The value of welcoming strangeness

AT the heart of faith, which is the condition of being shaken, one particular practice is crucial: xenophilia. Loving what is other, what is strange or foreign. It is obviously opposed to xenophobia, to the fear of the other and of the strange; keep them away; cut us off, on the grounds that “they” do not belong to “us”.

Xenophilia says rather: you are different and we love you for that. After all, we are different too – to them, but also to each other. It makes no sense to choose a single characteristic as the basis for cutting us off from each other.

In fact, faith in Christ, as a response to Christ’s faithfulness, is all about faithfulness to that very quest: the movement toward ever-deeper neighborhood, in solidarity with those who are silenced and oppressed. by the powers of dominion, and to befriend those who, in various respects, may be “strange” to us. So we should work hard not to cut ourselves.

As Marianne Moyaert argues, strangeness is at the heart of the Christian tradition. Because of Israel’s experience of being strangers in foreign lands, and because of God’s self-revelation to “us” in the stranger, there is a moral responsibility to welcome the ‘foreign. She suggests that this memory of self as foreign means that our identity is always partly foreign to ourselves; that our identity is therefore “fragile”.

Our story is one of dynamism – and understanding ourselves as partially alien, or dislocated and loved, helps us to love others who are equally dislocated or strange.

But we must notice something: when Christians speak of “us” in relation to Israel, the Hebrew Scriptures or the “Old” Testament, as if the history of Israel were “our” history, and as if the hypotheses Christian beliefs about Jewish tradition allowed us to treat it as our own, we collapse an important sense of strangeness.

Of course, the Hebrew scriptures were the scriptures of Jesus, and we see them in him, but we have to be aware of the tension; for just as Christian identity is both familiar and strange, even in itself, so our relationship to Jewish tradition is both close and strange.

The challenge of his strangeness is not to keep him at a distance, but to affirm how much our debt to his ethic of hospitality calls us to welcome him. Yet we have used his stories as weapons against him, stomping into his space with our historical power, as the Church, while making ourselves the subjects of his story. We occupied texts without taking into account their strangeness, their self-critical force, and we did it for colonizing interests.

SO, YES, we are strangers in a foreign land, both in the sense that we must exercise caution when we presume to occupy another religious territory as if it were truly our own, learning again to examine ourselves in the light of such a decolonial awakening; and in the sense that we should maintain a constructive vigilance towards all who feel estranged or strangers in a broken world.

Receive them. Love them. Learn from them. Don’t adapt them to our own story, but listen to theirs on its own terms. And see what happens. After all, as Jewish tradition also teaches us: God comes to us from abroad, so we must seek to be alert to such a lingering possibility.

It’s an idea that Kosuke Koyama has identified: that too often churches only manage to love the familiar, while our tradition invites us to love the unfamiliar, even if it challenges our preconceptions. or blurs our notions of purity.

God is on the move, destabilizing our temples and urging us to build temporary shelters, putting in its place the appeal of truth in our hands and trusting in the God of new things. Interestingly, “xenophilia” is just a way of linking “xeno” and “philia” together.

The Greek word for hospitality is actually philoxenia, where the terms are reversed. It is instructive: this love of the other, or of the strange, is the same spirit that defines “hospitality” – not the hospitality that simply makes room for the guest, so that the host can tell their own story, but the hospitality that helps the guest feel so at home that they share their story.

In fact, even more: a hospitality where the other is so loved that the distinction between host and guest is destabilized. Not that the guest is expected to take responsibility for hosting, but their agency is appreciated if they wish to take a more active role; their contributions are welcome; and the power of the host is restrained in the cause of “Holy Anarchy”.

Of course, it’s more difficult where the host owns and controls the space, whereas if people are meeting in a space that neither belongs to, that spirit of mutuality is more feasible. But such a space can be rare.

More often than not, we operate in someone’s space, trying to welcome others into it, which is never easy to do well; and not just in terms of physical space, but also intellectual or theological space. For example, when “theology” tries to “make room” for new voices, who decides what theology normally consists of and who decides which voices to include?

The process never exists in a vacuum, but always has a history. To do this well, so much self-awareness is needed, power must be reworked, and space and time must be expanded. Anarchically.

For example, what about “hospitality” in the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, or Zacchaeus and Jesus (Luke 19:1-10), and what kind of “salvation” is declared to have come?

istockRuth and Naomi, colored engraving

First, when it comes to religious diversity and the task of practicing xenophilia, it is important not only to engage with texts and resources that are clearly relevant, but also to be mindful of other voices elsewhere. This story doesn’t immediately seem to be about religious diversity, but it has huge implications for it.

Second, of course, no text can solve such complex problems – although John 14.6 is often used as if it could. Rather, the texts should be brought into dialogue with each other, to help name the different and contrasting impulses at work, and see if the knots that are difficult to disentangle can at least be clarified more clearly, even if they are not quite “overcome”.

Third, when we engage in this way, we will end up with loose threads, leading us to new questions. So, Zacchaeus and Jesus: who is whose guest? At first glance, Zacchaeus is hosting Jesus, but Jesus has essentially invited himself; it is therefore a complex dynamic.

Both are men of a certain status, tax collector and wandering rabbi, although the status of the tax collector is ambiguous – on the one hand, supported by the possibility of resorting to armed force, in the event of need, and clearly wielding economic power over others by exploiting them, but, on the other hand, still considered socially and religiously an outcast.

In fact, the status of Jesus is also complex: a religious teacher, but one who continues to touch and eat with the “wrong” people, therefore not exactly pure, even if he is more popular (among the multitudes, but not the leaders) . They represent complex constituencies and have different types of power; therefore “hospitality” is messy.

But it is clear that Jesus expresses a kind of xenophilia that others would not; his presence (at least) prompts Zacchaeus to promise that he will repay those he has deceived. As such, Zacchaeus wields a power, at least a will initially, which has yet to manifest itself in further action. As a result, Jesus declares: “Today salvation has come to this house!

But what is going on there? Jesus expresses hospitality to Zacchaeus, using his moral status to express his love for the stranger, whereupon the stranger creates space to receive Jesus’ bounty of spirit, and responds by expressing his intention to do economic justice.

This prompts Jesus’ declaration of salvation. Zacchaeus did not declare his faith in Jesus, as such. It can be said that he responds to the open truth of Jesus’ generosity of spirit, but he does not name it or confess his faith in the incarnation, the expiatory sacrifice of Jesus’ death on the cross or the resurrection.

The cross hasn’t even come yet, but salvation has come. In fact, Zacchaeus’ statement of faith is too thin on the ground. Even so, Jesus declares salvation. It may be because of Zacchaeus’s faith, but if so, it’s only implied, not explicit – and Jesus’ explanation is also unfortunately thin, not stating that salvation comes only because of him or because of the faithful response of Zacchaeus.

Rather, the answer – expressed here in terms of a commitment to economic justice, albeit only in intent, as it has not yet happened – could be something anyone could demonstrate, regardless of what or from whom incites it.

ANOTHER tax collector, in another city, who had never heard of Jesus might also suddenly decide to pay back his victims. Assuming this is possible (and why shouldn’t it be?), could this also be the basis of salvation?

We can’t tell from this text alone, but it makes no more sense to exclude it than to exclude it. What matters here, potentially, may be the ongoing transformation rather than the uniqueness of the cause.

And, as for that salvation, which also means healing, in Greek, Zacchaeus experiences rescuing or healing from his broken self, from damaged relationships, from distorted dynamics. It’s more than personal; it is on several levels.

In other words, this impure Jew, collaborator of the Roman occupiers and exploiter of the poor, is named son of Abraham not because of any particular form of truth in hand, although a particular ethical intention certainly plays a role. – rather than simply “belief” or “faith as trust”.

His loyalty, his fidelity, consists in a renewed commitment. Metanoia. Repentance. Revolve around. Change one’s mind. It is an experience that many can recognize, in their own stories, whether or not it is brought about by a particular person, tradition or formalized revelation, and whether or not it takes a designated form, at a specific time. or over a period of time. .

What we see here, in this brief episode, is that hospitality, with all its messy and complex dynamics, can be the basis for great change – and this can transcend distinctions between religious communities, between religion and politics, religion and economics, faith and ethics, pure and impure.

But Christians often want to encircle everything, to determine the cause, the effect and the narrative, whereas reality is more disorderly and salvation is irreducible; it has many sides, many faces, many dimensions, all of which – I suggest – reflect the drive towards “Holy Anarchy”.

Reverend Dr. Graham Adams is a tutor in Mission Studies, Global Christianity and Religious Diversity at the Luther King Center for Mission and Ministry.

This is an edited excerpt from his book Holy Anarchy: dismantling domination, embodying community, loving the strangepublished by SCM Press at £19.99 (Church Times Bookstore £19.99); 978-0-334-06190-8.

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