Knowing and Loving Your Neighbors
About the Guest
Author Rosaria Butterfield illustrates how "radically ordinary hospitality" can be a bridge for bringing the gospel to lost friends and neighbors--something she experienced herself on her own faith journey. She tells how she and her family befriended her former neighbor, Hank, and recalls how a couple reached out to her years earlier when she was a lesbian activist teaching at Syracuse University. Butterfield reminds listeners that real hospitality involves open invitations to your home and seeking out strangers with the love of Christ.
Rosaria Butterfield illustrates how “radically ordinary hospitality” can be a bridge for bringing the gospel to lost friends and neighbors.
Knowing and Loving Your Neighbors
Bob: Rosaria Butterfield is an advocate of what she calls radically ordinary, hospitality. She says if you are going to take the command to love your neighbor seriously, you are going to have to rethink how you open your doors and your hearts.
Rosaria: Some of your neighbors, their lives are deeply burdened by addiction. If you want people who are struggling in those areas to come to your home for dinner, for example, issuing an invitation three Tuesdays from yesterday doesn’t help very much because, quite frankly, they don’t know if they are going to be sober or safe that day. If you want your neighbors to come to Christ, simply say, hey, every Thursday night we are going to have an Open House.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, August 20th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
Have you thought about what it would mean if you got really serious about opening your home, and showing hospitality to your neighbors? It’d be counter-cultural.
We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
I am a little conflicted about what we are going to be talking about here because…
Dennis: Other topics you want to talk about?
Bob: No, no. I’m conflicted because I think this is an urgent/important—it’s one of the big issues we need to be addressing. The conflict comes, it’s one of those things that I think this is a message other people need to hear and put into practice.
Dennis: Other people.
Bob: Yes! Because,
Dennis: Well you noticed when I came into this studio, both of my feet were encased in…
Dennis: Because my toes had been completely crushed.
Bob: By reading this book?
Dennis: By reading this book. Rosaria Butterfield joins us again on FamilyLife Today. The toe-stomping author of a new book called, The Gospel Comes With a House Key.
Rosaria: Gentlemen, I thought it was the halo that I saw when you walked in the room. I’m sorry I didn’t look down to the toes.
Dennis: Have you ever heard of ‘Refrigerator theology’?
Rosaria: No, I haven’t.
Dennis: I’ve got a friend in Arlington, Texas, who for a number of years practiced ‘Refrigerator theology’. What would happen would be he and his wife would be sitting there having dinner and his next door neighbor would come in the back door.
Dennis: There was no knock, there was no house key. The backdoor was always open. He came in, would open the refrigerator, get something out, sit down at the table with them if they were eating dinner, sit down if they were just talking.
Bob: This was a neighbor?
Dennis: A neighbor! Oh, yes. This went on for, I don’t know, six, eight, maybe ten years!
Dennis: This guy came…
Bob: Now, wait, wait,
Bob: What do you mean nice? This sounds disruptive, it sounds like an invasion of privacy, like no boundaries?
But this is what life is like at the Butterfield house, too, right?
Rosaria: Yes, well, no! We don’t just have one person walking in! [Laughter] That’s why I was saying nice! My husband would be saying, wow, that would really be a good cap on our food budget.
Dennis: I want to get started with a guy named Hank, who was a neighbor. Who hasn’t had one of these neighbors who’s—you just wonder, what does God have in mind here? Tell us about Hank.
Rosaria: Yes, yes! So, we live in Durham, North Carolina, we live in a neighborhood where there are a number of older people. A few years ago a man moved in directly across the street. To say that he didn’t fit in would be an under estimation. Hank had a 100 pound pit bull he let run the streets, no collar, no tags. Every neighbor, I remember seeing our lives flash before our eyes the first time. He turned out to be a sweet dog, which is nice, but you don’t know the first time you see him flying at you!
He didn’t cut his grass the first three months. We tried to introduce ourselves to him.
We went over, you know, I baked a loaf of bread, we had our kids and the dogs and a note card, with here are our names and our phone numbers. And he responded by dismantling his doorbell, you know? [giggles]
Dennis: Oh, really?
Rosaria: Yes, he was the recluse and he really wanted to stay that way. Over the course of that first year we did get to know him. We got to know him in the way that Christians often get to know neighbors who don’t want to be known. And that’s…he had a crisis and we were able to help with it.
What happened was he lived alone with his dog. The dog disappeared for a week; that was a very serious emotional crisis for a man who struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a number of other things, we came to learn after we knew him.
After that we started to have time together. It started in the front yard, barbecues in the front yard. After a while, he came to Thanksgiving Dinner. Actually, six hours late. We literally went over and said, I thought you were joining us for Thanksgiving. He said I was having an anxiety attack.
We said come anyway and he said, well, okay. He said actually my mom would be really happy to hear that. So there were some little cracks in the armor over the course of many, many years. But he did turn out to be a neighbor with a problem that was a lot deeper and bigger than we knew.
Dennis: I want you to hold the rest of the story,
Dennis: For a little bit later.
Rosaria: Sure, Sure!
Dennis: But this is consistent with the spiritual DNA for how you began to be a Christ follower.
Rosaria: Oh, yes!
Dennis: And how you experienced redemption.
Rosaria: Right, right, right! Absolutely!
So, I was a lesbian activist, professor at Syracuse University, and had co-authored the first domestic partnership policy which was the fore-runner for gay marriage and had written an article that found its way on the editorial page of a New York newspaper. Actually the title of the article was, The Promise Keeper’s Message is a Danger to Democracy.
I penned that over twenty years ago now. A local pastor responded to that article in such a disarming way, it was neither hate mail nor fan mail so I didn’t know what to do with it. Ken Smith is his name, I call him dad. He pursued me. He didn’t just pursue me once and he didn’t pursue me because I was a project. He and his wife, Floy, welcomed me into their home. Not just once, not twice, not ten times, but probably a hundred times. I was a guest in their home every week for two years before I even thought about stepping foot in the church.
During those two years we would have a meal; various other people would walk in. People would open their Bibles and they would talk openly about all kinds of issues. And the Bible, you know, it wasn’t like a museum piece, it was okay to have it open while you’re drinking a cup of coffee and to really wrestle with it.
Bob: You would talk to your friends in the gay community about going to this pastor’s house.
Rosaria: Oh, I would. And this pastor actually came to my house. It’s important to remember this is the 90’s in New York and at this point the AIDS virus is a crisis. In our gay community someone’s home was open every night of the week for dinner, fellowship, to talk about politics, to stand between you and suicide. I mean this was in many ways an amazing time in the gay community.
Ken Smith would actually/ he came and met my friends and he embraced my friends. I don’t mean that he embraced their theology, he literally would hug my friends. He’d bring a loaf of bread that Floy had made, listen to people and likewise, years later, when I started going to church, I brought my transgender friend to church.
Bob: What you’re describing, and I think this is significant, how you were living in the gay and lesbian community in 1997 may have looked more like biblical hospitality than what’s going on with most evangelicals today.
Rosaria: Well, I give a little push back on that.
Rosaria: I think there’s a difference between a liberal communitarianism and biblical hospitality. We were very much living out a liberal communitarianism. That is a position that says, this crisis of AIDS is serious. It is so big that we are going to gather daily, nightly. That’s liberal communitarianism. We believed that people were basically good and that what we needed to do was gather together, share what we had, and be the good people that we were actually made to be.
Now, biblical hospitality understands that we swing on a pendulum between human depravity and human dignity. Human dignity is part of image bearing of our holy God. It has been so marred by sin that apart from the saving blood of Christ we cannot reflect our human dignity in the knowledge, righteousness, and holiness that we do.
We practice biblical hospitality knowing that when we open the door to strangers there is a risk. We don’t presume people are basically good, we know we are not because we know we are not basically good. But I would say this, that some of the tasks that I am involved in right now, I learned there: how to do with less, how to intentionally live below your means, how to share what you have, how to get your meal prep done in the morning so that you can prepare for you don’t know how many people in the evening, how to meet people where they are at.
Dennis: when you were here for the first time, talking about your book, The Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, I just remember being rebuked.
Rosaria: I’m sorry.
Dennis: No, no, don’t be sorry, it was good. I was really good. The Christian community has responded with the antithesis of what we should be doing.
We should be rolling out a red carpet inviting image bearers into our homes, into our churches, into our meetings. But instead they don’t feel welcome.
Rosaria: Yes. I think it becomes especially crucial in this post-Christian world because human identity is such a marred and vexing subject totally taken over by the idea of sexual liberation. You can’t have your dignity in a Holy God and have your dignity in your sexual autonomy at the same time. Those are in conflict.
For the most part, the neighbors you will meet today it’s not that it’s not true, this is true—Jesus has come to save you from your sins—they don’t think they need saving from their sins they think they need saving from you.
Dennis: And in many cases we’ve earned that, you know?
Rosaria: But what they need to know is that image bearing comes with responsibilities and blessings.
And it resolves that problem that we will all run into, it’s that two-fold problem: Why do I do what I don’t want to do? Even unbelievers say that, and it’s what’s going to happen next problem? SO, it’s really only a Christian that can genuinely help people to learn how to hate their sin without hating themselves.
Bob: I’m thinking about people who are listening and thinking, okay if I was even going to try this, I was going to open my doors and invite my neighbors; I think there are some of us who don’t know how to love the stranger well. And to invite them in before we know how to do that could really be a problem.
Rosaria: I think even before that, we might want to start out with what we do in our home. If your home is just a kind of place where people dump their soccer stuff to run out to do the next thing, or dump the briefcase to go out to the next thing, it’s a little hard to do this. Right?
By this, what we are talking about is something we just call radically ordinary hospitality. It’s the hospitality God used to bring somebody like me to faith. It’s the hospitality that we practice.
We who are radically converted, we understand the need for this. What it is, is it involves open invitations, it involves seeking strangers. In our middle class lives, strangers are not going to drop from the sky. You want to meet a stranger, which biblically you’re mandated to do, you’ve got to find those.
I talk in the book about getting involved, getting involved in prison ministry, getting home studied, learning to live in a way that doesn’t allow you to see your home as a castle, but rather an embassy, praying over each of the rooms in your house in that way, thinking about boundaries but measuring those boundaries against the blood of Christ, not measuring those boundaries against your favorite hobbies and interests.
And realizing that if you want your neighbors to come to Christ—some of your neighbors, their lives are deeply burdened by both abuse and also by addiction. If you want people who are struggling in those areas to come to your home for dinner, for example, issuing an invitation three Tuesdays from yesterday doesn’t help very much, because you know, quite frankly, they don’t know if they are going to be sober or safe that day. But simply saying, hey, every Thursday night we are going to have an Open House.
By Open House, I mean, here’s what we do, because we do this every Thursday night. I cook soup and bread, not very glamorous. You don’t like it? Bring something!
Dennis: Hold it! Hold it! Is it minestrone soup?
Rosaria: Sometimes it is, that’s one of my favorites, because, you know what? It’s cheap and it’s easy. So I cook soup and bread, neighbors come in and then at a certain point, the children gather the plates, they go up to the sink and then the Bibles and the coffee cups come down.
So, it’s not an Open House in that we are going to talk about politics. It’s not an Open House in that we are going to talk about plummeting housing values.
At some point the conversation is going to switch and we are going to bring our conversation to Jesus so that Jesus can enter into the conversation, not to stop it but to deepen it.
Dennis: I want you to show us how you turn the corner from the minestrone soup. And by the way before we walked into the studio, Bob was a witness, to Rosaria and me bartering. I’ve got the world’s best Black Bean Soup.
Rosaria: But we weren’t bartering, Dennis. If you want to come to my house and make your world’s best Black Bean Soup, go for it!
Dennis: It’s going to take too long. You’re not willing to give me your house for that long.
Bob: Oh, she is! She’s got a guest room, I mean—
Rosaria: I am, Dennis.
Bob: This is what Radical Hospitality looks like!
Rosaria: Dennis! Dennis!
Dennis: I’d have to bring an Arkansas ham with—
Bob: With pepper!
Dennis: With pepper, smoked, I mean, Rosaria—
Rosaria: Knock yourself out, buddy!
Dennis: It’s a killer.
Here’s what I want you to tell us. And we will get to that later. But let’s talk about Hank. What happened?
Rosaria: Yes! Yes! Yes! Well, one morning I was sitting at my desk, praying and I looked up and I saw big burly men with orange t-shirts on with the letters, DEA. Drug Enforcement Agency. I turned on the lights outside to realize his home was sequestered by this yellow tape that says Crime Scene.
What had happened was that Hank and his girlfriend, Amy, they had a meth lab in their home. Everything in our neighborhood changed and it was a crisis for everybody. We knew we could answer questions like how many people were in the house, what’s his aged mother’s phone number. Sometimes you don’t have a plan but you have a practice and that’s what Bible-believing Christians have.
We don’t necessarily have a plan for every crisis that’s going to come our way but we have a practice. It’s a practice that has involved years of prayer, repentance of sin. If these things come to bear there is a fruit to that that your neighbors need. So here was this crisis.
And it was one of those moments, right, where you could do a couple of things. You could say, well, that’s too bad, I’ve got a lot of things to do today, close the shades, try to go on with your life. You could go out, you could gossip with the neighbors, you could talk to the secular press, but Kent and I pow-wowed for about a millisecond and said okay we are going to do this differently.
So we opened the doors, we invited the DEA in, we invited the neighbors in, I scrambled eggs, I put out a big pot of coffee, we got the Bibles on the table and we listened to everyone’s concern. And the other thing we did was…
Dennis: Wow! I just got to say, Wow!
Rosaria: No! No! And the kids! There’s the kids, you know, just kind of rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. You’re like, okay, welcome.
But, you know they’ve been raised like this. This was very painful because Hank, he was special to us. We had been praying for him, we had been very concerned for him. There had been some things going on that we couldn’t put a finger on so we were deeply distressed.
They were concerned about the dog. A 100 pound pit bull in a meth lab. So Kent resolved that problem. He said oh, we’ll take him and they [laughter] the police kind of looked at Kent and said, what? He has to be detoxed first! Okay, what does that involve? So, you know, we spray him off with the fire hose; and after about 30 minutes he’s sleeping on the couch with the kids and the dogs.
Dennis: Not Kent, you’re talking about the dog.
Rosaria: No I’m not talking about Kent. Kent’s not sleeping on the couch! He’s in full ministry. These are the moments why we are saved.
Bob: There was a question that Hank had asked you, a significant question and your answer, I thought, it’s instructive for all of us.
Rosaria: Yes, yes. So we had become friends and I mean that in somewhat of a loose way because when people have secret addictions and secret lives it’s a very tenuous friendship. But we were his human contact so we would walk our dogs at noon. If he didn’t put his garbage can out at the end of the block on Wednesday night, we’d text him and say are you okay? That was really it.
He would come to our home for Christmas, and Easter, and Thanksgiving and holidays and things and some other times but mostly, mostly that was about it. So it was a bit of a loose friendship.
As we would walk our dogs I would often introduce him to our other neighbors and our other neighbors would look at him with suspicion. He just didn’t fit in, but we loved him and my children loved him. He was dear to us, he was our neighbor.
He said at one point, why are we friends? And it one of the saddest questions I think anyone has ever asked me, and I have not lived a sheltered life. I said well Hank because God never gets the address wrong. You are my neighbor and that means everything. And Hank said is that one of those Christian things? I said, yes, yes it is actually. And he said huh, God never gets the address wrong. And we believe that.
Over the years of our marriage, Kent and I have seen that play out, whether it’s teenagers who were placed in our home for adoption. We’ve had the privilege of adopting two children. So we’ve seen—this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen that happen. God doesn’t get the address wrong.
God wants you, Christian, to meet strangers and pursue them seek them out and make them your neighbor and by God’s grace make that neighbor part of the family of God. That’s the trajectory of biblical hospitality.
Dennis: I just want to say, Rosaria, God doesn’t get redemption wrong either.
Rosaria: No, sir!
Dennis: When He redeemed you, I just sit back and I just go, God you are really a mischievous God. To take a professor who—didn’t you …
Bob: Queer Studies, mm-hmm.
Dennis: Queer studies at University of Syracuse. He redeemed you.
Dennis: Made you a pastor‘s wife and then you set up an outreach in a neighborhood where there’s a steady stream of folks who need Christ coming there.
Bob: And then you step on all of our toes and write this book…
Dennis: Yes, and I’ve got a beef! You’re going to take the cast off my feet. You crushed my toes—
Bob: Let me just—
Dennis: —with this book. This is a great book!
Bob: I want to encourage listeners because we do have copies of this book in our FamilyLife Today resource center. This is a great book to challenge our thinking about the practice of hospitality and what God would have us do and how God can use hospitality and warmth and love for your neighbor to open doors for the Gospel. In fact the book is called, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post Christian World.
Go online to order a copy of Rosaria’s book. Our website is FamilyLifeToday.com or you can call to order, 1-800-FLTODAY. Again the website, FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- ‘F’ as in Family, ‘L’ as in Life, and the word, Today. Ask for a copy of the book, The Gospel Comes With a House Key, by Rosaria Butterfield.
By the way if you are one of our monthly Legacy Partners, you and your family helps support this ministry on a monthly basis, we’ve got a special event happening on Thursday night, September 6th. Dennis and Barbara Rainey, FamilyLife President, David Robbins and his wife Meg, are going to be here, and I’m going to be here as well, for a special Legacy Partner Connect event, where we are going to have a big conference call and be able to interact and take questions and talk about parenting.
Dennis and Barbara’s new book, The Art of Parenting, will have arrived by then. A lot of churches are using FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting video series for small groups or for church classes this fall. In fact a lot of churches are using the Like Arrows movie that we produced, as a kick-off event for these classes in the fall. You can find out more about the Art of Parenting material when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
But this Legacy Partner Connect event is going to give us an opportunity to interact with and talk with some of our Legacy Partners.
If you would like to be in on that call, call 1-800-FLTODAY, and give us your number, and we’ll call you around 7:00 Central Time, on September 6th and you’ll be added in with other Legacy Partners for an extended conversation on parenting. If you’ve got questions, bring them. We’ll be happy to talk with you that evening. Again, you can sign up for the Legacy Partner Connect event by calling 1-800-FLTODAY. We hope you will do that.
We also want to remind you that during the month of August, we are asking FamilyLife Today listeners to consider making a contribution to support the work of this ministry. When you do, your donation is going to be doubled this month. The reason is we’ve had some friends of the ministry who have offered to double each donation we receive up to a total of $500,000. We are hoping this month to take full advantage of that matching gift opportunity. That’s why we are asking listeners to go online or to call and make a donation knowing that your donation will be doubled.
In addition, we will put you first in line to receive a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s new book, The Art of Parenting, as soon as it’s available from the publisher. So donate today! Go to FamilyLifeToday.com, make an online donation, or call 1-800-FLTODAY to donate over the phone. Again, we’ll send you a copy of Dennis and Barbara’s new book as our way of saying thank you for your support of this ministry.
We hope you’ll join us back tomorrow. Rosaria Butterfield is going to be here again. We’re going to continue talking about hospitality.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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