Author, speaker, home-school mom, pastor’s wife, and former professor of women’s studies at Syracuse University, Rosaria Butterfield doesn’t mince words about sexual identity, sin, and repentance. In her latest book, “The Gospel Comes with a House Key,” Butterfield weaves together memoir and theology to tell the story of her family’s commitment to “radically ordinary hospitality.”
Along the way, they make a lot of rice and beans, babysit a neighbor’s dying cat, and befriend a neighbor who turns out to be running a meth lab in his basement. ByFaith writer Zoe Erler spoke with Butterfield during a recent speaking engagement in Indianapolis.
In your book you talk about how hospitality played a significant role in your conversion, and now you and your family open your dinner table every night. Tell us about that.
What we do now has evolved slowly. For years, my husband, Kent, and I were the only two believers in our extended families. We have a passion to share the Gospel with the lost, and we have found that the home is the ideal place to do that because it’s a bridge between the neighborhood and the church, especially in a post-Christian world.
“We have a passion to share the Gospel with the lost and we have found that the home is the ideal place to do that, especially in a post-Christian world.”
Some nights we expect a lot of people. Other nights we expect just a few singles from our church. But every night we expect somebody. And every night, we eat a simple meal together. And then after dinner, the children send the dishes up the long table to the kitchen sink, and they send the coffee mugs and the Bibles down, and we do family devotions.
People have asked how I came to Christ, and I describe what Ken and Floy Smith did for me, for two years before I walked through the door of the church. I know so many people radically converted like myself who can tell you about a dinner table and a listening ear and a lot of coffee and tea and an open door.
You’ve coined this phrase “radically ordinary hospitality.” What’s radical? And what’s ordinary?
I think it’s ordinary because it comes right from the book of Acts. But I’m living in this evangelical world that is so privatized, so focused on how many hours of sleep you get a night, and how many naps you take, and how many boundaries you keep that apparently it’s radical.
It’s a life that always keeps an eye out for the unbeliever. It’s a life that cares about gospel grace. It’s a life that says that my words should not be stronger than my relationships. It’s a life that says I don’t want my children to think that the sin of other people is greater than the sin in their heart. It’s a life that says that this world needs the redemptive grace of Jesus Christ and nothing less than that, but that does not mean that [we all] also do not need some earthly good.
How does radically ordinary hospitality diverge from what you call “counterfeit hospitality”?
It’s not entertainment. I do not have the desire that you will come in and think that my minestrone soup is the best minestrone soup you’ve ever had in the whole world. I don’t want you to be impressed.
What it is is the family of God living like the family of God and opening its arms wide so that others can come in and ask the hard questions. It seeks out strangers for the purpose of making them neighbors, and you labor together so that you can be a Gospel bridge so that if the Lord wills, your neighbors become part of the family of God.
And that is the point! The point is not that there is no cat hair on the couch. People are going to die of crushing loneliness; people are not going to die thinking that Rosaria is a bad housekeeper.
You describe how your mealtimes are always accompanied by Scripture reading and Psalm singing. How do new guests react?
I’m sure people think we’re kind of wacky. In fact, we have people say, “I think you’re bonkers, but will you hold my house key because you’re the people I trust? I think you’re bonkers, but will you watch our child?” Or they just say, “Did you hear about our neighbor who is dying of cancer and he’s a single father with a special needs child? Where is God in this? Can we come over and talk about it?”
How Many Have the Gift of Hospitality?
According to a recent Barna survey, 28% of evangelicals believe they are gifted by God to teach, while only 3% say they have the gift of hospitality.
So we don’t open the Bible to stop the conversation. We open the Bible to deepen the conversation and to bring Jesus into the conversation.
What most do you want your unbelieving neighbors to know after spending time at your home and around your table?
The person of Christ is what we need to communicate to this skeptical, dark, lost world. There is a God who lives and intervenes, and when He walked this earth He walked it as a man with all of the vulnerabilities, and that right now, as He has ascended to the right hand of God the Father, he has sympathy for us, He feels our pain, including the pain that we bring on ourselves.
What about those who might be in seasons or situations that prevent the type of hospitality you practice?
People with very young children or aging parents? People with a chronic illness? I have a friend named Vicki, who is a young mom. She started by doing what she likes to do — art and crafts and memorizing Scripture set to song — and invited other mothers to join her. Today, she has about 15 moms and their children who come every week to her house. She also leads a Bible study with many of the women.
There is another woman in our church who has post-polio syndrome. She is homebound a lot. She upholds us in prayer.
Does everyone have to be practicing radically ordinary hospitality in your church? No, that would be impractical. But if nobody’s doing it, that tells me that there’s the sin of selfishness in the body, that everybody’s a little too cleaned up.
But what you want your neighbors to know is that you are an ambassador, that your home is an embassy, that you’re available, that everything doesn’t have to be on the calendar to be done, and that they’re not alone in this world. People aren’t necessarily meant to model the descriptions of our hospitality in the book, but I say, do something your way. But do something.