Re-reading last week’s post about a model for doing theology in school, I became more aware of the things I had left out than those that were in there. This is worrying because it means I may have created a monster that sucks influences out of all the theological influences and expressions that have been part of my reading and experience. And of course, this is necessarily so, because of the nature of the model. One observation that is particularly pertinent is that our epistemology (that is, roughly, the philosophy of how we know things) is highly linked to our walk with God, and thus to the context in which we have lived. Michael Cassidy in South Africa introduced me to the principles of contextual theology for evangelical Christians during the struggle against apartheid (the key document at that time, now difficult to get hold of, was Evangelical Witness in South Africa: Evangelicals critique their own theology and practice , though it was later put out in book form by Concerned Evangelicals). The role of context is a key consideration as we try and place the work of God within a framework where we can be true to his glory and true to our own calling. Even our love for him, whether tender or wild, has a context.
The one area I had not adequately expressed, I think, is the sense of mission, of movement. The trouble with the magma chamber model in the previous post is that most magma chambers do not move. They might migrate upwards, slowly, but generally if they do, their movement is slower than that of most churches. To be part of the mission of God implies a deep trust, walking lightly, and allowing God to surprise us as we walk, so somehow this too must be made more explicit.
On the way home from Edinburgh yesterday, I took time to read and re-read a useful contribution to the model – Tom Wilson’s A Theology of Hospitality for Anglican Schools. It is a really well written, cogently argued and thought-provoking book, and I was really challenged (and not a little intimidated) by it. It is not long – part of the Grove Education Series, and comes from a doctoral study Wilson carried out when he was the parish priest for, and chair of governors of, a primary school in the north-west.
Many of the issues he faces are similar to those we face at Christ the Sower, and many of his approaches have a direct applicability to how we mighty extend our desire to be hospitable beyond that of hygge to a more biblically founded expression. He chooses hospitality as a metaphor, being aware of the imbalance and possible transience between guest and host in a church school – though his school, like ours, has high mobility and we, like them. have to make people as fully at home while they are with us as we are able.
Following a chapter where he explores the examples of hospitality offered by a study of Abraham (and the visit of God at the oaks of Mamre), Naaman (and the response of Elisha to Naaman’s request to follow God – YHWH – but worship in his own temple as well), and Jonah (and the challenge to be open to outsiders who may not be much like us), Wilson examines the example of Jesus as both guest and host, and it is here where some real practical groundwork is laid:
Hospitality is a means of modelling the nature of God, especially an inclusive, grace-filled welcome (p10)….Jesus was not above crossing social and religious boundaries, and he was happy to make himself vulnerable and ask…for help (p12)…the paradigm for hospitality is clear: everyone should be welcomed, perhaps especially enemies and strangers we are frightened of, because it is only through welcoming enemies and strangers that they can become our friends…there are certainly those who are harder to welcome: individuals from complex backgrounds, or with multiple complex learning needs, for example. How could they be welcomed? (p13)
Christinan hospitality is not a display of power, but an exercise in welcoming the marginalised, seeking out those who would otherwise not benefit from God’s generosity. How can your school rise to this challenge? (p14).
From this point, Wilson tackles two important doctrines and mines them for their “hospitality content” – the incarnation, which presents itself fairly obviously, and then the trinity, explaining how the different aspects of God’s character are shown when an individual is in relationship with at least two others. This being-in-at-least-three is reflected in our experience, as it invites a third person into the love of two. Wilson then shows how the different characteristic roles of the trinity provide a route into how we might see hospitable activity – leadership (God the father), obedience (God the son) and self-effacing service (God the Holy Spirit). All must be given opportunity to lead, to obey and to serve each other, whether staff or children. Quite a challenge. But it goes to the root of hospitality, as these are the aspects of human flourishing into which new members are invited, and the context in which they are expected to become part of a beloved community.
Wilson’s final foray is into the metaphor of body and family, applied to the extent they can be to a school, and he sums up the book with a chapter on the shape of hospitality, with four chief elements:
- Unconditional welcome (the story of Naaman refers!)
- An active search for outsiders (the parable of “bringing in guests from the highways to the wedding banquet” refers) using the concept of “xenophilic hospitality” – bringing in those who no-one else wants.
- Invitational and non-coercive hospitality (allowing anyone to say no as well as yes)
- A transformative encounter (with the expectation that true learning takes place in community, and we should expect that learning to happen and to change us and those around us, as a result of our welcoming hospitality)
I have been really challenged by this as I have read and written about the booklet, and am grateful to Tom Wilson for the effort he has put in to bring this to my attention!