Make Space

11 10 2009

Last weekend, Jordan and I drove to Shreveport to spend time with our families.  Somewhere in the middle of Mississippi, we grew tired of our own CD collection and instead turned on the radio for entertainment.   We happened upon some random Christian station** that was hosting an interview with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove about his newest book, God’s Economy: Redefining the Health and Wealth Gospel.  Jonathan is the director of the School for Conversion and the founder of Rutba House, a new monastic community, in Durham, N.C.

The conversation touched on several issues and Scripture passages that I have been mulling over lately.  At one point, the interviewer asked what we Christians are supposed to do with those pesky verses that tell us to take everything we have and give it to the poor; i.e. what does that look like for someone who walks down a busy urban street everyday and passes scores of homeless people, each begging for money?

(My ears perked up.  This particular question is one to which I have yet to find a satisfactory personal response.  As often as these interactions happens, I’m nonetheless always caught so off-guard that I never know exactly what to say or do.)

Jonathan responded, not by prescribing some universal protocol, but by explaining his own community’s response.  Rutba House, he said, has created space in their house for visitors who are in need of a hot meal or a place to stay.  Community members do not ignore their neighbors in need, nor do they salve their own consciences by giving out whatever leftover change happens to be in their pockets at any given moment.  Their policy requires far more work: a certain kind of openness, a radical hospitality, an investment of time (and space), and a willingness to build relationships.

Too much to ask?  At first glance, it may certainly seem that way.

But what sticks out to me most about his response is the forethought that is required: that the community has made space to allow these kinds of interactions to happen.  They prepare an extra room for their guests, make  sure they have an extra place setting at the table.  They probably allow a few extra minutes into their daily routines, just in case they meet someone new along the way.

I’m often frustrated by my failed attempts to embody “the Christian life.”  As much as I desire to embody the love of Christ, I end each day with the realization that I have a loooong way to go.  I don’t take the time to love people like I should; I don’t embrace opportunities to share my faith; I don’t give my money, time, or possessions away as freely as I should; I forget to pray, or read the Bible, or spend any kind of quality time with God; and I certainly don’t go out of my way to build relationships with people outside of my bubble.

But these things don’t just happen on their own.  I am slowly learning that I, too, must make space: in my schedule, in my home, in my mind, in my budget.  As Jordan and I prepare to move (again), we have the perfect opportunity to plan for our priorities and to be intentional about building our lives around a new kind of rhythm.

We must make space for the people and opportunities that pass us by on a daily basis.

We must make space for God.

**According to Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s website, the program was Moody Radio’s Prime Time America.  If you have a chance, listen here.

The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 18-19

18 09 2009

Click here to read the full text of Genesis 18-19.

"Abraham and the Three Angels," by Marc Chagall

"Abraham and the Three Angels," by Marc Chagall

Reading these chapters, I’m reminded of Jesus’ words, thousands of years later: “When you do it unto the least of these, you have done it into me.”

Also, Paul’s teaching to the Hebrews: “Some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

When the three men appear near Mamre at the beginning of Chapter 18, there is no indication that Abraham recognizes them immediately as angels (or even God Himself). And yet, he practices radical hospitality, preparing a feast for them with his best calf and an abundance of the finest bread. Then, in Sodom, Lot’s hospitality is ultimately what saves him and his daughters. When he invites the angels into his home, he does not immediately know that they have come to foretell the city’s destruction; he simply accepts them as his guests and protects them at all costs (even giving up his virginal daughters to the angry mob???)

We can learn from these example, practicing such hospitality to all who come across our paths, as well. I am particularly inspired by the importance that the New Monastic movement places on hospitality (i.e. the Rule of the Northumbria Community includes a vow of availability to the people around them; the Potter Street Community and other similar communities have procedures in place to welcome anyone who happens upon their house). It is much harder, I think, to practice such hospitality and openness as individuals. I’m reminded of an interesting article published last fall at Jesus Manifesto, which I read as a challenge to today’s church to rethink the way we do hospitality, especially in light of the current economic crisis.

Leaving aside the overall implications of Abraham’s dialogue with the Lord (which in itself is an amazing passage) I want to look for a moment at the word that keeps coming up over and over again: righteous. Abraham keeps pleading on behalf of the righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah, and God seems to be in agreement that the righteousness of 10 people would make up for the wickedness of everyone else. So what’s so great about righteousness?

I often tend to equate righteousness with legalism (i.e. the Pharisees, who obeyed the very letter of the law, were considered righteous). Righteousness is about doing right. Right?

Not necessarily. The Old and New Testaments agree that true righteousness is about faith:

“Abram believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
– Genesis 15:6

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe”
– Romans 3:21-22a

As a final note, I would like to say that reading these two chapters brought back great memories of Amity’s youth, and one in particular who always said that her favorite Bible story was about “Lot’s wife who turned into salt. That’s so cool!”

(originally posted 12/24/08 at