I've heard it spoken multiple times over the past several days.
The word following it was "hospitality."
It served as the "theme" for the 2008 session of The Memphis Annual Conference. Our gathering just adjourned yesterday.
"Radical Hospitality," one of the 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations, a book by Bishop Schnase, is all the rage right now. As Churches lose their way - they become desperate for something to "do" to stem the tide.
Bishop Schnase's book is a helpful, compact guide to open the awareness for any who seek to tap into the characteristics of vital congregational life.
As it is with so many things in the church - this is going to be a church "program."
You don't just "do" radical hospitality - you must first have a heart to be radically hospitable. Sure, we all have things to "do" in our congregations to be more welcoming to any and all who come to us - and those things must always have proper priority.
Radical hospitality is of the sort that causes folks to squirm because it welcomes those nobody else will - those with labels, those with reputations that are not always favorable, those whose presence, not only in our worship, but in our own lives, cause us to question the preconceptions we've placed on them not because we know them, but because we know what we think how "people like that" are.
Jesus associated with these folks - and who was hacked off? Religious folks. To program radical hospitality and not make it incarnate is to vitiate it of its power and Gospel witness. And to be hospitable in the name of Jesus without being radical is to homogenize it (as we do we so much of the Gospel) and make it too palatable.
Make no mistake about it. Homogenized hospitality will yield homogeneous congregations - something we have an overabundance of right now.
Even the artwork of our Conference, while integrating elements of the cover of Bishop's Schnase's book, to communicate something natural, organic and alive, could easily be interpreted as "Radical Hospitality" wrapped in camoflouge - which is to say present, but hidden.
Radical comes from the word from which we get "root." Too many of us think of radical as being whacked out - on the fringe. Radical hospitality is the opposite - it moves us to the essential nature of our being - the foundation of who we are. And for the Christian community, that root can be none other than Jesus of Nazareth.
Which brings me to the "why' of radical hospitality. It felt, more than once, that we were being told to practice "radical hospitality" as a means through which we might realize church growth and renewal. That may be true, but it should not be seen as a means to an end - it loses its authenticity otherwise.
There's way too much "means to an end" thinking in church leadership anyway. Results and the ways of Jesus are not synonymous. They can be in sync, but they are not always congruent. In fact the way of Jesus is the harder path. Always.
A church that is radically hospitable will grow and find new life. The radical part is that it will grow in ways it can 't expect or predict. The truer measure of just how radical your hospitality is not if you grow numerically - but if you grow by shrinking.
The challenge is that churches have to ask whether it wants any part of that. If it doesn't (and I suspect most really don't want to be too radical) then they'll delude themselves into thinking that new signs and visitor forms will bring them more members and call that hospitality.
But if a community of Jesus' companions truly does practice it, in all its "radical-ness," the "Gospel" will be lived. Lives will be changed. The stranger will be welcomed as family.
And the "religious folks" will still grumble.