounded in "communities of practice" where young adults can pause, reflect, and converse in unpressured hearthside conversation, whether a hearth, or physically and spiritually nourishing table hospitality, or the "commons" of public spaces where diverse people can connect. (65) In these environments, one's particular heritage can be shared, (66) strangers can be sensitive and obedient to their own stories, (67) and those stories can "redirect our seeing and stimulate our imaginations." (68)

Crucial ingredients for this model of hospitality to those of other faith traditions include a safe space, ample time, a relaxed environment, shared food, willingness to share one's own faith story, and respect for the faith story of others. In other words, hospitality requires spaces that model the grace and acceptance of God. (69)

As Christians encounter "otherness," it is not for the purpose of changing the other but for understanding the other and helping one another to honor--even by examining and discussing--the other's experience of faith. The result is often a greater appreciation for the faith journey of others, a respect for and understanding of their faith stories, and a freshly reexamined appreciation for the gift of our own heritage. The change that does happen in oneself or in the other through such dialogue and faith sharing is the result of God's Spirit being at work in the process of a welcoming hospitality, not from pressure or coercion.

To be hospitable and welcoming in the name and manner of Christ is to love the world God created and to appreciate more fully the ones who bear the divine image.

1. Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), x. See also pp. 33-36.

2. Robert Nash, Religious Pluralism in the Academy: Opening the Dialogue (New York: Peter Lang, 2001), 30.

3. Ibid., 33.

4. Ibid., 4, 9, 176-85.

5. Sharon Parks, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Young Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000), 154-57, 197-205. Parks offers important insights on the practices of hearth, table, and commons.

6. Henri J. M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (New York: Doubleday, [1975] 1986), 63-109.

7. Nash, Religious Pluralism, 43-44.

8. Parker Palmer, The Company of Strangers: Christians and the Renewal of America's Public Life (New York: Crossroad, [1981] 1997), 86-89.

9. Nouwen, Reaching Out, 66-67.

10. Thomas W. Ogletree, Hospitality to the Stranger: Dimensions of Moral Understanding (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 1: "to be moral is to be hospitable to the stranger." See also And You Welcomed Me: A Source-book on Hospitality in Early Christianity, ed. Amy G. Oden (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001), 15-16.

11. Nouwen, Reaching Out, 65; emphasis added.

12. Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 227, 229. See also Parker Palmer, To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, [1983] 1993), xii, 88-105, where Palmer uses the classroom as modeling that community.

13. Pohl, Making Room, esp. 6-43.

14. Palmer, The Company of Strangers, 130-34.

15. Patrick R. Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 80-81.

16. Gustav Stahlin, "xenos," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), V: 17-19; Oden, And You Welcomed Me, 18.

17. Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger, 76.

18. Keifert, 66; John Koenig, New Testament Hospitality: Partnership with Strangers as Promise and Mission (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 26-29.

19. Stahlin, "xenos," 20.

20. Pohl, Making Room, 30.

21. Koenig, New Testament Hospitality, 85-120.

22. Stahlin, "xenos," 20-21.

23. See also the discussion of Paul by Koenig, 52-84.

24. Pohl, Making Room, 31.

25. Regarding the linkage of Matthew 5:20 and 25:31-46 see Ulrich Luz, Matthew 1-7: A Commentary, trans. Wilhelm C. Linss (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989), 242, 269-70, 446, 459-60.

26. See Sherman W. Gray, The Least of My Brothers: Matthew 25:31-46, A History of Interpretation (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), 255-72.

27. Pohl, 67-69.

28. Ibid.

29. Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger, 77.

30. Nouwen, Reaching Out, 66-67.

31. Also Mark 1:13, but in Luke no angels minister to Jesus after the temptation.

32. Martin Luther emphasizes the connection between hospitality to Jesus in Matthew 25 with hospitality to God in Genesis 18 in his Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 15-20, Luther's Works 3, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis: Concordia, 1961): 177-80.

33. Palmer, Company of Strangers, 130.

34. Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger, 80.

35. Palmer, 87.

36. Ibid., 68.

37. Pohl, Making Room, 64, shows that the "image of God" concept also undergirded Calvin's comprehensive response concerning hospitality in the sixteenth century.

38. Stahlin, "xenos," 25-36.

39. Ogletree, Hospitality to the Stranger, 3.

40. Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger, 8.

41. Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 229. See also Palmer, To Know as We Are Known, 30-32, 88-105.

42. Keifert, 80. For his theology of public life from the perspective of hospitality to strangers see pp. 76-92.

43. Palmer, Company of Strangers, 40-45.

44. Nouwen, Reaching Out, 65-66.

45. Ibid., 76, 95-97.

46. Palmer, Company of Strangers, 87.

47. Ogletree, Hospitality to the Stranger, 3-4.

48. Nouwen, Reaching Out, 66-67.

49. Palmer, Company of Strangers, 58-59.

50. Pohl, Making Room, chap. 9, 170-87).

51. Pohl, 172.

52. Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger, 72-73.

53. Pohl, 173-74.

54. Pohl, Making Room, 175-77.

55. Pohl, 177-82.

56. Pohl, 182-83. On prayer and solitude see also Palmer, To Know as We Are Known, 10-14, 117-25.

57. Nouwen, Reaching Out, 113-60.

58. Pohl, 184-87.

59. Nash, Religious Pluralism, 176-85.

60. Nash, Religious Pluralism, 189.

61. Nash, 4. Parks emphasizes, in Big Questions, Worthy Dreams, 15-20, that faith in the broadest sense is a matter of making meaning.

62. Nash, 54.

63. Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 225; Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger, 90-91.

64. Parks, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams, 135-57. Perhaps it is those of similar Christian traditions, including parachurch groups, with whom we need especially to be in respectful conversation about faith journeys and misunderstandings.

65. Parks, 154-57.

66. Palmer, Company of Strangers, 89.

67. Nouwen, Reaching Out, 96.

68. Ogletree, Hospitality to the Stranger, 2-3.

69. Pohl, Making Room, 152-53; Koenig, New Testament Hospitality, 124-27.

John D. Lottes

Lutheran Campus Ministry

St. Louis, Missouri
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Author:Lottes, John D.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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