Friday, January 15, 2010

welcoming the stranger

Welcoming the Stranger: a public theology of worship and evangelism, by Patrick R. Keifert.

Welcoming the Stranger is © 1992 Patrick Keifert is professor of systematics at Luther Seminary; this book demonstrates some of his knowledge, insight, experience, and organizational abilities.

welcoming the strangerThe title of the book references "public," and throughout author talks about hospitality. Hospitality is a central biblical theme! Reminders of Israel's and the Church's essential call to welcome the stranger, to make a place for the sojourner at table and at worship weave throughout the book's chapters. Especially for any contemporary congregation wondering how to grow in depth and in numbers, hospitality, welcoming people into our midst, particularly strangers, those apparently not like us or simply people we don't know who outwardly do look a lot like us is a very contemporary topic. Despite our baptismal identity as brothers and sisters in Christ and as siblings of Jesus Christ, church as "family" in terms of everyday interaction, comprehensive knowledge of the other person, and routine, casual, supportive interactions doesn't really apply.

But the book title also pairs up worship and evangelism, and though the copyright date is 1992, one of the typical church stereotypes remains that structured, liturgical worship is un-evangelical, not good news to strangers and newcomers who might wander into worship or think about attending a nearby church. Chapter 3 opens by asserting,"Good liturgical worship and effective evangelism belong together, despite the commonsense idea that they are incompatible." [page 37]

Title of Intro: Public Worship and the Stranger

Talk about intimacy, safety and freedom is prominent throughout Patrick Keifert's argument that includes a fair amount of "how to be" and "how to do" suggestions for any local church in almost any geographic setting. The so-called intimate society in which people may attempt to interact with strangers as they do with biological family and other long-time associates whilst expecting an institution like the church to function as the type of family started disappearing a century ago and has receded even further into the background. Back in sociology, in history, and anthropology classes we often discussed the chaos, anomie, confusion, and disorientation that resulted from the industrial revolution and the onset of modernization.

Patrick articulates clearly the danger and threat of strangers and strangeness in our midst, whether it's our locally familiar First Fifth Church on the nearby corner, or halfway across the world. On page 88 he reminds us strangers can be threatening, dangerous, and challenging on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. He is sensitive to and knowledgeable about the strangeness of worship settings and liturgical practices to people not conversant with Church.

A theme of intimacy versus sociability weaves through the book. Page 70: "The biblical vision stands in sharp contrast to the ideology of intimacy at this social and psychological level. Rather than projecting the private onto the public, it opens the door for the stranger. The biblical vision affirms impersonal public interactions through the command of hospitality to the stranger."

Israel remembered itself as the stranger hosted by God just as the church knows itself—read page 59 with the heading "Israel's Worship and the Stranger." Page 60: "Though God was free to be present everywhere, God promised to be present in Israel's worship." —just as the Church knows God's promised presence in the means of grace... page 61: "If God's gift of self-presence is understood as substance, it is easy to imagine God presenting grace wrapped in a box—the liturgy—with our job to pry the box open in order to get the gift." Not only a new humanity, but also a new creation arose from Jesus the Christ's birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Early on Patrick reminds us that creating, not redeeming, is God's primal work and, in fact, we are redeemed in order to continue as co-creators and co-stewards with God in the Spirit.

Page 113, "I call for recognition that the presence of God is embodied in the stranger and in Christian hospitality to the stranger." Page 129: "...God's presence ... on behalf of and through the stranger." The worship space is God's house, the house, the home where God is host and offers hospitality of Word and Sacrament.

Analogous to style, training and expectations of sports teams for games played at home versus games played away from home, Patrick describes possibilities for Home Worship and Away from Home Worship, both of which are opps for evangelism, for sharing and further incarnating, embodying the gospeled good news. Page 120: "Probably because the situation in general is characterized by a distrust of ritual and a broken ritual tradition within and without the church, both ritual competence and ritual resourcefulness are so urgent." Like any social scientist, Pat recognizes that rituals of every kind have logical structure and relations that actually make public life possible. Ritual actions and structures possess power to bind people together, to create community among unlikes and unequals.

Despite the copyright date of 1992, I recommend studying this book as a resources for living out our baptism "on behalf of the world, with the world as horizon." on behalf of the world, with the world as horizon... but how else do we, that corporate "we," live out our baptism?

One more thing: I don't recall when or how I acquired this book, but by the time I began reading the book's perfect (not!) binding had started to become unglued and as I turned each page it disconnected itself from the others. I am amazed at Fortress Press, historically one of THE publishers of high-end theology and, in fact, Augsburg-Fortress has retained the Fortress imprint for its more majorly theological publications.

my amazon review: hospitable, vulnerable and redemptive

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