Last year I read a book with my church that challenged me to think differently about my space and my time in relation to my neighbors. I talked about it in my year-end book review. The title of the book is The Gospel Comes With A House Key by Rosaria Butterfield. It is a book of stories that illustrate how to love our neighbors well with a distinct Gospel love. As I digest all the stories she tells, I am coming up with my own plans and dreaming of a neighborhood that is more like family than acquaintances I wave to in passing.
There is a phrase Butterfield uses often, “radically ordinary hospitality.” This is how she explains the concept:
“The purpose of radically ordinary hospitality is to build, focus, deepen, and strengthen the family of God, pointing others to the Bible-believing local church and being earthly and spiritual good to everyone we know.”
“Living out radically ordinary Christian hospitality means knowing that your relationship with others must be as strong as your words. The balance cannot tip here. Having strong words and a week relationship with your neighbor is violent. It captures the violent carelessness of our social media-infused age. That is not how neighbors talk with each other. That is not how image bearers of the same God relate to one another. Radically ordinary hospitality values the time it takes to invest in relationships, to build bridges, to repent of the sins of the past, to reconcile. Bridge building and making friendships cannot be rushed.”
“Radically ordinary hospitality means this: God promises to put the lonely in families (Ps 68:6) and he intends to use your house as living proof.”
What Does Radically Ordinary Hospitality Look like?
She invites her whole church, and sometimes her whole neighborhood over for a meal. When there are hundreds of homes in your neighborhood or thousands of people in your church, that is pretty radical. While she gives the example of inviting her whole neighborhood over, you could start with the very ordinary idea of inviting your street over. There are a million other small gestures that take a willingness to wait on people both with your time and your service. If you are reading this in a group, consider discussing ideas for reaching out to your neighbors and compile a list that you can share and then cheer each other on as you do them.
Care for the outcasts and the abandoned
Hank is the difficult and reclusive neighbor who intended to keep his distance, unknown and unloved. His story opens and closes the book as she gives many examples of serving those on the fringe of society. His dog becomes the thing that brings him into fellowship with the author’s family. There is nothing easy about loving well and, even when Hank is no longer their neighbor, it is their care for him and his dog that communicates the staying power of Gospel love. This kind of love seeks good for others at the inconvenience and expense of the giver. Gospel love is so clear as she tells the story of meeting her son and what it felt like to bring him home from a therapeutic foster home. Let this description of heading off to bring him home and meet him for the first time all in the same day set in:
“We feel as though we are walking off a cliff. This is the most important endeavor, the most sacred risk, and the clearest picture of God’s covenant I know of. “
Sometimes God calls us to walk off a cliff and sometimes God asks us to go and help someone who has taken that step. You may not be able to adopt a stranger, but you could start with the very ordinary offer to help a family who is in the midst of foster care. Bring them a meal or offer to watch the kids so that the parents can have a minute to rest and recover for the next day.
Care for your family well
The reality is that it is often easier to love and serve strangers with whom you share no history. You can reach out and be kind in a way that has no strings attached. I knew I loved this author when I read her descriptions of the difficult relationship she had with her parents. Somehow she is able to write honestly about difficult people without shaming them or taking pleasure in writing about them. Instead, she is illustrating the hard path of loving the difficult people in her family. It is hard to build bridges back to people who have hurt us over and over again.
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My warning about radically ordinary hospitality
Butterfield uses the word radical for a reason. Her life has been very radical. There is nothing ordinary about her testimony of coming to faith. She lived as a lesbian professor and now she is a faithful pastor’s wife and mother to many children. You can see her testimony here. She knows what she is talking about when it comes to radical ideas. My fear is that in a culture where being radical is the best thing you can be, we will lose the ordinary part of ministering to people. It is easy to get excited and make plans for a neighborhood event and be too busy to notice the single neighbor that needs you.
Because books are always better taken together, I want to suggest reading another book from my 2018 review: Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. I am so glad I read these two books back to back because there is a truly beautiful balance and unity that comes with both books.
Another warning in this Instagram age is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money and your goal should not be to impress people with your hospitality. When our group finished this book, the leaders gave everyone a bag of dried beans to take home as a reminder that meals don’t have to be super expensive and don’t let your budget keep you from having people over to share a meal or a cup of coffee. I asked my friends on Facebook to send me their best recipes with dried beans so that I could share them with you. Here is a post that shares those recipes.
Finally, this book can be overwhelming. God is not calling you to do everything in it just exactly the same way He has called Rosaria Butterfield. You have your own calling and equipping. If you read this book and think, “well I guess I should start baking all the communion bread for our church,” you are missing it. You need to concentrate on the word ordinary when you try to practice radically ordinary hospitality. Start small and just keep going, because radicals are most often also relentless. Rosaria Butterfield is illustrating her path and you have your own path and your calling, which has the same end but may take a different route. If you have a family, you need to find that path with them and not working against them. And know that as you prayerfully consider who God has called you to befriend and minister to, He will answer you and walk with you. I leave you with this quote from the final pages of the book:
“Imagine a world where people fear God more than men and serve God more than comfort. Imagine a world where the power of the gospel to change lives is ours to behold. This is the world that the Bible imagines for us. That is the world that Jesus prays for us to create in his name.”
In the comments, please tell us a small thing that someone has done to minister to you.
Someone else might need a great idea just about now.