“Welcoming the Stranger”

Jones, L. Gregory

The Christian Century, January 19, 2000

pp. 58 - 59

Jones reviews Christine Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition: Pohl says that hospitality is a gift and a skill, but also a practice that may be learned, rehearsed, and imitated from acknowledged masters. It needs a platform of particular commitments and values, and it flourishes when good models of it have been learned–e.g., from the such communities as the Catholic Worker, L’Arche, Benedictine monasteries, the Open Door Community, Good Works, Inc., Jubilee Partners, L’Abri Fellowship, Annunciation House. Who are the guests? Urban poor, the disabled, students, seekers, the homeless, refugees. Pohl spends a lot of time describing these hospitable places and what they do. And she makes it clear that welcoming strangers is at the heart of hospitality. And we think we don’t have time for them. Why has hospitality–once the church’s forte–been eclipsed? Well, it’s been commercialized into America’s “hospitality industry”–so that strangers are welcomed at the Holiday Inn. Nobody likes to be dependent. But hospitality is part of the genius and also the credibility of the gospel; it was once a necessary mark of the Christian leader. Monasteries, hospices, etc. carried it forward. To prevail as Christians with hospitality, we need to keep Sabbath (Dorothy Bass, Receive the Day) and give up on commodified time; give up on acquisitiveness and other disordered desires, which crowd out others from our lives; get better at saying Yes and saying No wisely. Pohl offers a sense of the cost too. “Offering hospitality in a world distorted by sin, injustice, and brokenness will rarely be easy. We need a combination of grace and wisdom. Substantial hospitality to strangers involves spiritual and moral intuition, prayer and dependence on the Holy Spirit, the accumulated wisdom of a tradition, and a pragmatic assessment of each situation.”