Improving The World Through Hospitality
In the book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress experimental psychologist Steve Pinker explains that using the tools of the Enlightenment humanity is seeing measurable progress. He argues that, while there are risks to be aware of, there is reason for optimism in a world that seems to be bombarded with bad news. The book is quite encouraging and helpful if you are the type of person that gets overwhelmed with the plethora of sources of trauma and tragedy in the world today. I have no doubt that his analysis of the numbers is correct, so I do not have a large dispute with what he is writing. On a grand scale humanity is seeing progress. From above it is easy to lose out on the details and subtracting the details of struggle in the world can make it look like a terrific place.
Makayla is in her early forties and for the majority of the past two and a half decades she has struggled with drug addiction. She has been in and out of rehab several times and done several stints in county jail for both drug offenses and prostitution, which is a way she would sometimes earn money for drugs. By her early thirties she had given birth to three children and all of them had been removed from her by the state. Makayla wanted to be a good mother, but her addiction would always get the best of her. As hard as she tries a lack of community, addiction, and a criminal record make it difficult for her to hold down a steady job, which makes it hard for her to succeed. The world getting better on a grand scale does not seem to be helping her.
The macro scale of Pinker’s book is an interesting look at the world, but it does not negate the very real challenges so many on the micro scale are working against. Those people who are struggling need a protective covering and a place of refuge so that they might get their footing and be able to take part in the optimism Pinker describes in his book. This is a place of great opportunity for people of faith to live that faith out. Part of the practice of hospitality is the provision of refuge, making space for those who struggle that they might find a respite from their struggles, while also helping them to find a way to overcome those them.
For people like Makayla hospitality looks like a community that will check up on her and be there for her when she is feeling the need for another high. It looks like work training, help interviewing (and perhaps finding appropriate clothing for interviewing), child care, and possibly even a first job to get her over the hump of the things holding her back. Hospitality in the church needs to look like more than a greeter at the door on Sunday morning. It should look like an open door the rest of the week welcoming those who are struggling. If we who are the church can find a way to work together we can help those who struggle find a place in a world that is, on the grand scale, getting better.
Makayla is my oldest son’s biological mother. As much as I would not give up being his father for all the money in the world, both he and Makayla should have been able to stay together. If the church is able to open its doors and support those who are struggling, maybe fewer families will have to be separated and hopefully find a place in this improving world.
12 responses to “Improving The World Through Hospitality”
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Thank you for your deeply personal blog posts Sean. The power of your testimony only further proves how important hospitality is as the church looks to make “progress” especially at the micro level, in everyone’s lives.
Thank you Jacob. I debated whether to tell this story, but it seemed like the perfect fit for Pinkers grand understanding of the universe.
Good stuff Sean. I agree with you, the church has got to step in the gap to help those who are struggling, as you say, on the micro level. Many government services would simply cease to exist if the church assumes its proper role to care for the lost in our communities.
Have you found anything in Pinker that deals with backsliding human progression on a micro level? I know he’s aware that there’s is more work to be done, but I’m not sure I remember reading practical steps to address that.
Thank you Harry. If Pinker discusses people falling through the cracks of progress, I missed it.
Thanks for always bringing in your passion for hospitality. Your poignant story about your son and his biological mother put a name, a face, and a real context to the need for progress. What are some of the best cases where you have seen the church opening its doors to serve those who struggle?
There are a lot of instances of individual churches doing one or two things. But the one I really love is Homeboy Industries in LA. It was founded by Father Greg Boyle and it’s providing real hope for a lot of people that have missed the progress train.
I think you have drawn out the limitations of Pinker’s work so very well. The macro improvements can never take the place of the need for compassion, community, kindness and the expansive hospitality that you advocate for so well. While reading your post I was struck by the tension between the institutional church and the church as the people of God. I fully agree that we need to find ways to ‘host’ people all week long, but what does that look like? As a church planter with no building, that often leaves me personally driving people around as I am ‘the church.’ Obviously that sometimes feels like an opportunity to be the body of Christ, and sometimes feels exhausting and like I’m being used. How do we walk the tension of offering child care to a weary young mom with good intentions, but then finding she uses the time for her drug habit? How do we walk the boundary between paternalism and enabling? I come from a place of longing to be more helpful but burning out or finding out later that others are being hurt by behaviour I inadvertently enabled. I suppose I continue to look for the elusive ‘dream hospitable church’ so I can figure out what to work towards. Thank you again Sean.
Derrida argued that hospitality is always unconditional, it is humanity that has placed conditions upon it. The task then for humanity is to overcome the conditions we’ve placed on hospitality in order to enter into the unconditional state of hospitality. Our human condition tells us that the hospitality is a bad idea because we might be taken advantage of. That is not necessarily a bad thing, we need to protect ourselves and that’s the instinct at play. That being said, at some point we need to step over our natural inclinations and say we’re going to welcome the other in spite of our misgivings.
In my mind I don’t see the work of hospitality being a single church solution. With the possible exception of the odd megachurch no one church can serve all the needs of a larger community. So, in my mind, I have conceived of the need for churches in a community to coordinate their hospitality ministries. Maybe one church handles childcare, while another hosts AA and NA groups, while another has a clothing closet. By coordinating and combining their resources churches will have a bigger impact in their community while also displaying the unity that Christ implored us to have. Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but that’s the way I’d like to see it work.
Hospitality needs to be cyclical. Hosts need to be guests sometimes and guests need to be hosts sometimes. Burnout happens when a host is never allowed to be guest, with all the freedom that comes from being a guest. If that relationship doesn’t exist, it will make being hospitable much more difficult.
Sorry, my thoughts are all over the place. Hopefully there’s something there you can chew on.
Sean, I love this approach to Pinker’s work. I am also very grateful for how you have talked about hospitality in regard to providing a healthy community for the addicted and broken. We don’t hear enough about this aspect of hospitality as a beautiful expression of Jesus through the Church. Thank you for not just talking about it, but modeling it.
Thank you Tammy. Much like you wrote about, if we who are the church are not providing hope for the greater community we have missed the gospel. I really don’t want to miss the gospel.
Sean, thank you for pointing out the difference between the macro view and the micro view. Stats do not matter to the person suffering from hunger, homelessness, and poverty. The fact that humanity is still plagued with these ills in the 21st century shows that we have not progressed enough. On a personal note, I’m praying for Makayla. Blessings
Thank you Mary, both for the comment and the prayers. There are far too many people who have missed the progress train. Ignoring them doesn’t change the fact that they exist and it only serves as an indictment of us. If we can help, we should help.