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Practicing Radical Inclusion and Hospitality

January 27, 2014
Lallene J. Rector

Jewish-Reconstructionist-CongregationThis past weekend I attended a bar mitzvah at the Jewish Recontructionist Congregation here in Evanston (pictured on the left). As you may know, this is the ritual Jewish children go through at age 13 (bat mitzvah for girls) when they are elevated to adult standing in the congregation and judged responsible for thinking ethically about their lives, about right and wrong. There is an intensive and lengthy preparation for this rite of passage in which the young person learns to read Hebrew, studies the Torah, and learns more about what it means to be Jewish and to be part of the congregation.

During the service, the young man or woman is called to the bema to help lead the worship service, to read from the Torah (in Hebrew), and to offer reflections on the reading. In some ways, the bar or bat mitzvah service is very similar to our own Christian confirmation services, except that our confirmations are typically less intensive in preparation and do not include this level of participation in assisting with the service itself.

At one point in the service, on Saturday, the rabbi addressed this particular young man praising his relatively new-found ability to be in better control of his emotions, especially his anger when others annoyed him or when he could not have his own way. The rabbi spoke of how important this self-regulation capacity is (my psychological language, not his) when we are faced with people who are different from us. He emphasized the role of community and that though our young bar mitzvah now has more adult responsibilities for himself and his behavior toward others, he is not alone. All those who surrounded him in the congregation, his family and friends were there to love and support him. None of us really goes it alone.

As I sat during this service, I appreciated the hard work that made it possible for this young man to assist in leading worship, to read and speak in Hebrew and to offer an interpretation of the scripture at the tender age of 13 before the whole congregation. I was also quite moved by the love the congregation, his family, and the rabbi extended to him. I was impressed by the welcome offered to those of us who were visitors and by the rabbi’s emphasis on the important ability to accept and deal with difference. 

Let me not over read the degree of openness that may or may not have been present in this setting or generally, in reconstructionist theology. I do not know about this. It would require more study and more wisdom. But, this very positive experience on Saturday morning made me wonder again just how serious as Christians we really are about dealing with difference.

I attended a number of worship services last week some of which included the Eucharist. I have long paid close attention to the invitation to the table, always curious to see just how open that invitation will be, to see what, if any, qualifications will be placed upon it. It’s usually along the lines of “All are invited – if . . . and if . . . and if . . .” Or to be more specific for the United Methodist community, “those who love . . . who repent . . . who seek.” All excellent things to which we are called, but perhaps that invitation really isn’t to all. Last week, I heard a radically open invitation to the table, one that really got my attention: “All are invited; everyone in this room is invited: those who are outside of this room are invited . . .” and so it went. There were no qualifications. 

DoorI was aware there must have been those in the sanctuary who were probably shuddering at the absence of the “if’s” or the “who’s.” I was thinking, “Do we know that Jesus said anything at the last supper about having to believe in him, or having to repent of one’s sin, or intending to live a better life in peace with one’s neighbor, before one could eat and drink in remembrance of him?” Those qualifications were added later and they have been a source of much debate over the years.

Well, you will know I am not a liturgical scholar. I’m just reporting what went through my mind. I thought of the Seder meal, an extra glass of wine, and an open door for Elijah, who could arrive as an unknown guest and who was to be welcomed.  

St. BenedictI thought of the Rule of St. Benedict and unexpected visitors who show up at the monastery: “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, 
for He is going to say, 
"I came as a guest, and you received Me" (Matt. 25:35).”[1]

I’m not sure that we as human beings, in our fallen state, are much inclined toward this kind of radical inclusion or radical hospitality, but I do believe we are called to it in the commandment to love our neighbor. Jesus taught it in so many ways: by those with whom he ate; those with whom he spent time and with whom he talked; by those whom he healed; and through his parables, especially “The Good Samaritan.” I continue to consider what practicing radical inclusion and radical hospitality might mean for the world and I am convinced that if we want positive transformation and we want to participate in bringing in God’s realm, then this is surely the way to begin.

[1] The Rule of Benedict, Book 53, “On the Reception of Guests.”

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