Patris and patriotism

We’ve all got favorite passages, right? One of mine is Hebrews 11:13-16, where it says:

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13–16)

In doing some research the other day, I saw something interesting. The word which ESV translates as “homeland” in verse 14 is the Greek word patris. Aside from this passage in Hebrews, it’s only used in the gospel stories which refer to the passage about a prophet being without honor is in his own place.

It’s interesting to me that this word is often used to refer to hometown (like in the gospels), and the Hebrews writer describes the patris they are seeking as a city that God is preparing. The feeling seems to be that of a place to belong, a place to be identified with. That’s what we’re looking for, what we don’t really have on this earth.

I’ve said it before: I’m very patriotic… for the patris that God is preparing for me. No other loyalty can rival that.

A foreigner’s Fourth of July

file000965646047Can you imagine what it must be like for aliens on Independence Day? (Aliens as in foreigners living in this country, not E.T. & Company)

I remember special days in Argentina. I was happy for those who celebrated around me, and I enjoyed the special foods that always accompanied those celebrations. There were school pageants to attend, and my kids took their place along with their other Argentine friends. I tried to learn about the celebrations and tried to enjoy them, even if they weren’t mine.

Civic holidays tend to be a bit more “in your face” in the United States. They especially find a place in churches in a way that I don’t see in other countries. It’s hard to go anywhere without seeing red, white and blue.

So can you imagine how it feels for a foreigner? Can you imagine participating in the celebrations only to a point, recognizing that, while you benefit from the existence of this country, you’re not fully a part of it?

I’m hoping that you can imagine it quite well. For we are the foreigners, the strangers, the aliens…

“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11–12)

“Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were.” (Psalms 39:12)

I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me.” (Psalms 119:19)

We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.” (1 Chronicles 29:15)

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13–16)

“Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:19–20)

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The Diaspora

Once concept I might add to yesterday’s look at the theology of foreignness is the concept of the Diaspora. Originally, the term “diaspora” just meant scattering. Then it came to refer to the scattering of Jews away from the Promised Land.

Christians appropriated that term to refer to themselves. James uses the term in the first verse of his letter, though given the Jewishness of his writing, he may have been addressing Jewish Christians primarily. But there’s no doubt of the meaning when Peter uses it at the beginning of his first letter; a quick read of 1 Peter shows that Jews were not the primary audience Peter had in mind, yet he calls them the Diaspora, “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1)

The term “strangers” in that verse was usually described to mean resident aliens; the ESV uses the term “exiles.” That’s who we are, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, scattered among the nations.

A Theology of Foreignness

1930_Jewish_immigrants_to_PalestineI’m working on a summary of the biblical teachings on “foreignness.” Here are some initial thoughts. I’d really like your feedback:

The theme of aliens and strangers courses throughout the biblical narrative. Many of God’s people lived as aliens. Some emigrated to other countries for economic reasons (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob); some were taken forcibly (Joseph, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah); some moved from a desire to form part of God’s people (Rahab, Ruth); others went seeking refuge from violence (Moses, David, Jesus’ family). The willingness to live as an alien is a praiseworthy trait in the Bible (Hebrews 11:13–16). In fact, all Christians are called to live in such a manner (1 Peter 2:11).

In the same way, the Bible praises those who welcome strangers. To this day, nomadic cultures value highly the norm of hospitality, the receiving of guests. People like Abraham, Rahab, Boaz (edited 9:47 a.m.) and Abigail show the value God places on treating strangers well. The Law forbids the mistreatment of aliens (Exodus 22:21; 23:9) and actually demands that God’s people love aliens (Leviticus 25:23; Deuteronomy 10:19). The alien was to be cared for and provided for (Deuteronomy14:29; 16:11, 14; 26:11).

Jesus mentioned the treatment of aliens as one of the points of judgment applied to the “sheep and the goats” (Matthew 25:35, 43). The concept of “hospitality” in the New Testament is related to the receiving of strangers, both linguistically (xenodocheo, philoxenia) and by example (Hebrews 13:2).

Thoughts on citizenship

The question of citizenship has come up again, this time in a group on Facebook. For some, it’s a minor issue. For me, it’s a major one.

The thread quickly spun out of control, in my opinion, and I’ve done my best to refrain from making it longer. The discussion is occurring in a group that seeks to focus on practical ministry issues, not ideological debate.

So I’ll post some random thoughts here. Some I’ve expressed before, some I haven’t.

  • The Bible never says that we should live as good citizens, at least not of any earthly country. I grew up hearing that and believing it to be true. But it’s not there. We are told to live as aliens, strangers and ambassadors… and citizens of heaven. (OK, Philippians 1:27 actually says to live as citizens, but I think the context shows Paul isn’t talking about living as good citizens of Rome)
  • Opposing American exceptionalism isn’t being anti-American. Christians should be pro-America, just like we are pro-England, pro-Afghanistan and pro-Mexico. Our desire should be to treat all nations of this world equally, since we are equally aliens to all and ambassadors to all.
  • Yes, Paul claimed to be a citizen of Rome. I’ve offered ideas on this, but recognize that those who want to grasp at straws will grasp at straws. I’m a citizen of the U.S. by birth. I can’t change that, at least not as far as the world is concerned. When forced to declare citizenship in official situations, I don’t state, “Citizen of heaven.” Yet my heart knows which is true, and I want my life to declare the same.
  • I won’t kill for this country, nor any country. I find especially abhorrent the idea of taking the lives of fellow believers, yet many have told me they would freely do so in the name of country. I can’t picture it.
  • I understand somewhat the idea of country as an extension of family, as merely a larger community we are a part of. Yet I find countries acting as “the powers” described in the New Testament, coming to have a drive for self-preservation that puts them in competition with the Kingdom of God.
  • I won’t pledge allegiance to a flag or a country. I won’t treat national icons as sacred, nor use religious terms in reference to military nor political entities nor their members. If I’m going to err in this matter, let it be on the side of avoiding idolatrous behavior. Let me be accused of too much loyalty to God.
  • I refuse to stand in judgment on those who come to different conclusions. I’ve journeyed long to reach the point where I am; how can I condemn those who stand where I once stood? And I’m quite aware that I am a fallible man who could be wrong in these judgments.
  • I won’t be ashamed of my convictions in this matter. I won’t be apologetic for making the choice to value my heavenly citizenship so highly that I won’t share it with other entities.

Lots of thoughts. Each of those statements could spark a flurry of responses in the original context, so I’ll post my views here. If I can’t stand the heat, I shouldn’t write in The Kitchen.