I believe that the theological basis for hospitality – radical hospitality –is the concept of the Creative Interchange as expressed by process theologian Henry Nelson Wieman. In Wieman’s theological model, the source of human good is what he calls the Creative Interchange. You and I interact, we learn something new from one another, we absorb that experience into our own being, it enriches our experience of the world. Our enriched selves in turn enrich others in subsequent interactions. This ripple effect enriches the world. The more varied our experiences and the more we interact with different people, the greater the increase of human good.
Think about how your own experience has been enriched by the interactions with those around you. Think of someone you have met here at church – someone who you wouldn’t have met in your other social circles, or someone that you gotten to know in a different way because this is a faith community. Perhaps someone of a different generation or social class. Perhaps someone who feels safe enough to be out here at church, but not in other areas of our society. How would you be different if you had never met this person? How might your relationship have been different if you met this person in a different social context?
Perhaps you yourself feel that you have to keep part of yourself hidden, (your politics, your sexual identity, your faith) when you are with certain social circles. How does it feel when you can’t be authentic? How does it feel when your outer persona reflects your inner being?
An ideal of a liberal faith community is to provide a safe space, a place where we don’t have a check a part of our selves at the door. Our Welcoming Congregation program helps us to do this for the LGBT community. We aspire to be a place where our interiors and our exteriors are the same. Sometimes this means we have an interior ideal and we struggle to match our actions with our beliefs. Other times this means we practice acting in the way we know is right, and work to transform our attitudes and beliefs through our right actions. Sometimes the interior and exterior become so strongly aligned that we can become almost rigid in our convictions.
Practicing radical hospitality opens up possibilities for interaction with different people, allowing for diverse experiences and an expanded creative interchange. And it’s about meeting people where they are. It’s about learning together. We are all works in progress.
Radical hospitality is about putting our own assumptions up for examination. To me, this is the heart of Unitarian Universalism. No one claims to know the truth. But we know the way to get closer to the truth is to gather as a congregation and try to figure it out together. New people will bring new ideas. Different people will bring different ideas. We can either look at this as a threat….or as a gift.
Look at the congregations that are growing. These are communities that see each new person who comes through their doors as a gift – a mysterious treasure whose value will be revealed over time and that will enrich the community in some way. And they know that this takes time, patience and unconditional loving-kindness.
Our constant challenge is to keep reminding ourselves that we are in community with people who are not like us. To be radically hospitable is to have a congregational norm that is radically inclusive, not out of duty, but out of our anticipation of how each new person will change us. May it be so.