The questions as posted by Songbird with my answers follow.
1. My own church is currently seeking ways to live into four areas identified in a visioning process. The first two happened to be Identity and Hospitality. When church members asked for help with Hospitality, I suggested that they needed to be clear about Identity first, and this is Westerhoff’s supposition. What is your response to the Boundaries First/Hospitality Second paradigm? Is there more to Identity than Boundaries? Or is there another metaphor that might feel more helpful?
The metaphor is helpful to begin the conversation. I don’t think I have a better one.
I think it is important to know your identity but I’m not sure that knowing your boundaries necessarily leads to the extension of hospitality. It seems to me that most of us (individually and collectively) like to think of ourselves as more open, tolerant, accepting, etc. than we are when it comes to actually interacting with people who test our stated boundaries. Perhaps, that interaction is a refining of our boundaries but I’m not sure how well defined we can be about our communal boundaries when the community is often in flux according to the participants in the community and the context in which that community is located.
2. How important is the distinction between essentials and non-essentials in your understanding of boundaries?
If boundaries are the first step, then understanding the distinction between essentials and non-essentials is necessary. If there is not clarification between essentials and non-essentials within the community, the risk is that the non-essentials become barriers to hospitality or defuse the boundaries by including those who do not value the community’s essentials.
3. On page 87 of the paperback edition, Westerhoff describes the participation of a group of visiting Buddhist monks who came to the rail for Communion at her church. What was your response to this story and the discussion that took place after? Do we control the eucharist? Are there “levels” of hospitality?
I find this an interesting question. John Wesley (Anglican priest, founder of Methodism), at one point, required communion cards for those in the societies (spiritual formation groups) and, yet, at the same time, argued that communion was a means of grace in which a person could meet Christ for the first time. So, even while intentionality and baptism were vitally important, he would not refuse someone communion because he did not want to keep them from the experience of Christ that could bring salvation.
With that in mind, I carefully considered what I would do regarding communion when I was in a position to preside. I will serve those who present themselves for communion, trusting in the grace of God when I serve those that might be considered “undeserving.”
4. If you have had a chance to do a unit or more of Clinical Pastoral Education, you have heard a story like the one of page 98. A student feels distressed after baptizing a baby who had already died, conflicted about what baptism means and whether it was appropriate in this case, but also certain that the parents needed pastoral care in this form. How do you respond to this case study? What might you have done in the student’s position?
Sometimes the best theological understanding is not helpful in communicating the everpresent grace of God. I have a high regard for solid theology. I have little tolerance for mindless following without question. That being the case, I will set my well formed, deeply considered theological understanding aside, in the service of re-presenting God to the best of my ability. For me, pastoral care always has the potential to trump theology. That decision is based on my understanding of Jesus healing on the Sabbath and the grace imparted to folks who were in need when the logic of the Law might have led to a perfectly reasonable conclusion that one should not heal on the Sabbath.
5. The epilogue of the book contains a lengthy story about a church’s process in choosing to fence in its property. Please share your reactions.
I think the story furthers the metaphor of the book and makes a good ending story. However, it seems to me that the issue of the actual fence became a focus on non-essentials for a community that supposedly had a clear identity in relation to their context as a church that was a sanctuary for hundreds of homeless. In the end of the story, it is clear that the fence enables the community to continue living their identity providing a boundary that also creates the space for hospitality.
6. Westerhoff calls on Jesus’ self-description as a “narrow gate” in support of her thesis that our boundaries must be clear. Where do you think Jesus would draw his lines?
I think Jesus’ boundaries are probably wider than most of ours. I do not think most of us are comfortable with the extravagant hospitality of God’s grace. I’m not sure how to put that up against the metaphor of the narrow gate. I have heard the “narrow gate” used in ways that mean “you have to believe like we do in order to get in” but that doesn’t match Jesus healing on the Sabbath.
7. In Chapter 5, Westerhoff refers us to the baptismal covenant as a means to test our boundaries. Does this feel like a helpful tool?
I appreciated the way she used the liturgy of baptism to frame the issue of boundaries. But I see as it helpful only for those with liturgical foundations. I grew up in a church that did not use set liturgy. The questions she addresses would have been considered irrelevant in that tradition.
8. Westerhoff admits that others are better-suited than she to certain practices of hospitality. How do you strive to *be* a neighbor in your own neighborhood? What are the challenges of being a neighbor?
I pastor an urban church. We struggle with the boundaries of being a good neighbor. Sometimes we are more motivated by fear and self-preservation than by hospitality in the name of Christ. I think this book could be a helpful entry point for some of my church members in considering what hospitality and welcoming the stranger could be.