From the Outside Looking in

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What’s your current resident status?

“For the first time in years, he felt the deep sadness of exile, knowing that he was alone here, an outsider, and too alert to the ironies, the niceties, the manners, and indeed, the morals to be able to participate.” ― Colm Tóibín, The Master

As a sociologist I’ve been trained to take the perspective of the stranger. To try and see as much taken for granted as I could. When teaching classes, the big challenge is to help students to see all of the powerful influences of their situations, contexts and other people. We are the products of the world in which we live – in very specific ways. For example:

  • Family
  • School
  • Church
  • Friendships
  • Democracy & Freedom
  • Individualism
  • Money, greed and selfishness
  • Even our dreams…

In great ways and terrible ways, our society shapes who we are.

Now for the believer, here’s the irony – we live the transformative process of becoming strangers to this same world that made us (and still does).

I suppose we have to choose how we are going to live:

  1. As natives who remain in the broken garden
  2. Someone who can’t decide where he/she really belongs
  3. As outsiders who refuse to put down roots

Peter writes and urges believers to live here like a foreigner:

Beloved, remember you don’t belong in this world. You are resident aliens living in exile, so resist those desires of the flesh that battle against the soul.   -1 Peter 2:11 (The Voice)

Paul goes into even more detail when he describes the lives of all the men and women of faith who came before Christ. Even they believed that they were living like exiles here on earth, waiting for a real home one day to come:

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.    – Hebrews 11:13-16

When Peter and Paul were writing, they were living in a pagan world. I know theses days it’s sometimes hard to believe, but in the West we live in a culture that over hundreds of years has been dramatically shaped by the Christian faith. This doesn’t mean that our culture isn’t a mess and doesn’t mess people up. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still live like outsiders, anticipating one day our real home.

The daily challenge is to remain conscious of our REAL place in this world:

  • Fully engaged in the world around us (that means in the lives of people who cross your path) and at the same time, living as an immigrant (with no plans to assimilate).
  • Resisting the ever present temptation to “go native” and live in all the frenzy, fear and fuss of this age – believing that what we see with our eyes is all that matters.
  • Using a “long lense” of eternity to gain a perspective on things. The here and now, right this minute, in your face – so much that is urgent but seldom important.

What is your current resident status – are you a full blown citizen of the right now or an immigrant, making the most of your visit?

Walking to Emmaus Part 6

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By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!  – Luke 24:28-31

Have you ever been somewhere familiar and felt like you were seeing it for the first time? What about when you see someone that you know but they are in a different setting? It’s difficult to recognize them at first. I try to go to the grocery store incognito, wearing a different costume than the one I wear at the university. But every now and then someone picks me out and recognizes me. We look at one another and are uncertain at first. Our brains are trying in a split second to put each other in this new context.

These two disciples had been following Jesus during his ministry, one may even have been there at his death. Yet they couldn’t recognize him. He was a stranger to them now. Who really knows why? Maybe it was because they had built a preconception in their minds of who Jesus was supposed to be, what kind of savior he was meant to become, what role he was to fulfill. Maybe they, like so many others, had built him into an idol. Then something went wrong. Their savior was powerless at the hands of the Romans, suffered torment and was executed.

Now it was all over with.

Then this stranger came along and started to explain things in a different way.

He was a stranger to them because their expectations weren’t big enough for what God was actually planning to do. In the end, my own disappointment and discouragement with God’s plan always ends up coming home to rest at the smallness of my own faith. A faith that is too little for the greatness of God’s mercy, love and providence.

He and his works are a stranger to me because I expect so little.

 

 

 “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”

― C.S. Lewis