Book Review: Making Room

Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine D. Pohl.

I chose to start my unofficial doctoral research on Christian hospitality with this book thinking that it would provide a good theological base for further reading.  After all, it has a cool mosaic on the front cover.  How much more legit can a book get, right?  Doesn’t it just ooze geeky wonder?

hospitality.jpg

 

Unfortunately, the cover was one of the better parts of this book.  There are several issues that I found pervasively problematic.

First of all, the author writes in a very general way.  She doesn’t provide many specific examples for the things she’s talking about.  This leads to both repetition as well as vagueness.  For instance, she mentions in several places through the book (repetitive) that because hospitality is draining both in terms of material resources as well as emotional and physical energy, it is crucial to establish healthy and fixed patterns of personal renewal – opportunities to recharge the batteries, so to speak.

All well and good and true and duly noted.  What would have been helpful would have been some specific examples of how specific hospitality-oriented groups accomplish this.  What does it look like?  She was in contact with a variety of hospitality groups (another, future part of my unofficial doctorate program) but doesn’t cite any tangible examples of how they replenish themselves.

Secondly, while she wants to extol hospitality and encourage others to engage in it, the only two personal situations  she briefly mentions both demonstrate her unwillingness to do so herself.  In particular, she wants to extol the virtue of providing hospitality to marginalized individuals – the poor, the ill, the homeless, etc.  But she is quick to say this isn’t something that she’s personally comfortable with.  I can understand this, for certain, but it undermines her credibility even while it does offer a very brief breath of personality and authenticity into an otherwise flat book.

Thirdly, she treats hospitality in the academic terms of our day.  Hospitality for her seems mostly about dealing with marginalized groups and not just being kind to the people in our lives.  There is certainly a place for hospitality to marginalized people and there needs be more groups to do so.  But at  least from a Biblical standing, this is much different than simply being available to the people who happen to cross your path, a la Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18.  The author turns hospitality into an act with a political or social agenda which, while definitely part of the historic Christian practice of hospitality, is certainly not the exclusive focus of such hospitality.  If the author wants to encourage individuals to consider opening their homes to people, burdening them with a social and political agenda seems onerous and unnecessary.  Certain institutions that deal with these issues on a larger scale might consider the larger political and social implications, but the individual host may not need to.

Finally, the author thwarts her own purposes in encouraging hospitality by constantly stating the dangers and problems with it.  Certainly, they exist and need to be treated, but it seemed that on almost every page was a caveat every bit as powerful as the exhortation to hospitality preceding it.  Frankly, the caveats eclipsed the exhortations for me.  I can’t handle being hospitable if I’m constantly worried about whether I’m disempowering or otherwise marginalizing further the person that I’m hosting.  Hospitality is an openness of self to others.  There undoubtedly can be offense given in such an openness, but barring a devious or otherwise manipulative host, this is more an issue with the recipient than the host, and frankly a larger commentary on how our fractious insistence on personal rights turns even acts of kindness into opportunities for suspicion and inferring ill-intentions.

The book has a good bibliography that I  will use as a launch point for  further reading.  The author also includes a short list of hospitality oriented organizations or groups at the end of the book that will also be helpful for further research.

Perhaps this book is better suited to people considering a somewhat institutionalized for of hospitality.  I would have very much enjoyed hearing more of the author’s personal experiences in providing hospitality even in such a setting.  However most of the time the politicized language in this book was more off-putting than helpful.

 

One Response to “Book Review: Making Room”

  1. Book Review: The Simplest Way to Change the World | Living Apologetics Says:

    […] have to admit I’m rather surprised.  I had expected the last book I read to be the gem and figured this would be a pretty light and fluffy follow-up.  The previous […]

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