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What Is Radical Hospitality

We could use more disruptions. I know many of us prefer to avoid a spate of disruptions. I dislike disruptions to my carefully crafted daily processes. But, on the whole, we have some cycles and processes going on that require some serious disruptions. 

The cycles that resulted in children being inhumanely detained at the US border need disruption. The processes that keep families guessing where their next meal is coming from need disruption. The practices that inspire some families to live in fear of being noticed by the wrong people need disruption. You are the disruption someone else needs.

The Christian call for disruption often comes in the form of a call for “radical hospitality.” What do we mean when we call for radical hospitality? How does it offer disruption? How is radical hospitality a form of resistance?

WHAT IS RADICAL HOSPITALITY?

I suppose the simplest explanation is offered in the phrase itself: radical hospitality is offering hospitality in a radical way. As an adjective, “radical” means “to affect the fundamental nature of something.” So offering hospitality in a radical way means offering hospitality in a fundamentally different way.

As a disruption to cycles of brokenness, radical hospitality requires a fundamental shift from a simple practice of offering welcome to an outward movement to stand with others--particularly those who are at society’s margins.

WHAT DOES RADICAL HOSPITALITY DO?

There are some wonderful examples of radical hospitality in action.

  • When a Muslim community purchased land in the Bible Belt so that they could build an Islamic Center, they got a surprising reaction from the church across the street. When the building permits were slow in gaining approval, the two communities worked together in radical hospitality. This video from Starbucks tells the moving story.
  • Rev. Brian Combs heard in church that we’re supposed to be with, among, and beside the poor. So he structured his church’s schedule and resources in order to accommodate the needs of the area’s homeless. Their worship service happens during weekday afternoons because that’s a tempting time for many people to get high. Rev. Combs’ church, the Haywood Street Congregation, invests most of their resources in “being with” people. Because of this willingness to extend radical hospitality, the congregation features homeless individuals struggling with drugs joining downtown doctors and lawyers in worship.
  • How often are the elderly left out of community because issues with mobility? The KIT ministryfrom Trinity United Methodist makes in-person contact a priority. Participants visit homes, retirement campuses, and nursing and assisted living centers in order to provide human contact for those who might otherwise be forgotten. Many of the people they visit are so longing for human contact that they will grab onto to clothes in order to hold people in their presence.
  • What about people who wish not to be noticed? A significant portion of the population is wary of drawing attention--especially those in immigrant communities. So when they have needs, they are reluctant to ask for help. Gerardo Vazquez provides assistance around San Jose for such people by bringing the aid to them--sometimes in spite of reluctance to receive it. It’s a powerful way of saying, “I see you, and I’m a safe presence.”
  • Those who have experienced incarceration often continue to be punished after they’ve left prison. Jobs for people with criminal records are difficult to come by. Often, other people are wary of forming relationships with those who have been incarcerated. This mindset keeps individuals in a form of cage even after their physical release. Acts of radical hospitality for such individuals involve simply recognizing their human dignity and working to restore their rights. Newgate Fellowship extends this kind of radical hospitality as they try to address ex-offenders’ most urgent needs. 

When we look at these stories, here’s what stands out about radical hospitality: we let go of a need to shape people into our own image. We extend radical hospitality when we include people within a community without an expectation that they will fully conform to it. We may even concede some of our community identity in order to be more hospitable to those who we welcome. Radical hospitality sends a message beyond, “you are welcome to join us.” It says, “We see you and want to join you, wherever you are.” In short, radical hospitality doesn’t just ask “do you want to be with us?” It says “how can we be with you?”

It is arguable that Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of radical hospitality. Christians believe that God created our universe and that the same God who created the universe showed up in human history in the form of Jesus Christ--forsaking the God experience to have a human experience. God entered our story instead of simply demanding that we enter God’s story. Perhaps that is what best defines radical hospitality: when we practice it we say “I want to become a part of your story more than I hope you will become a part of mine.”


Ryan Dunn is a Minister of Online Engagement with United Methodist Communications and an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. He lives in Nashville, TN.