As a native Ohioan who is used to tumultuous storm clouds and trudging through snow, I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to Alabama Northwest Florida’s Beach Camp in Orange Beach, Alabama… Just kidding! Even though my fair skin wasn’t used to such direct sunlight, I couldn’t have asked for a better first week of the summer.
Apart from my obvious enjoyment at spending an entire week literally 50ft from the beach I had the pleasure of being met with open arms and open minds. Upon arriving in sunny, 90 degree, Mobile, Alabama, I was greeted by a wonderful man who showed me what I suspect is true southern hospitality, and what radical hospitality it was!
I was whisked away from the airport, treated to a wonderful lunch on the beach, and brought successfully to Romar Beach Baptist Retreat Center. After taking a much needed nap, I was greeted by a woman with an entire basket of goodies for me—brand new bedding (including a delightfully soft pillow!), a plethora of fresh towels (beach towels,
shower towels, hand towels, oh my!), and a conglomeration of deliciously unhealthy snack foods that I promptly devoured.
Over the next few days I was met by many smiling faces and welcomed into a close-knit camp family. I won’t lie to you, part of me expected to not be welcomed so readily. Of course, the campers and leaders had hosted DPF interns for years, and of course, they had requested an intern and knew how to handle one,
and of course they would welcome me happily, but a part of me was still worried. Who am I to come barging into this family, an unfamiliar face, expecting to find something similar to my camp family back in Ohio, someone who doesn’t know their traditions, songs or inside jokes?
All qualms aside, I was welcomed unconditionally with radical hospitality yet again.
After learning the names of a few early-arriving campers and introducing myself a bit awkwardly on Sunday evening, I started to feel at home. As a counselor I bunked with a room full of Chi-Rho girls, and a few other young counselors. They shared secrets with me, asked for my prayers, played games with me, and told me which boy campers they were crushing on. Once again, I saw radical hospitality in their openness.
While I was continually shown radical hospitality time and time again throughout the week, I’ll leave you with only one more example.
On Thursday I was asked to give a keynote that followed the theme for the week: questions. In the past year, campers had asked intentional questions that they wanted answered, such as why do bad things happen to good people? And what should I do when someone counteracts my faith? I decided to ask and answer a question of my own: how are we as Christians called to respond to people of other faiths? And do we worship the same god/God as people of other faiths? Of course, these are hard questions to answer. Isn’t our role as Christians to spread the Gospel news, witness about Jesus’ love for humankind, and share our faith experiences with others? And do we really worship the same god? The same god who tells people to kill in that god’s name? I then shared examples from different religious texts that each depicts a god who expects unconditional love of all that god’s followers, and demands respect from all people for all people. I asked the thoughtful campers one more question: does it matter if we worship the same god?
To my delight, they responded with a resounding “no!”
Their openness towards my ideas about interfaith dialogue and acceptance of all people showed me, yet again, their radical hospitality, and I couldn’t be more grateful for their insightful and challenging discussions.
So I’d like to pose the same question to each of you:
Do we worship the same God as people of other faiths?
And finally, my answer:
does it matter?
Cara McKinney is a 2014 Disciples Peace Fellowship Intern, sponsored by Disciples Center for Public Witness and Disciples Women.