Welcoming the Stranger


Last month I talked about getting my face out of a book and learning to welcome the person standing in front of me. It’s been an adventure (and generally fun) to pay attention to the person standing in line with me and the person knocking on my door. (I’m still working on the telemarketer trying to make a living by calling me!)

The next step is “welcoming the stranger.” Not often listed as a spiritual discipline, this practice was one Jesus emphasized by how he welcomed all kinds of people and identified with them: “When I was a stranger, you welcomed me… when you did it for the least of these, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:31-35, CEV). Such welcoming is tangible and helpful, even offering them a cup of cold water (Matthew 10:40-42; see also Matthew 18:5 and John 13:20).

Who are our strangers? People appear to us as strangers for different reasons but they usually fit into one of these categories:

Outcasts. A person’s past didn’t disqualify him or her from being welcomed by Jesus. While most rabbis threw stones at lepers, Jesus welcomed them (Matthew 8:1-4). He touched the untouchables.

Wrong-doers. The immoral past of the Samaritan woman did not disqualify her either. In fact, Jesus went out of his way to extend himself: he had to go through Samaria (John 4:4). He welcomed this person who was also a stranger ethnically and gender-wise. He should not have had a conversation with any woman in public but he not only did so but also invited her to enter into a deepened relationship with God.

Anyone who isn’t like me. When we see or meet people who differ from us politically, ethnically or theologically, a little “ping” may go off in our head that says, Ooh, Different. Step back. I wonder what Jesus’ disciple, Simon the zealot, thought when Jesus healed and then praised the faith of a Roman centurion. Simon would have viewed the centurion as a prime candidate for assassination.

A stranger may just be someone of a different economic class. In a church full of homeowners, an apartment dweller often feels like a stranger. A disabled person is a stranger in the midst of fitness buffs as is a non-reader among well-read folks. Military kids or missionary kids, parolees or drug rehab graduates may all qualify as strangers among those without that type of experience.

Anyone we’re tempted to exclude and ignore. Strangers are often people in power-down positions: “children as opposed to adults, women as opposed to men, minority races as opposed to majority races, the poor as opposed to middle-class, the middle-class as opposed to rich, lower-paid workers as opposed to highly paid workers, less educated as opposed to more educated, blue-collar workers as opposed to professionals.” The elderly are easily overlooked. When my quiet 80-year-old mother-in-law came to visit, our other dinner guests never engaged her in conversation. I wept later to think of the many times I had neglected to speak to an older person.

Or we may avoid pushy people, people who talk too long about themselves, those who scream and pout for what they feel they deserve, know-it-alls, or people who let their kids run wild. In any “us versus them” situation, “them” are the strangers.

The shocking thing about Jesus is that he did not merely tolerate such different people. Jesus offered himself to them in self-giving love. I am able to do this only when I ask Jesus to reach out to others through me.

Excerpted from Invitation to the Jesus Life, ch 5. ©Jan Johnson

Join the Conversation

Who are the “strangers” in your life?

What might be some small step you might take in welcoming one of them?

In The Painting
By |   June 15, 2011 |   in Art, Books

In the same way that we can read a narrative passage of Scripture and find ourselves in it as one of the characters or as a character we add, we can find ourselves in a painting. In the last issue of Conversations, Juliet Benner said one of her favorite pieces of art is Peter Paul Rubens’ painting, Descent from the Cross so I investigated it in her new book, Contemplative Vision.

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A Book That Found Me Just In Time
By |   May 31, 2011 |   in Books

I was given the gift of a small stick of dynamite for the soul. A Quaker pastor who wanted to bless me at a retreat l led for their annual pastor/spouse retreat gave me The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation by Thomas Keating and bless me it did—just in time for my current life journey!

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Reading Roundup
By |   May 27, 2011 |   in Books

Although we’ll have two more posts next week about reading that has been forming the souls of our blogging community here at Conversations Journal, we thought we’d give you a Memorial Weekend Roundup of all the suggested reading. We hope that you’ll pick up one of these books and let the words speak to you about the love God has for you and for the world. Happy long weekend, everyone!

Mostly Dead Folks by Jan Johnson

Jan says that her reading list these days consists of “mostly dead folks” and shares a love for rereading. She suggests Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy and a classic text, The Cloud of Unknowing.

A Good Book Finds Me by Alice Fryling

Spiritual director Alice Fryling shares how books become her spiritual directors. She suggests Dr. David Benner’s newest, Soulful Spirituality.

The Silent Language of Love by Don Simpson

NavPress editor Don Simpson talks about one of his favorite books of all time. He suggests Into The Silent Land by Martin Laird.

Glittering Vices by Bob Fryling

IVP Publisher Bob Fryling admits a love-hate relationship with the seven deadly sins. He suggests Glittering Vices by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung.

In The Pages of a Magazine by Juanita Campbell Rasmus

Pastor Juanita finds herself face to face with God when she thought she was just “checking out” by reading “O” magazine. She suggests an article, “6 Steps to See Yourself More Clearly” by Martha Beck.

A Traveler Toward the Dawn by Fil Anderson

Speaker and retreat leader Fil Anderson talks about cherished biographies. He suggests A Traveler Toward the Dawn: The Spiritual Journal of John Eagan, S. J.

More Glittering Vices by Valerie Hess

Spiritual director Valerie Hess seconds Bob Fryling’s book recommendation. She suggests Glittering Vices by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung.

More Than Just Kid’s Stuff by Nathan Foster

Author, professor and dad Nathan Foster remarks on the transformative power—and complex theology—of children’s books. He recommends C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series, Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel The Secret Garden.

Caring for A Good Life by Stephen Macchia

President of Leadership Transformations, Inc. Stephen Macchia reflects on a spiritual classic. He recommends The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis.

Where God is Leading Us by Trevor Hudson

Pastor and speaker Trevor Hudson recalls a transformative encounter with God through prayer. He recommends Jim Manney’s A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer: Discovering The Power Of St. Ignatius’ Examen.

Finding Everything Belongs by Lyle SmithGraybeal

Coordinator of Renovaré USA, Lyle SmithGraybeal talks about slowly working through books and taking devotional time. He recommends Everything Belongs by Fr. Richard Rohr.


Finding Everything Belongs
By |   May 23, 2011 |   in Books

I grew up in the Church in a small Kansas town, baptized in the Disciples of Christ congregation, then spending time in the Southern Baptist, then in the United Methodist, where the youth minister discipled me and the girls were cuter.  At each of these I was exposed to the Bible and the personal reading of Scripture, though I don’t remember the suggestion of reading it for a “devotional” or “formational” purpose.  Mainly we spent time with Scripture for an assurance of eternal salvation or for helping others get saved.

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Where God Is Leading Us
By |   May 18, 2011 |   in Books

Just over 20 years ago I found my way to a little monastery in Johannesburg and asked one of the monks there to lead me through the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. Very kindly, he agreed. In our first interview together he spelled out the time commitments I would need to make. For about nine months I would need to set aside an hour in the morning for prayer and meditation, while in the evening I would need to spend about ten minutes or so doing what he called “an examen of consciousness”. I had no idea of what this strange sounding phrase meant. Patiently, my new found monk explained what this exercise in reviewing my day would involve. For the following nine months this evening exercise became the highlight of the whole Ignatian adventure. Right up to this present day it has been foundational to my journey with God.

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Caring For A Good Life
By |   May 17, 2011 |   in Books

I’m doing a slow read through the classic The Imitation of Christ. It is best read slowly, reflectively, and prayerfully. It’s too much to absorb as a quick read and it’s impossible to complete in one setting. I decided to pick it up once again after nearly two decades since I first read it. Already about a third of the way through and I’m convicted on many fronts.

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More Than Just Kid’s Stuff
By |   May 12, 2011 |   in Books

Can I confess that some of the most spiritually impactful books I’ve read have been children’s literature?  I’m not sure if it’s the content or the limitless possibility of the imagination they tend to evoke.  Maybe I’m just drawn to stories that capture unadulterated goodness.  Most likely, it’s because this is the most consistent reading I’ve gotten to do in the last four years.  Reading time with my 10-year-old daughter is something sacred that is only missed on the rarest of occasion.  Sharing a story with her is no longer a parental duty, but one of my greatest joys.  I see God in the wonder unlocked in her eyes and the accompanying drawings she doodles to capture the story.  Whatever the reason, I love juvenile fiction, and Autumn and I have torn through a number of books.  I’ll highlight a couple of our favorites.

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More Glittering Vices
By |   May 11, 2011 |   in Books

Editor’s Note: We gave our bloggers free rein in choosing which books or writings have been forming their soul. To our surprise and pleasure, several authors wrote about the same book—something that confirms for us that not only should we be picking up this particular book, you should be, too. Enjoy.

It has been a long time since a book has stopped me in my tracks, horrified me at the depth of sin in my life, and made me forget to breathe at times. Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung’s “Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies” (Brazos Press 2009) is doing all of that and more to me.

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A Traveler Toward The Dawn
By |   May 10, 2011 |   in Books

Back in the early 1970s when I was beginning my career with Young Life, a mentor introduced me to the discipline of spiritual reading. In addition to the Bible, he urged me to cultivate the habit of reading biographies and autobiographies of followers of Jesus. Clueless about the soul shaping power that was about to be unleashed, I followed his promptings. With hindsight’s 20/20 vision, today I can see how this practice has shaped my soul.

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