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If you’re attentive to Christian publishing trends, you may have noticed competing visions for Christian living. One of them is the path of the radical. The other is the path of the ordinary. It would seem that a thoughtful Christian needs to weigh the options and pick sides.
But, according to Rosaria Butterfield, you might not have to choose for some aspects of Christian living.
In her book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, she argues for “radically ordinary” hospitality. As I began reading, this felt like an oxymoron. Ordinary, to me, implies mundane and routine. Radical, on the other hand, seems to suggest life-altering. In reading Butterfield’s book, I realized those two things might not have to be mutually exclusive.Butterfield isn’t proposing hospitality without personal boundaries, but hospitality that is open to having those boundaries widened for the sake of the gospel.
Interspersed throughout the book are stories of her own journey in practicing Christian hospitality. Butterfield is not only an excellent storyteller, she is also a deep and wise thinker. She deals with all sorts of issues from church discipline, to gender roles, to relating to the gay and lesbian community. Each of them has organic ties to how a Christian practices hospitality in its radically ordinary form. And she has been deeply formed and marked by each of them.
As showcased by Butterfield, radically ordinary hospitality is “using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God” (31). In a sense, there’s nothing extravagant or mind-blowing about the hospitality she and her family practice throughout the book. Yet, executing what they do requires quite a bit of forethought and planning, something that might daunt casual readers.
Hospitality in its truest sense is not for the faint of heart. Being open to that sort of lifestyle means being open to the stranger, who might be an orphan or refugee. Or it might be someone whose lifestyle makes you cringe. But as Butterfield notes, God never gets the address wrong. If we are open to our houses being used to expand the kingdom, then they take on a different role entirely.
Along these lines, Butterfield explains briefly how her background helped her conceive of hospitality as house hospitals and incubators:
When I was in lesbian community, this is how we thought of our homes. I learned a lot in that community about how to shore up a distinctive culture within and to live as a despised but hospitable and compassionate outsider in a transparent and visible way. I learned how to create a habitus that reflected my values to a world that despised me. (64)
Those habits, once Butterfield came to Christ, became the basis for much of the hospitality she practices. It is hospitality transformed in light of Christ, as well as hospitality in spite of temperament. I mention that, because if you’re on the more introverted end of the spectrum, it can be tempting to think hospitality is for the extroverts. Butterfield, as an INTJ herself, offers encouragement to those of us that might be overwhelmed by radically ordinary hospitality. It isn’t hospitality without personal boundaries, but it is hospitality that is open to having those boundaries widened for the sake of the gospel.
She then explains,
We introverts miss out on great blessing when we excuse ourselves from practicing hospitality because it exhausts us. I often find people exhausting. But over the years I have learned how to pace myself, how to prepare for the private time necessary to recharge, and how to grow in discomfort. Knowing your personality and your sensitivities does not excuse you from ministry. It means that you need to prepare for it differently than others might. (214)
If you believe her vision captures the vitality and centrality of hospitality in the Christian life, you have to start planning how to incorporate into your ordinary life. But, you shouldn’t aim to reorient everything to do what she and her family does, which as you read you realize is after over a decade of practice. You don’t have to start with an entire lifestyle change. But, you can start small and ordinary, and let God grow it into something radical later on down the road.
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