Reviewed by JULIE LANE-GAY
By Debra Fieguth
Guardian Books, 2010
Softcover, 154 pages, $17.99
Some years ago my husband and I were on a driving trip across America’s Deep South. It was a snowy Easter and we found our way to a Presbyterian church in a small town just off the highway. It was a tiny congregation and we might as well have worn badges emblazoned with VISITORS. I remember nothing about the church service. What I remember is that nearly everyone invited us home to Easter lunch. I don't remember what we ate or how many people were at the table. I remember we were strangers and they took us in. Hospitality speaks loudly.
One of the newest expositions on this ministry is Debra Fieguth's The Door is Open: Glimpses of Hospitality in the Kingdom of God. Providing an excellent addition to the growing body of books and articles that heed hospitality as a significant means of loving the world, this is both a well-researched and practical study. It’s easy to read, encouraging and full of good insights. Fieguth looks not just at how we understand hospitality, but how it can and might be manifest in our hearts, homes, churches, cities and world. Written with warmth and personal honesty, the author looks first at the biblical and Early Church foundations, and provides a chapter for each of the many contexts within which hospitality might arise: at home, with our enemies, with those from other cultures, with the disenfranchised, and even with people who are in need of a longer term refuge. She includes a lovely look at Daybreak (a community for adults with mental disabilities) and at churches that provide sanctuary – costly when it necessitates civil disobedience. Each context is explored through a range of personal experiences, not just the author’s but those of a wide spectrum of Christians in Canada.
Debra Fieguth, a skilled writer and former editor at ChristianWeek, is a passionate expert on hospitality, practically and theoretically. She was raised in a rich tradition of hospitality and outreach. Today she’s the refugee coordinator for the Anglican Diocese of Ontario and the wife of a pastor. She has hosted countless Inter-Varsity international students. It’s clear that she loves her topic and her guests.
North Americans tend to focus on the act of being hospitable – making the meal and providing the bed -- and getting it “right.” Martha Stewart has left her mark. Fieguth advocates for a biblical view – focused not on the doing, but on attending to the people to whom we extend hospitality. She addresses obstacles – within and without. She recounts the hostess who made the grace-filled transition, admitting, “entertaining was for me. Hospitality is me giving myself for others.” Fieguth writes of a family in Africa who valiantly fed young thieves that they had discovered midway through the burglarizing of their own house. She reflects on meals of Kentucky Fried Chicken and meals served on bone china. Fieguth adeptly shows how people became hospitable, what changed their attitude, and in turn how that change coloured the ways they offered themselves.
Fieguth has done a commendable job synthesizing scriptural examples and those from the Christian Tradition. She is equally strong taking the intimidation out of hospitality -- making it plausible. There is even a movie list for those who want visual examples. But perhaps unique to this vista of hospitality are the glimpses The Door is Open shows of how God has worked in the hearts of those who offer hospitality – not in a cause-and-effect manner, but as an avenue to maturity in Christ. Fieguth shows not just the success or impact but the joy.
For a few readers, this book will bring unneeded pressure. They will find the author’s enthusiasm overwhelming. In my own family, even for many pastors we know well, hospitality is a blessing, but it is also exhausting. These introverts cannot cope with large doses of additional people if they are to honour their personal and professional demands. Perhaps Fieguth could have included a short additional chapter on ways to be hospitable for those who find it draining, or for those with small children who find daily life a challenge unto itself. As one highly introverted friend said, “Can’t I just pray for them instead?”
That said, The Door is Open would be ideal for a family or small group to read and consider together. With its wide range of ideas and examples, almost everyone will find something usable. And hopefully, when strangers arrive on Easter, a bit unsure even when to sit or stand or pray, they will be inundated with invitations to lunch – and remember not just the meal, but that they were loved.