Beginning with various distortions of hospitality, she points out various modern attempts to push hospitality into sentimental, individualistic, and even market driven categories. She goes on to insist that hospitality has its roots and real identity in the hospitality of God, in the Triune Fellowship which is shared in Christian Worship, in the sacrament of communion. She points out that if God’s presence and communion is the basis of all true hospitality then hospitality is not merely a matter of being nice, but ultimately a matter of being good to one another.
One of the great passages toward the beginning of the book was the illustration drawn from O’Conner’s famous story A Good Man is Hard to Find. There, she lifts the grandmother up as a symbol of the stark difference between being nice and being good, between superficial friendliness and hospitality committed to seeking the good and bestowing goodness. The grandmother is famously a polite, genteel woman who ultimately watches the Misfit murder her family. Her manners, her niceties all finally vanish in a moment when she reaches out and touches the shoulder of the murderer and says that he is one of her own children. At this, the Misfit jumps back and shoots the old woman in the chest three times. O’Conner’s narrative explains that “She would have been a good woman… if it had been someone there to shoot her every minute of her life.” (25) Goodness is an act of hospitality that includes some level of threat to the status quo. It also includes identification and it tells the truth in love.
Beginning with Christian worship, Newman insists that hospitality is not merely a private and relatively insignificant act of love and kindness. Rather, hospitality is the embodiment of a specific politics, economics, and ethics. Newman insightfully points out that the Darwinian narrative is perhaps most insidious in its underlying principles of scarcity and competition. Whereas the narrative of the gospel is one of abundance and overflow and provision. These dramatically different assumptions drive certain economic visions of life.
Douglas Wilson makes a premiere in Newman’s discussion of The McDonaldization of Society for his discussion of the American Empire in its devotion to godmoney.
A significant part of Newman’s point has to do with the role-playing of true hospitality. In the communion of God, God becomes and acts as Giver (Host), Gift, and Receiver (Guest), and in all true forms of hospitality these roles should be revolving. Hosts give to guests, but guests ought also to be givers and therefore hosts in a certain sense. And thus hosts learn to be guests in their own homes. This doesn’t relieve anyone of certain duties or manners, but rather heightens the calling of all human interaction.
Newman also stresses the element of the “strange” in hospitality. If God comes to us as in a burning bush evoking fear and trembling, and if entertaining strangers is sometimes communion with angels, there ought to be some level of expectation that God is frequently found under unusual guises and circumstances. Newman says that this should create in us an “openness” to the good in the people and places we might not first consider. And far from this being a call to pluralism, Newman dismantles modern liberal notions of diversity and pluralism, showing clearly how hallow these attempts are and how ideologically driven they are.
There is a great chapter on “The Politics of Higher Education” that should make any educator’s reading list, if only for the footnotes and bibliography that she accumulates. Her point is ultimately that love is the foundation of education, and that anything less than the love of the Triune God pushes educational pursuits toward the voids of skepticism, deception, and apathy.
Newman reminds us that the Lord’s Supper not only symbolizes existent unity, but argues that the Eucharist is also one of the ways unity is constituted. She points out that Anabaptist and Roman Catholic Eucharistic Theologies agree at least in their opposition to this fact. While we generally put them on different ends of the spectrum, the fact that both insist upon prior unity before partaking makes them bedfellows on this point. Whereas a more fully biblical understanding of the Eucharist would at least leave some room for allowing unity to be established. And she does not deny the validity of church discipline and excommunication, she merely points out that each in their own way do not leave room for the sacrament to be part of the action of creating unity.
Her concluding chapter is a challenging consideration of how the Christian Church ought to more conscientiously live out the hospitality of God. She cites two church communities who have made a certain communal living and mercy ministry the core of their membership requirements. She chronicles some of their challenges, triumphs, and evolution along the way, but ultimately wonders how we can take seriously the call to hospitality and caring for the strangers, widows, and orphans, if we do not make it front and center. She dwells particularly on how strangers, and particularly those individuals who are in some ways permanent strangers in human society, those with significant mental and physical disabilities, how these strangers impact us, how they minister and give to the “normal.” Newman points out that our calling as Christians is holiness not normality. Our calling is to love one another and seek to love God more, and the thrust of the biblical teaching is that God expects us to be ministered to as we minister to those around us. And in particular, Christ says that we will find him in those people around us and frequently in the strangers around us, in the outcasts, in the disabled, in the elderly, in the weak, in the widows and orphans in our midst.
And if that is the case, if Christ is to be found, if his love and grace is to ministered most potently to us through the strangers, the fatherless, and the widows, this makes our call to serve them more serious. The call is always to follow Jesus, and the his call seems to direct us more and more toward the weak, the helpless, the insignificant, the broken, the disabled. Jesus said that if you knew there was a field with a great treasure in it, you would sell everything in order to buy the field and find the treasure. Likewise, if Christ has said that clothing the naked, befriending the lonely, offering food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, if in doing these things, we minister to him, doesn’t that impress the call all the more? Shouldn’t we be seeking these weak people, seeking the broken, the maimed, the lame, the disabled, just as we would seek after Christ?