Toledo, Ohio, is a small city with big-city problems. But cheap housing makes it a perfect place for creative types. One aspiring collective—about a dozen proverbial "starving artists"—recently rehabbed an old house that now hosts a once-a-week meal to which anyone is welcome. About 300 homeless folks, fellow artists, and college students show up.
"They're all seekers," explained a young man involved in this outreach. "Most of them say they're looking for community."
In a culture where so many people feel alienated from family and clan, a place of genuine welcome is attractive. And though the starving artists of Toledo may not realize it, hospitality is a thoroughly Christian practice. Christine D. Pohl, associate provost and professor of Christian social ethics at Asbury Theological Seminary, has reflected deeply on what it means to welcome the stranger not simply as "client" or "guest," but as Christ.
While researching her classic Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Pohl noted a recurring lament from experienced workers: Practicing long-term hospitality requires the infrastructure of community, but sustaining community is hard—much harder than merely opening it up to strangers. Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us (Eerdmans) is Pohl's attempt to resolve this dilemma.
Why do communities come unglued? Paradoxically, Pohl argues, the very fragmentation of contemporary life that makes us crave community also makes most of us poor candidates for committed membership. "Despite the fact that many of us claim to be dissatisfied with individualism," she writes, "we cherish our capacity to make individual choices and to seek opportunities for personal growth." It might ...