If I am honest this might be the most torn I have ever been on a book review. I was overjoyed to begin this read, having heard its title as a recommendation from another favorite author. The title alone sparked my curiosity as I am so deeply passionate about discipleship through hospitality and the calling on our lives to love our neighbors through welcoming them. Few things bring me more joy than the ability to welcome someone into my home and make them dinner when they are weathering a storm. Because of this, most of the students I minister to know where I store my spare key. Many times I have walked into my kitchen or living room to find them full of my people or with one or two asleep on the couch or taking a video interview in my bed. I love every minute of hosting. I honestly find creating a nourishing place for people sacred, even worshipful.
Thus, I began the journey of The Gospel Comes with a House Key eager to discover words I would soon have posted in calligraphy on my dining room walls. The author Rosaria Butterfield’s life and story dramatically changed due to Christian hospitality. Butterfield served as a college professor at a liberal arts university. She was a noted advocated in the LGBTQ community as she identified as a lesbian herself. I am making use of the past tense here as Butterfield’s life dramatically changed upon a couple who invited her into their home. The hospitality was simple, a meal and conversation; yet, the sacredness, the specialness of someone seeing her, knowing her, and continuing to provide her a place where she was welcomed and loved, changed everything for Butterfield. Upon experiencing such hospitality, the author came to know Jesus and her life dramatically changed.
Hospitality always includes heads, hands, hearts, messes, and weaknesses.
And I am here for how transformational hospitality can be.
I loved the ways Butterfield challenges believers to walk in obedience by loving their neighbors. She offers a story in her own neighborhood when her family in North Carolina befriended the neighbor on the street everyone else simply whispered about. They befriended this neighbor and assumed the best of him, despite each of their neighbor’s warnings that he was not to be trusted. Upon forming a tight connection, this neighbor was arrested and removed from his home for cooking methamphetamine.
Following his arrest, Butterfield shared that she and her children continued to write this neighbor and his girlfriend. They mailed packages and pray for them. Despite his decisions and locations, they were determined to be a good neighbor.
The transition from stranger to neighbor to family does not take place easily, but over grace, intent, grit, and sacrifice. The hospitable develop thick skin.
Butterfield explains hospitality does not have to be complicated. She emphasizes the simplicity of setting up a card table in the carport and placing paper plates in a stack in an effort to make strangers, neighbors and friends. She explains that practically this includes budgeting for hospitality, purchasing extra groceries, and in her case owning multiple crock-pots (aka speaking my language). Practicing what Butterfield terms “radically ordinary hospitality” includes making room to host a single friend following eye surgery on a living room couch by buying blackout curtains and filling her prescriptions. Making room includes making space in her schedule to help pick up a neighbor’s child from soccer practice or feeding another neighbor’s dog.
Hospitality renders our houses hospitals and incubators.
Having been so touched and moved by Christian hospitality in her own story, Butterfield doubles down on the importance of welcoming one whose beliefs and ideas are foreign and making them feel welcomed and valued. She preaches the importance of making room for someone’s perception and experience incredibly.
Do I have the grace to say little on a subject rather than everything possible?
Stop thinking of conversations with neighbors as hidden evangelical routes.
Have I made myself safe to share the real hardships of your daily living? Even in a post-Christian world, we can still claim unearned privileges rooted in sentimentality for days gone by.
And if you have read up to this point, you may be thinking, I don’t think Emily Katherine is actually on the fence about this book. I think she actually loves it.
You see if I were Butterfield’s editor, The Gospel Comes with a House Key would have been shaped as the book I reviewed. Yet, should you flip to the second or third page which list the publisher and editor, my name will not be found. While I loved certain fruits in the forest of this book, many times I almost stopped and turned away due to the weeds.
When Rosaria Butterfield came to know God through Christian hospitality, her life radically transitioned. She left her established career in academia along with her homosexual lifestyle. She was soon married to a Reformed Presbyterian Minister and became a homeschooling mom. She radically embraced “conservative Christianity” and often claims that title both for herself and her readers throughout the text.
The author steps away from the topic of hospitality including lengthy discourses in topics such as gender, the Refugee crisis, politics, and church discipline.
Butterfield’s tone is so conservative- literally including the phrase “sacred patriarchy” that when she began sharing her story of her life before Christ I checked back multiple times to be sure she wasn’t sharing someone else’s story. I was shocked to learn this pastor’s wife in suburban North Carolina who knits by her neighbor’s bed sides during surgery and bakes bread each Saturday for Communion on Sunday came from such a different lifestyle.
Thus, The Gospel Comes with a House Key is a challenging and compelling read, with sections and ideologies I would omit in order to reach a more relevant and diverse audience surrounding an important subject.
But these are my thoughts. Comment below with yours!