Summer Reading Group: Hospitality and Embrace

This is the seventh post in a ten-part series for Spectrum’s 2015 Summer Reading Group. Each post will be drawn from chapters of the book Unclean by Richard Beck. You can view the tentative reading/posting schedule here.

It’s been helpful for me to view Unclean from my context within a large public university and the little old building on a hill called Advent House, out of which much of my ministry life unfolds. In this particular chapter, Richard Beck’s focus on hospitality is particularly relevant to a house-based ministry, one some students come to with a desire for safety from “the world,” one that (intentionally or not) gives students an opportunity to primarily connect with fellow Adventists, and one that forever manages the tension of different “types” of Adventists living and/or hanging out with each other—trying desperately to make sense of those who have the same name but not all the same practice.

Beck would comfortably admit to each student that hospitality is hard and goes far beyond four walls. Nevertheless, the four walls of a Christian organization are a helpful place within which any of us can begin to better understand hospitality because the building speaks to many of the points Beck addresses—access, community, commitment to holiness and more.

Hospitality requires the will to embrace. Beck calls it “the communal starting point”—it must come before we start trying to define what it means to be welcoming or inclusive. Toward the end of the chapter, Beck says, “[Hospitality] is the deep psychological struggle…to make room for others within the boarders of my selfhood.” I have to want to make room—that’s the will to embrace. But still, what does embrace look like?

I’ll admit it. I want the black and white sort of clarity that comes with precise boundaries and notions of purity, and I want them even though I know they can lead to inappropriate exclusion. Perhaps my administrative eyes find it very hard to see a viable space beyond static regulations, one that can actually keep a system afloat. And most certainly, this desire to very clearly define “embrace” is a desire with which every organization wrestles. Which is why something else Beck discusses actually makes sense in my head—hospitality and embrace as individual pursuits. In the somewhat misquoted words of Mahatma Gandhi, I must be the change I want to see in the world. This isn’t to say that I pursue the change independent of or isolated from others, but that I take personal responsibility for it.

While Beck doesn’t have any plain examples for how to make hospitality a reality (and I don’t blame him even though I want them), he does speak to certain things that get in the way of this open embrace, things such as our notions of boundaries, community, oneness, connection, and more. Beck makes an interesting statement that we need to be able to analyze our individual selves and through introspection, work out some of these presuppositions that cause us to establish exclusionary practices. He says this is a tension we have to work through in that because we’re flawed, we’ll never be able to really see everything in us. This is where the “will to embrace” comes in. Before we make any judgments, we “…give ourselves to others and ‘welcome’ them…”

I understand that but I’m not satisfied with it, and would suppose neither is Beck. If hospitality is a quintessential aspect of Christianity and if Christianity is rooted in Christ then Christians attempting to be hospitable will not rely on their individual reflective processes in order to sort through the ideas that are getting in the way of that willing embrace but will move to a much deeper, rigorous, and humbling position of asking the Holy Spirit to work out all those things; not just asking for them to be revealed but asking for transformation to take place and putting in the hours and years needed to see that change through.

In the midst of that and after any amount of transformation, consistently asking the Spirit to reveal to us what hospitality should look like is what I would consider another essential step because hospitality manifests itself in different ways. For example, the Spirit will enable us, if we are willing, to understand who truly is a “monster” (as Becks discuses) and the Spirit has the ability to help us understand to what degree we open our arms and to what degree we do some healthy self-protection or protection of other selves. There is a need for us to have a flexible notion of hospitality because there are times when picking up a hitchhiker is not the way to go just as there are times when we should open up our door, figuratively or literally, to someone. These are the sorts of details we can’t always discern with our own smarts.

Hospitality is rigorous and I want to believe that at some point we can truly be transformed into those who prioritize people over policy, aren’t living based on a fear of who people are, aren’t relying on speculations or generalities and are able to see the good and be the good regardless of what we see. But we’re limited and I struggle with Beck’s notions of our limitations, not because they’re false but because he doesn’t push us further to the work that I believe the Holy Spirit is able to do.

Now back to Advent House, a space that doesn’t actually belong to any of us—the students, chaplains or board members—yet is ours. It’s very easy within that space to assume unhealthy levels of ownership to a point of exclusion. So what should I tell the students? How can I help them develop the will to embrace? For the most part, they’ve grown up with the idea of tolerance and can appear accepting of anyone yet not fully make room for them. That work of securing human dignity “beyond all question or doubt” sounds good but is daunting, not only for the 19-year-old sophomore but also the 24-year-old graduate student.

There’s something in our brains that causes us, particularly when we’re in a space we call our own, to respond less to those who we don’t quickly consider as also having ownership. Were we meeting in a different classroom each week, the sense of ownership to the literal space would drastically decrease and there would be something else about our gathering time (like program flow) that defines who’s in and who’s out.

It’s important for us to really push the discussion on hospitality further to an acknowledgment of our need for divine aide in this process of developing a will to embrace, no matter what embrace may look like in the end. Perhaps the discussion of hospitality should be paired with one on selflessness and the abdication of control—alas, is that what Beck’s been saying all along?

Michaela Lawrence Jeffery is a pastor working in public campus ministry, daily challenged by the unexpected which often includes the grace of God.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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I find it amazing that there are so many Adventists represented on other web blogs that show so much animosity to those who differ on religious ideas. The personal attacks are even hateful. While they surely do not speak for most Adventists, even the raucous demonstration by some at San Antonio was very unkind and far from Christlike.

What has happened to the love Christ said was the complete demonstration of the Law? Have church doctrines separated us and caused a schism among us? As a non-member for many years, I have found no benefit to membership that differs from former affiliation. I have always been welcomed to attend; participate; and absolutely no different attitude was expressed by anyone in the church I attended. It is difficult to believe that all members react the same when their written words do not match the behavior.

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The Spiritual–There is a balm in Gilead has as iys refrain these words “if you can not preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul,You can tell the love of Jesus, and say He died for all.” He are doubly His, He made us and He redeemed us. as John Stott relates in his book the Cross of Christ–(God don’t make no junk) If we are made but the sane hand we need to treat each other as kin. Tom Z


I love this book. Thank you for recommending it right here on the Spectrum conversation headquarters. I appreciate your strong support of Jesus’ redemption and the simplicity of the Gospel.


The origin of which is in the development of our mind when in the first six years of life our parents anticipated all our biological and physical needs and supplied them without our asking. As a consequence, we became entitled which fed to egocentric thinking. Our developmental task is to shed our egocentric thinking and develop empathy. Our brain after all is created to develop empathy as evidenced by mirror neurons in our brain. This is an expected developmental stage that is resolved normally unless affected by stressors and trauma.

The same can be assumed in the development of organizations. Our church was organized following a “great disappointment” which caused a great narcissistic wound we still have to recover. As a result our church has been fixated in the egocentric stage/exclusive mentality that we continue to struggle. As in the time of Moses in Mt. Sinai, it might be necessary for our church to languish in the desert for another generation to raise a new generation that would eventually lead us to cross our Jordan river.

Some will contend this is a biblical issue. I contend this is a developmental task that has nothing to do with divine fiat but everything to do with our mental growth. This pattern of egocentric thinking is readily responsive to cognitive behavioral therapy, with or without the aid of biblical inspiration.

For those wishing to pursue this discussion, come see me in “the lounge.” Thank you.


I was listening to Richard Rohr on Youtube give a lecture on his book Breathing Under Water, and then listened to his lecture on his book Falling Upward.
Especially Falling Upward made me think of our Organizational Church and our view of ourself as a Church as being in that egocentric/exclusive mentality stage.
And that is why we are becoming so more and more “Fundamental” in our behaviors and pronouncements of who we are.
The announcements of the churches of Norway and Denmark have brought out some interesting comments. Comments that say we have to Stop The Rebellion. Talk similar to words stated in the North of 1860, and especially 1861 when the first salvo was made against Fort Sumpter.
Scary, when one reads members making these comments.

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Hospitality also requires sacrifice. Beck’s explicit discussion of Jesus’ command for this has been very useful to me. Putting aside my slothful (and often bodily) desires for how to spend my time in order to make space (Hospitality) to engage in loving and enjoying others is hard for me sometimes. It is a sacrifice. I so much appreciate this essay, Michaela. I really want to assert my own rights–and establish my own boundaries. I found Beck’s criticism of our world’s notion of “healthy boundaries” and how that makes us selfish hard. So thanks for gently putting this in words and reminding us that we too often create spaces that aren’t comfortable for others so that we ourselves feel comfortable.


Summer Reading Group: Hospitality and Embrace 21 September 2015 Michaela Lawrence Jeffery said:
“Hospitality requires the will to embrace. Beck calls it “the communal starting point”—it must come before we start trying to define what it means to be welcoming or inclusive. Toward the end of the chapter, Beck says, “[Hospitality] is the deep psychological struggle…to make room for others within the boarders of my selfhood.” I have to want to make room—that’s the will to embrace. But still, what does embrace look like?”

How does this statement, which I wholeheartedly agree with, square with the following response by Brother Ted Wilson:
“There is no other place to go…”
“Whatever decisions are taken, even though they may not be to your liking, there is no other place to go. This is God’s remnant church. If you don’t believe that, then you have, in your own mind, another recourse. But I don’t read anywhere in Scripture or in the Spirit of Prophecy that there will be another remnant of the remnant.” (“It’s A Very Humbling Experience” Editor Bill Knott talks with Reelected president Ted N. C. Wilson-Monday, 31 August 2015 16:50-Adventist World Magazine.)

What does embrace look like" In it’s essence it is pastoral. To embrace means that there are MANY places to go. In spite of what Brother Wilson might say or believe, the Adventist church can embrace diversity and individual persons and churches offer an embrace of love and acceptance. It may not be easy to find but it still exists.

Embracing all in my opinion works best when it is done on a spiritual level. Life experienced through our physical, emotional, and mental levels allow us the opportunity to learn to embrace all through our experiences. This includes all our pain as well as our pleasures. This takes place without judgment of ourselves or others. Evaluation is fine. When you start to master the concept “to embrace all” you then learn to know what it means.

We need healing as a church not dead end ultimatums!

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