Daniel Buttry: Remembering our call in ‘Safeguarding the Stranger’


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Book Review by DANIEL BUTTRY

I was raised on the heroic stories of Christians in Europe who hid Jews from the Nazis. Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, first the book and then the movie, were big hits in my circles, relating how her family hid Jews in their home until the whole Ten Boom family was sent to concentration camps. Only Corrie survived their risky acts of hospitality. But time goes by and in recent conversations with some Christian young adults I found they didn’t know who Corrie Ten Boom was.

We need to revive her story and countless other stories of people who have provided protective hospitality in times of danger (many of these stories are told in my Interfaith Heroes books).

Our news has been full of stories of Syrian refugees, immigrants from Africa braving the Mediterranean’s waters, unaccompanied children from Central America sent north to avoid conscription into gangs, and the political railing against immigrants. Do we let political figures determine the agenda, or is there a transforming ethical word that comes from the faith community?

Jayme Reaves provides such a word in her recently published Safeguarding the Stranger: An Abrahamic Theology and Ethic of Protective Hospitality (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016). I met Jayme when I was teaching at a seminary in Croatia. She guided me around the region, showing me the devastation of Vukovar but also the efforts of healing and reconciliation. Then she moved to Northern Ireland where she worked in various reconciliation efforts. She earned her Ph.D. in Theology from Trinity College at the University of Dublin.

Jayme Reaves is what I call an academic/activist, a special breed of folks who can handle the highest intellectual pursuits but are driven to continually engage in real-world struggles and concerns. Reaves addresses this directly in her book as she writes about grounding all the discussion of hospitality in praxis. So she starts with the stories of hospitality for the at-risk “other,” specifically the French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon protecting Jews during World War II and the Sanctuary Movement in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s when the wars in Central America sparked a movement of refugees seeking a safe haven from the violence and human rights abuses they were facing. At the end of the book Reaves returns to the practical challenges of protective hospitality, drawing upon her own direct experiences especially in Croatia and Bosnia.

Reaves surveys and interacts with the limited literature that addresses hospitality. She grapples with the issues of boundaries, hospitality as resistance, risk—both from the guest and from those seeking to harm the guest, and the “dangerous memories” that inspire and compel the risky action of protective hospitality.

The richest gift from this book for me was her deep exploration of the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. She explores their commonalities related to hospitality, but also the unique perspectives that each religion brings that can shine light on the limitations of the others and spark growth in the practice of hospitality through interfaith dialog. For example, the rootedness of hospitality in Islam in the concept of justice pushes Christians to think more deeply than just compassion to some of the structural dynamics that threaten the “other.”

Safeguarding the Stranger has grown out of her academic work, and the book reads like a thesis. That is excellent for those who want deep intellectual engagement. She has copious footnotes and bibliography materials. As she notes, there is a paucity of material related to the practice and ethics of hospitality in general let alone protective hospitality. Reaves has filled an important space in this discussion, and done it not as a mere intellectual exercise but as a profound ethical challenge at this historic moment.

However, reading her book left me hungry for more, specifically a popular version of this discussion. With refugees and immigrants filling the news as well as the shrill voices of fear and inhospitableness, we need to increase the voices of the counter-narratives and ethical challenges for hospitable responses. I look forward to Reaves’ activist side to distill another book for the average folks in churches and communities facing decisions of what to do. I hope she keeps the rich interfaith dimension of her current work as I think that is a key to finding a way to transformation in the present crises. Keep writing, Jayme, as you have so much more to share for a time like this!

Care to read more?

Visit Daniel Buttry’s author page.

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