Untamed Hospitality: Welcoming God and Other Strangers by Elizabeth Newman

At first glance the title of Untamed Hospitality by Elizabeth Newman suggests that it is a book to be read alongside of Good Housekeeping Magazine. However, Newman constructs a new schema for viewing a variety of issues through the lens of Christian hospitality including politics, education, and the church. Untamed Hospitality rests on the idea that all Christians are guests at God’s table of grace. Our response is to extend hospitality to those around us, just as God has lavished his hospitality on us. Newman is quick to point out what hospitality is not. Hospitality should not be sentimentalized. It is more then simply being nice or having good manners. Neither is hospitality something private or individualized that should be confined to the home. It extends much farther than our front door and our individual preferences. True hospitality is not something that can be marketed or mass produced. Finally, hospitality is not the same as inclusivism. Newman makes a powerful point that Christian hospitality is not the same as tolerance as popularly defined by our culture. God’s hospitality provides a feast of grace for sinners, but also confronts sin. It may celebrate diversity, but not for diversity’s sake.
A theme through out this book is that of participating rather then initiating. Worship is something that is already going on amongst the members of the Trinity. We simply join in to what is already happening, shifting the focus from us to God. Likewise, the Church is much more then a place we go on Sunday. It is a home (1 Peter 2:4-5) that we are members of whether we attend or not. Much of what Newman talks about appears counter-cultural. She points out ways that the American church has absorbed pieces of the surround culture including emphasis on individualism, consumerism, marketing, and compartmentalizing faith.
In addition, Newman has a strong emphasis on the Lord’s Supper and devotes an entire chapter to it. Coming from a more Baptist background, this book challenged my shallow thinking about the nature of Communion.
In many ways, what we “understand” about the Lord’s Supper has to do with how we position our bodies when we gather. In my own tradition (Baptist), the typical way that the supper is served is by passing plates down the aisles, first a tray of small ‘shot glasses’ of grape juice and then a plate of small ‘chiclets’ of hard bread. Everyone remains seated… But the practice is also highly individualized, as each person picks up her own little cup and her own already cut piece of bread. Each participant remains seated, there is little exchange with others, and the ‘celebration’ is quickly done.
Perhaps there was a reason that Jesus had his disciples eat from one loaf and drink from one cup. Maybe as a reminder that though many, all in Christ eat from the body. It is from that one life that we are to draw our life and nourishment. I didn’t understand or agree with all that was said on the Eucharist. I was challenged in my thinking though.
My personal reason for reading this book is that I think hospitality is a subject which we have forgotten in modern American churches. As our faith becomes more individualized (my preference) and privatized I think hospitality needs as comeback. We are more than individual Christians who only see each other Sunday morning. Together we are a living body. As a spiritual home we serve as the host with God as our guest (1 Peter 2:4-5).


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