Book Recommendation: Food & Faith by Norman Wirzba

415lM4ko47LWill Campell-Clause, a participant in Bristol Theology-to-Go, recommends reading Food & Faith written by Norman Wirzba. Here’s why:

This book should be the ‘go to’ book for Christians thinking about food.

Wirzba starts out by asking, “Why did God create a world in which every living creature must eat?… Eating is no idle or trifling activity. It is the means of life itself – but also death.”

He goes on to explore how “to eat is to be implicated in a vast, complex, interweaving set of life and death dramas in which we are only one character among many… to eat is to savour and struggle with the mystery of creatureliness.”

There are various perspectives which Wirzba considers to help us make theological sense of the complexities within and around which form the basis for the seven chapters of his book. Although Wirzba writes how the chapters do not have to be read in any particular order, he begins by introducing a range of theological insights that provide a great start before looking at humanity’s identity and vocation in a garden, linking this with an understanding of God and Christ as the prototypical gardeners.

His examination of the dominant industrial food system in the following chapter highlights the many disorders which corrupts our eating experience, of which many of us are becoming increasingly aware of. He then considers the nature of death (“Death is eating’s steadfast accomplice“) and sacrifice, pointing us towards a re-appraisal of the concept of sacrifice, before looking in depth at the implications of the Eucharist for our food economies, and how we might learn practices that help us to root ourselves in an appreciation of God’s good (and tasty) gifts. “To be genuinely thankful presupposes that we have made some effort to appreciate and know what we are thankful for, having devoted considerable effort to recognising the great diversity of gifts that intersect and feed into our living.” Of course, he completes this wonderful book with a chapter on eschatology – will we eat food in heaven?!

Here’s a suggested reading list for further reading:

– Most of Wendell Berry’s work.

A good collection of his finest agrarian essays is called The Art of the Commonplace.

Scripture, Culture and Agriculture by Ellen Davis

  A fascinating look at how agrarian thinking and practice are present and encouraged throughout the Bible.

Living with Other Creatures by Richard Bauckham

A theological book which helps make sense of the role we have in relation to the rest of creation.

Planetwise by Dave Bookles

An easy access theology of creation care.

Surprised by Hope by Tom Wright

A brilliant book which helps us to understand the gospels implications for all creation, including eschatology.

So Shall We Reap by Colin Tudge

A non-Christian author drawing on Biblical ideas to argue that instead of acting short termistically to merely ‘feed the 9 billion by 2050’ in the cheapest possible ways, there are many ways we can create sustainable food econmies that will nourish the world’s population thousands of years from now – “the future belongs to the gourmet”.

Stuffed and Starved by Raj Patel

A scathing critique of the injustice in the global food system.

– The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan

A fascinating look behind the scenes of the industrial food system in the US.

Food, Farming and the Churches by Tim Gorringe

A short and to the point, a great theologian challenging the church to support local farmers and food economies.

For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann.

Deep theology focussed on the Eucharist and its implications for the whole creation.

What other books on how we engage with food would you recommend to others?

Juliet Kilpin: Witnessing The Birth Of A New City In Calais

Juliet Kilpin has been spending time in Calais in recent months befriending refugees and listening to their stories. She has taken some time to share with us some of her experiences.
Tea in Syrian TentI am fascinated by cities. A foundational challenge that my faith is built on comes from Ray Bakke’s famed book, A Theology as Big as The City, which suggests that if we cannot find God in a city, we may not find God at all.

The European refugee crisis has been called the largest movement of people across Europe since World War 2 and it is stretching our existing political, border, charitable and humanitarian aid policies to the max. Kilian Kleinschmidt, a leading authority on humanitarian aid, worked for 25 years for the United Nations and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in various camps, most recently in Zaatari, the world’s second largest refugee camp and Jordan’s third largest city. In an article he says I think we have reached the dead end almost where the humanitarian agencies cannot cope with the crisis. We’re doing humanitarian aid as we did 70 years ago after the second world war. Nothing has changed… We [are] building camps: storage facilities for people. But the refugees [are] building [cities].

2015-11-18 15.44.55I think this is why I have felt so drawn to Calais since my first visit in August. Not only have I been faced with the slum conditions and poverty I have experienced whilst visiting friends and fellow urban missionaries in Lima, Kampala, Phnom Penh, Sao Paulo and Tijuana, but I have witnessed the birth of a new suburb, perhaps even a new city in France. It has been truly mind-blowing coping with this paradigm shift, which brings the poverty of a developing world scale to one of the richest countries in the world. My head has literally ached with the processing, the questioning, the pain and challenge of not being able to rationalise lack of participation with the excuses of distance and expense.

I have been grateful to have many from Urban Expression accompany me on trips to Calais. It has been invaluable to walk, talk and reflect with those who share values and grass-roots urban experience. Many have wanted to remain involved and some have even joked (prophesied) that it feels like Urban Expression Calais may have started. Our prayers have certainly already been prayed there.

2015-11-18 13.07.37In December I started a new 2 day per week role with Christian International Peacemaker Service (CHIPS). They have been concerned with the unregulated, multi-national, uncoordinated “refugee camp” of Calais which is now home to approximately 7000 people. They are keen to support grass-roots peacemakers and enhance their work of intentional, proactive peacemaking and my role is to help with this.

One of the first things we have done is, at residents’ requests, to provide a “listening caravan” and begin to build a team of “listeners” to support the volunteers (some with papers and many without) who often operate on the edge of burn-out with no assistance from recognised organisations. We are also hoping to help create opportunities for dialogue between members of the camp and the police to try and reduce the amount of tear gas being used against the refugees. If you would like to become a “listener”, do get in touch!

Every visit to Calais is an intense and privileged learning opportunity. I hope that together the peacemakers there can help to birth a peaceful city.

If you are interested in experiencing the birth of a new city and becoming a listener, why not get in touch with Juliet today?

Glass Half Full: Glass Half Empty? Exploring Bi-Vocational Ministry


Bi-Vocational Ministry Flyer

Tuesday July 14th – Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

You are invited to join a working consultation on the challenges and opportunities of bi-vocational ministry. Is the rise of bi-vocational ministry a response of despair in the face of falling congregations and church bank balances? Or does it reflect a new work of the Spirit as God equips the church in more flexible ways for ministry and mission in today’s world?

  • Come and join the conversation.
  • Come and listen to practitioners.
  • Come and share in theological reflection.
  • Come and start to shape the future.

Trinity College, Stoke Hill, Bristol, BS9 1JP

Cost: £75.00 residential; £45.00 non-residential

More information at

For further details contact

‘THE NEW PARISH’ – Reflections on the book by Sparks, Soerens and Friesen


Any book that helps the Christian community take a more thoughtful approach to place is, in my view, to be welcomed and by focusing on the idea of the ‘new parish’ Sparks, Soerens and Friesen draw attention to aspects of place that are important for the theology and practice of mission. The book creatively envisions mission in terms of liveable and humanising communities and connects constructively with a sense of anxiety felt my many over growing feelings of rootlessness, dislocation and displacement which shape our everyday relationship with place.[1]

If, as Sparks suggest, Christian communities are to become more attentive to and grounded in their own neighbourhoods, some basic questions about ‘place’ need to be explore more deeply: what is place; how does place function; how do we think theologically about place; can places be renewed, transformed, or ‘re-placed’? It seems that The New Parish makes some important observations in relation to these questions, identifying for example, the way in which increased mobility (especially through the use of the car) has profoundly altered people’s experience of the neighbourhood so that for many, particularly in urban areas, there is a considerably diminished sense of neighbourhood and very little experience of what ‘being a neighbour’ really entails. The New Parish helpfully draws attention to connections between place and the shape of everyday life so that a place that embodies the values and behaviours of a ‘new parish’ becomes relationally resilient and rich, not through any grand schemes, but precisely because the very mundane and ordinary performances—such as walking instead of driving—make connections that are humanising.

A crucial observation made by Sparks, that ‘place’ has been largely overlooked—in their terms, people have “lived above place” (p.15)—might seem somewhat ironic given that all mission, and indeed all living, happens in places. Nevertheless, it is an oversight that is shared by many disciplines so that even geographers have only relatively recently experienced their own ‘spatial-turn’.[2] This spatial-turn in the social sciences is opening up new opportunities for theology and missiology but it also raises some critical questions that need to be carefully considered if mission strategies which seek to me more attentive to ‘place’ are not simply to become a reworked expression of hierarchical power which Sparks suggest was embodied in the ‘old parish.’

One such theme which is, I suggest, critical for this discussion about the new parish and is still relatively unexplored in missiology, is the association of power to place; an association which claims that to talk about place is also to talk about power. This association profoundly shapes experiences of everyday life. Consider for example an office—an ordinary place—where an executive arrives one morning to find the cleaner sitting in his chair. She (and it often is a ‘she’) would be reprimanded and possibly dismissed. What was her offense? She was ‘out of place’; and furthermore we might all agree that she should have ‘known her place.’

There are some important observations to be made from this illustration. First that place itself is not simply the physical location and the material stuff it contains such as the desk and chair, but crucially place is a combination of both the social and the spatial—and we might argue from a theological point of view, the spiritual. Second we need to note that place embodies social meaning which determines a person’s status or place in society. Thus place embeds hierarchical arrangements which express strongly held ‘truths’ about people’s identity and value and how they are to behave. In this sense an apparently unassuming, everyday place such as an office is seen to be part of a wider landscape of social and ideological power, where cleaners and executives should ‘know there place’. Thirdly, in most cases these things are simply taken for granted as the way the world works. Precisely because social power and meaning are embedded in, and expressed through, physical locations and material ‘stuff’ such as offices, they assume the status of ‘the natural’, or ‘given’ order of things and thus go unnoticed and unquestioned.[3]

Following these ideas, I suggest that there are strong grounds within theology as well as the social sciences, to understand that places are concerned with domination and are an important part of the basis upon which power relations function. Furthermore, there is good argument to suggest that the dominant formative power that works in place is one of exclusion, so that those who are less powerful are habitually excluded from ‘better’ places. This is exemplified in the illustration of the cleaner, but is seen on a daily basis in our cities as the low-paid and the ‘foreigners’ are excluded from the ‘well-to-do’ suburbs and assigned to the less desirable urban areas where standards of health-care, education, and general welfare are lower; it is seen in the routine actions of security guards who move groups of ‘youths’ or ‘vagabonds’ from shopping malls because they are deemed to threaten the security or comfort of shoppers; and the growth of gated communities to keep the wrong kinds of people out.[4]

These ideas about place are deeply embedded within the gospel accounts. Social settlements of place that defined ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ were maintained through systems based upon religious purity codes, patriarchy, and ‘oikoumene’ (civilized-place).[5] Therefore, Jesus’s location in Galilee was not simply an expression of incarnation as particularity—that God himself can be known in a particular small neighbourhood—but equally importantly it was a challenge to the prevailing and overwhelming arrangements of power that excluded a majority of people to the deprived and dehumanising social and geographical margins. Thus Jesus’ engagement in marginal places was not simply ‘ministering to the poor’ but was exposing and attacking the very systems of power that defined and maintained their poverty.

Put concisely, I am suggesting that all power finds expression through places, and that Jesus himself engage with power and the powers through their place-based expressions. Furthermore, Jesus actions were not simply to expose and subvert these powers, but through his own presence he established a new kind of place. This new redemptive place (which I like to refer to as an expression of Jesus-Space) is no longer predicated on hierarchical or ideological power structures of exclusion, but embodies a radical relational connectedness that is expressed through practices of open hearted hospitality, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection therefore brought into being a whole new kind of place which embodies new characteristics, values and behaviours. Perhaps it seems only natural that with a new creation and a new humanity, one might hope for a ‘new place.’

How then might these arguments inform the conversation about the ‘new parish’? I suggest that there are a number of important connections. We might consider for example how the new creation of ‘Jesus-Space’ becomes practically embodied within neighbourhoods or parishes and the particular practices or spiritualities that a missional community might pursue and they seek the redemption of places. We might also think about how mission engages with prevailing arrangements of power that work to exclude and marginalised the less powerful and indeed our own complicity within those systems. We might even begin to explore not just the conversion of people, but the conversion of places or neighbourhoods.

In conclusion, I very much warm to the ideas expressed by Sparks in The New Parish. The book however raises some critical questions that, I believe, need to be considered. For example, it seems to me that it is not so much the size of the place—a table, parish, town, city, country—that is of primary importance, but rather the nature and function of the place itself. Indeed, the very act of defining a ‘parish’ as the ideal size of a place could cause the ‘new parishioners’ to become unwitting participants in the very expressions of power they seek to subvert. An additional point that I have not had space to explore in this article, is that place is not what it used to be, in the sense that the incredible rise of mobility and networking has irreversibly changed the human experience of place. In developing ideas and practices that seek to recover the sense of locally liveable places and neighbourliness we need to be careful that mission is not simply framed as turning the clocks back to recover some long lost expression of neighbourhood, but deals courageously with the new hyper-connected and mobile world in which we find ourselves.[6]



[1] These ideas are helpfully explored Tim Gorringe, A Theology of the Built Environment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); John Inge, A Christian Theology of Place (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003); Philip Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory and Identity (Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).

[2] See Tim Cresswell, Place: A Short Introduction (Malden, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2004).

[3] For an exploration of these ideas in see Tim Cresswell, In Place / Out of Place: Geography, Ideology and Transgression (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).

[4] For an exploration of these ideas see Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2002);  David Sibley, Geographies of Exclusion (London and New York: Routledge, 1995).

[5] See for example Bruce J Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. 3rd. (Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001);  Jerome H. Neyrey and Eric C. Stewart, The Social World of the New Testament: Insights and Models (Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2008); Eric C. Stewart, Gathered Around Jesus: An Alternative Spatial Practice in the Gospel of Mark (Cambridge : Clark, 2009).

[6] See Doreen Massey, A Global Sense of Place (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994).

A Theological Reflection on Dislocated Lives by Terry A. Veling

Many thanks to Terry Veling for kindly letting us reproduce this article!

(Catholic Theological Society of America, Invited Session, June 2006, San Antonio)


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is my own experience of being an immigrant – alien number A099147068 – that

has led me to take an interest in the plight of the refugee, the asylum-seeker, the exile and

the itinerant. I would like to cite a poem that I wrote during this time in my life.


“A Day in the Life of an Alien”

Lines. They begin outside the building. A throng of people all corralled

into lines. They continue inside the building. Security screening first, of course,

and relinquishing my cigarette lighter – a possible weapon no doubt.

“Form one line!” “Only those with appointments!” “Have your papers

and identification ready!” Confusion. Anxiety written over many faces. The

authorities! “Line up here!” “Fill out these forms!” “Take your number and

have a seat!” Desperate souls herded into a huge processing machine, like cans of

beans on a factory line.

Memories of the unemployment office. And now it is the immigration

office. The same feelings. Humiliation. A thing to be processed and dealt with.

A case. An issue. A number. A reject in the system. A herded crowd. Not to be

trusted. Always under suspicion. Under the law. Regulated. Controlled.

Gatekeepers! Gatekeepers!

Here I was again. The drill. Assigned my number, following directions,

holding onto my forms, anxious, unsure, waiting for that all-decisive “yes” or

“no.” To the left. To the right.

I have an alien number. It is A099147068. Who would have guessed that

on this beautiful blue planet, I would be given a number that identifies me as an

alien. I can’t fathom this. It actually boggles my mind more than the most

inscrutable mysteries of God.

We all had numbers and we all sat together, in tidy and orderly straight

rows, glancing up occasionally when we heard the chime as the number for the

next ticket-holder moved from B608 to B609. I was B638, so I knew I had a

while to wait. Plenty of time to gaze at the faces around me – wonderful faces –

with different features and complexions – old and young, some sitting silently

alone, others with family or a partner. Plenty of time to imagine their stories and

the journeys that brought them here. A room full of aliens.

I attempted to go to the restrooms, but was quickly pounced upon by a

security guard, as though leaving my seat was a breach of orderly conduct.

“Where is your ticket, Sir? You need your number to go to the restrooms.” She

spoke in a very loud voice (like a commandant . . . I wondered why she couldn’t

be a little more discrete), and I felt the eyes of the whole room gazing at me. I

had a sudden flashback and felt like a school kid again, busted by the principal.

“Never mind,” I said, “I can wait,” and I resumed my seat, figuring that a leak

wasn’t worth an interrogation. God, I felt like jumping up and spewing my guts

against this whole system and the indignity of it all. I felt the rage of a wild and

unruly Amos. But then I sat down, and rejoined my fellow compatriots, felt

myself being absorbed into the room, into the crowd, into the people – sat with

them, with them, with them – an alien among aliens.


I have no doubt that my own immigrant experience is but a poor reflection of the

plight of itinerants and asylum-seekers in our world. Nevertheless, it at least provides me

with a way to become involved in their concern, to feel something of their human

condition, to want to speak on their behalf and to join in their struggle.


Border Control

It seems doubtful that we will ever be able to live without borders, even though,

as Robert Frost suggests, there is something within us “that doesn’t love a wall, that

wants it down.” If we have to deal with borders, then let’s try at least to make them as

open and porous and permeable as possible – especially for people – yes, even for the

immigrant and the itinerant, but most especially for the poor and the exiled.

We live in an age where money and information travel virtually unhindered and

freely around the globe, paying scant regard to barriers and borders. Yet the movement

of people is still crassly and crudely blocked and constrained. The Pontifical Council for

the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants writes:

The ever-increasing migration phenomenon today is an important component of

that growing interdependence among nation states that goes to make up

globalization, which has flung markets wide open but not frontiers, has

demolished boundaries for the free circulation of information and capital, but not

to the same extent for the free circulation of people. (The Love of Christ Toward

Migrants, n.4)

We continue to draw national lines and to insist on the right of nation-states to

control their borders, such that the very concept of “open borders” seems to create a wave

of frenzy and panic among national populations. “Asians go home!” was a common

graffiti I saw scrawled on walls and subways during a particularly dark period in

Australia’s recent history. In the wake of “September 11,” a new tightening of borders is

now made even more justifiable, such that a whole new department has been created in

the United States that seeks to protect and secure “the homeland.” There seems even less

hope now for the stranger, the immigrant, the itinerant, the refugee – for human beings

who find themselves, for one reason or another, “on the move” across our wondrously

round earth-land.

For all those who want to insist on the right of sovereign states to control their

borders, Catholic social teaching willingly nods its head. It admits – almost begrudgingly

– that this is indeed a right (Strangers, n.36). Yet the right to control borders can never

stand as a right on its own. Indeed, left to its own devices, border control can easily

become a vehicle for abuse and injustice. In acknowledging the right of a state to control

its borders, Catholic social teaching says that this right should be exercised “in

furtherance of the common good,” suggesting that a nation does not exist simply as an

isolated nation unto its own, but rather exists within a “family of nations” and thus also

shares duties and responsibilities to the wider global community. The state, therefore,

has collective moral obligations to citizens of other countries. (Strangers, n.39; The love of Christ, n.8). Yet this duty is currently violated by almost all ‘developed’ states.” Pope

John Paul II writes:

In many regions of the world today people live in tragic situations of instability

and uncertainty . . . in such contexts the poor and the destitute make plans to seek

a new land that can offer them bread, dignity and peace. This is the migration of

the desperate: men and women who have no alternative than to leave their own

country to venture into the unknown. Every day thousands of people take even

critical risks in their attempts to escape from a life with no future. Unfortunately,

the reality they find in host nations is frequently a source of further

disappointment. (Message on World Migration Day 2000, n. 4)

In Australia, for example, asylum seekers are detained in prison-like conditions

for periods as long as three to four years, including children, and have even been

subjected to beatings and tear gas.3 The current Australian government has recently

initiated a policy to process all asylum-seekers off-shore in an effort to divert and delay

their claims for asylum. When I lived in the States, 167 Haitian asylum seekers arrived

on the shores of Miami. I sought visitation along with a group of pastoral workers but

was denied access, and was stunned by the high walls, barbed-wire and guards that

surrounded the immigration facility. Rather than offer a true human welcome, especially

for people who have undergone enormous trials and suffering, these “exiles of despair”

are detained in “processing centers” that are, in reality, prisons – kept under lock and key,

behind barbed wire, and controlled by uniformed guards


Open Borders

The concept of open borders is often perceived as a scandalous idea, particularly

among those who fear that it will create a “flood of immigrants.” Others see it as a naïve

or idealistic conception that simply wouldn’t work in the real world. It seems to me,

however, that “open borders” is the very ideal we should be striving toward, and that it is

a rather moderate ideal, far less radical, for example, than the more utopian or messianic

ideal of no borders. Humankind has not yet discovered a satisfactory way to live

peaceably without borders. Yet the possibility of living without borders often functions

as the very inspiration that leads many prophetic and compassionate souls to serve their

fellow human beings on this planet as if there were no borders – “Doctors Without

Borders” (Medicins Sans Frontieres), for example, along with many other international

relief agencies and humanitarian organizations. It seems to me that the “people of God”

– no less – should be a “people without borders,” people who recognize, along with St.

Paul, that “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and

also members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19).

In his encyclical Pacem in terris (Peace on Earth), Pope John XXIII comes

“dangerously” close to advocating the principle of open borders:

Every human being has the right to freedom of movement . . . and, when there are

just reasons for it, the right to emigrate to other countries and take up residence

there. The fact that one is a citizen of a particular state does not detract in any

way from his membership in the human family as a whole, nor from his

citizenship in the world community. (n.25)


To advocate for open borders is to advocate for the lessening of restrictions and

the breaking down of barriers that unduly block the movement of people. It is to

advocate for a more humane treatment of those who seek refuge on other shores; it is to

seek the dismantling of costly and oppressive bureaucratic procedures of immigration

systems, what Hannah Arendt calls “the infinitely complex red-tape existence” that

burdens the life of every immigrant.4 To advocate for open borders is to speak against

restrictive and unjust immigration policies that have created a huge underclass of illegal

and undocumented immigrants.

To advocate for open borders is to also directly challenge the ingrained and

media-driven racism, nationalism and xenophobia that drives much of the world’s

immigration policies. We are all too familiar with the standard litany of complaints that

are directed against foreigners – “they are dirty, they are noisy, they steal, they will not

work but just want to live on welfare, they fill up the hospitals, they crowd out the

schools, they will not adopt our ways, they run down the neighbourhood . . .”5 This is the

type of propaganda that too readily spews forth from the popular press, perpetuating

ethnocentric and anti-immigrant bias – to prevent the stranger and the foreigner, as John

Caputo says, “from crossing over ‘our’ borders, from taking ‘our’ jobs, from enjoying

‘our’ benefits and going to ‘our’ schools, from disturbing ‘our’ language, culture, religion

and public institutions.”6

The idea or vision of open borders should not be a remote aspiration; it should be

the very principle of human hospitality and solidarity. We should remember, too, that

many developed nations – countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States –

from their founding to the present time, are nations of immigrants who have welcomed

new people to their shores. At times, memories can fade as people forget the positive

fruits that have been borne of the immigrant experience – the new energy, hope, and

cultural diversity that enriches a nation’s life. Sometimes we can forget the great ideals

of a nation that have inspired a generous hospitality to those from other lands (cf. Emma

Lazarus’ poem on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty).


“And You Welcomed Me”

The best of the scriptures and the best of Christian tradition do not place any limit

or condition on hospitality. As Jacques Derrida notes, if hospitality were always set by

conditions and limits, it would not be true hospitality. However, neither can hospitality

be left as a lofty and remote ideal.7 The unconditional claims of hospitality need to be

continually tried and tested within the difficult conditions of our neighborhoods, our

societies and our nations – all of which are criss-crossed with fences, restrictions and

borders. Derrida writes:

To the extent that we are looking for criteria, for conditions, for passports, borders

and so on, we are limiting hospitality. . . But if we want to understand what

hospitality means, we have to think of unconditional hospitality, that is, openness

to whomever, to any new comer. And of course, if I want to know in advance who

is the good one, who is the bad one – in advance! – if I want to have an available

criterion to distinguish between the good immigrant and the bad immigrant, then I

would have no relation to the other as such. So to welcome the other, you have to

suspend the use of criteria. I would not recommend giving up all criteria, all

knowledge and politics. I would simply say that if I want to improve hospitality,

the politics of hospitality, I have to refer to pure hospitality . . . if only to control

the distance between in-hospitality, less hospitality, and more hospitality.8

Hospitality always involves a certain inconvenience or interruption to my world.

It is rarely within my control to prepare – in advance! – for the arrival of an unannounced

or unexpected guest or stranger, or for a person who is suddenly in need of my attention.

Such is the quandary of practicing hospitality – we cannot fully “prepare” for it; rather, it

always places us in the position of having to receive, rather than being able to control.

Here we come upon a very strange structure of hospitality – it is not simply something

that I offer – rather, hospitality means that I receive. Hospitality is always about

reception and in this sense, cannot be mastered. Rather, to be hospitable means that I am

in the position of the one who receives – such that it is the stranger who offers or

presents themselves to me.

Hospitality, in this sense, is quite “defenseless” – it lets its guard down and stands

unprotected. Perhaps this is why hospitality is so difficult, because we are so fearful.

Ana María Pineda observes that the Greek word for stranger is xenos. Our English word,

xenophobia, means “fear of the stranger.” If we turn this word around, we get the New

Testament word for hospitality: philoxenia, “love of the stranger.”9 Pure hospitality, like

perfect love, casts out all fear (1 Jn 4:18). It is not easy to create this deep trust in one

another, to convert xenophobia into philoxenia.

During the last presidential campaign, I was taken aback when I saw Arnold

Schwarzenegger’s televised speech at the 2004 National Republican Convention. He

spoke under the mantle of being an immigrant, yet he whipped the crowd into a fervor of

nationalism, as they all chanted in one voice: “USA! USA! USA!” I began to wonder

whether “of the people” might not be a dangerous principle. There is something

frightening about rallying-cries made under the banner of flag and country. Religion is

often critiqued for its zealot-like fervor that creates so much conflict in the world, but

Schwarzenegger’s speech proves that nationalistic fervor is also eerily alive and well.

According to Jacques Derrida, we live “at a moment in the history of humanity

and of the Nation-States when the foreigner, the immigrant (with or without papers), the

exile, those without a country, the displaced person or population – seems, on every

continent, open to a cruelty without precedent.”10 From border to border, close to us or

far away, “what is happening today, not only in Israel but in Europe and in France, in

Africa, America, and Asia . . . everywhere refugees of every kind, immigrants with or

without citizenship, exiled or forced from their homes, with or without papers.”11 There

is no room in the inn, no refuge for the stranger, no sense of human fraternity – such that

what we are witnessing today, Derrida suggests, are “crimes against hospitality.”12

Hannah Arendt notes that with the rise of nation-states, the question of human

rights became blurred with the concept of citizenship. The rights of a human being came

to be associated more and more with the rights of citizenship, whereas humans were

supposed to bear rights simply by their membership of humanity. As Arendt notes, “It

seems that a man who is nothing but a man has lost the very qualities that make it

possible for other people to treat him as a fellow-man . . . The world finds nothing sacred

in the abstract nakedness of being human.”13

Derrida wonders whether a “new international” could possibly be conceived, one

that is beyond nationality and national citizenship and toward something more open,

more hospitable – “something which would go beyond the current stage of

internationality, perhaps beyond citizenship, beyond belonging to a state, to a given

nation state . . .”14

Is this a crazy dream? Or could it possibly be the hope of a new reality, one that

awaits a more mature humanity, one that we have not yet imagined – beyond flags and

pledges and anthems and uniforms and commanders – beyond this sliced-up planet – a

reconfiguration that still awaits us as we continue the ongoing experiment of learning to

live together in friendship and welcome.



My latest sojourn has caused me to reflect further on what it means to be “at

home” – a phrase that is laden with many meanings. We can think, for example, of

Augustine’s “restless heart,” or we can think of the latest creation of the U.S. government

– the Department of Homeland Security. We can think of all the “homelands” around the

world that are being fought for, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Even though I am now “back home” – presumably where “I belong” – I don’t

really feel at home. It seems that part of my spiritual journey has always resisted any

efforts I make to settle-down and be “at home.” While I recognize (and feel for) the great

human suffering borne by so many displaced and dislocated lives (witness New Orleans,

not to mention all the world’s refugee camps), I can’t help but feel there is a certain

“homelessness” that accompanies every spiritual journey. I think I understand what St.

Augustine means by a “restless heart.”

I also feel continually wary of all of humanity’s vain hopes to “secure a

homeland.” Jesus asked us to travel lightly in the world: “with no gold or silver, nor even

with a few coppers for your purses, with no bag for your journey, or spare tunic or

sandals, or a staff” (Matt. 10:10).

I recently came across this rather perplexing statement from Gabriel Marcel:

“Perhaps a stable order can only be established on earth if man always remains acutely

conscious that his condition is that of a traveller” (from his book titled Homo Viator,


And then, from a twelfth-century text by Hugh of St. Victor: “All the world is

foreign soil to those who philosophize.” It is a great spiritual practice, he suggests, to

remain detached from the quest for secure homelands. “The person who finds his

homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; the person to whom every soil is as their native

land is already strong; but the one is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land.

The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong person has

extended their love to all places; the perfect soul has extinguished all such attachment”

(Didascalicon, Book 3).

We are all “temporary residents” on this planet, or, as St. Paul says, we have here

no lasting home; we are tent-dwellers (2 Cor. 5:1; cf. Lev 25:23). We live under the

shelter of God and in the shelter of each other. What we need, I think, is a “Department

of Human Friendship.”




1 Terry Veling, Practical Theology: On Earth as It Is in Heaven (Maryknoll: Orbis,

2005), 215-217.

2 Robert Frost, Selected Poems (New York: Penguin, 1973), 44.

3 Brennan, Tampering With Asylum (Brisbane: University of Queensland, 2004).

4 Hannah Arendt, The Portable Arendt (New York: Penguin, 2000), 25.

5 Michael Dummet, On Immigration and Refugees (London: Routledge, 2001), 67-68.

6 John D. Caputo (ed.) with Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A

Conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York: Fordham, 1997), 106-107.

7 Jacques Derrida, “On Cosmopolitanism” in On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness

(London: Routledge, 2001).

8 Jacques Derrida, “Discussion With Richard Kearney,” in John Caputo and Michael

Scanlon, eds. God, The Gift, and Postmodernism (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1999), 133.

9 Ana María Pineda, “Hospitality,” in Dorothy Bass, ed. Practicing Our Faith (San

Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997), 33.

10 Jacques Derrida, “A Word of Welcome,” in Adieu (Stanford UP, 1999), 64.

11 Ibid., 70-71. See the 2003 Annual Report of the Jesuit Refugee Service.

12 Ibid., 71.

13 Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 299-300.

14 Jacques Derrida, “The Villanova Roundtable: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida,”

in John D. Caputo, ed. Deconstruction in a Nutshell, 12.

Cited Church Documents:

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano,

“Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope” – A Pastoral Letter Concerning

Migration from the Catholic Bishops of Mexico and the United States, Issued by USCCB, January

22, 2003. Retrieved from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website:

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us,” United

States Catholic Conference, 2000. Retrieved from the United States Conference of Catholic

Bishops website:

Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Refugees: A Challenge

to Solidarity (1992). Retrieved from Vatican website:

Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, “Erga migrantes caritas

Christi – The love of Christ towards migrants,” Vatican City, 2004. Retrieved from Vatican


Pope John Paul II, Message of the Holy Father for the World Migration Day 2000. Retrieved from

the Vatican website:



Patterns of marginalisation and exclusion are well established in Britain’s urban areas and the evolution since 2008 of an austerity politics is effectively increasing social and economic inequality. Many of those who find themselves on the wrong end of these trends are habitually portrayed in the media through negative stereotypes and representations, cofence-needlempounding the effects of marginalisation.

These developing patterns of marginalisation present serious challenges to the church, which finds itself most strongly represented in more prosperous neighbourhoods. Church members and those who wish to engage in mission are generally unfamiliar with the everyday experiences of those who suffer from chronic and serious multiple deprivations. The church typically perceives the problem as one of ‘needs’ and configures its response accordingly—as seen for example in the significant rise in the number of food banks run by churches and Christian organisations.

Whilst the meeting of people’s needs is certainly not to be discouraged, the configuration of mission as service provision could be called into question. In particular the presupposition that accompanies such approaches—that the needs of the marginalised are obvious—makes no room for the voices and views of those who are actually experiencing the effects of marginalisation.

Suddenly, lots of talk about food banks …

Do you struggle with all the recent reporting about food banks and delays in benefit payments? I certainly have mixed feelings about what I hear. Somehow the reports never seem to reflect the sheer complexity and difficulty that many of the people we know have to struggle with on a daily basis. Perhaps I’m being cynical, but the impression I get is that the real aim of many reports is to convey an interesting news story or to defend (or attack) a political policy. It rarely seems however that those who are on the wrong end of these stories are truly heard.

Time to Eat
Time to Eat by Jo Hansford

In my experience true listening comes from a sense of vulnerability that happens in a face to face conversation; it happens in the context of solidarity, the sense that ‘we are in this together’ (though the value of this phrase has been so profoundly undermined in recent years!). True listening seeks to understand people, not to change them or seek to fix them, but to stay around and be a good neighbour.

It is in such conversations that we might sense the Spirit at work or (perhaps to our surprise) find ourselves touched and changed by the presence of God who we encounter through the other person. I very much like the way that Terry Veling describes this in his book Practical Theology (though I’m taking the phrase somewhat out of context) – he says that “between the two there is a third’. That is, when we make ourselves present, or available, to the other person and give our whole attention to them, then we find that the space between us is exactly the kind of space in which the Spirit is likely to dwell. The Spirit is neither in the self nor in the other person, but is present in the conversation as the “third” person who inhabits the place between them. In these circumstances true hearing takes place and things are understood that neither person could have perceived by themselves. This, I believe, is true hearing, and the kind of hearing that can transform lives.

Perhaps another helpful way of reflecting on the place of food banks is offered to us through the book by Sam Wells and Marcia Owen, Living Without Enemies. They propose four models of engaging with people: working for, working with, being for and being with. Their discussion does not provide easy answers, but it does offer a helpful insights about building fruitful rather than undermining relationships. Andrew Grinnell presents some very helpful thoughts on this in his webinar.

So, can I point you in the direction of two really helpful reads:

  • Samuel Wells and Marcia Owen, Living Without Enemies: Being Present in the Midst of Violence (Downers Grove: IVP, 2011)
  • Terry Veling, Practical Theology: On Earth as it is in Heaven (New York: Orbis, 2005)