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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Them and us

us-themI’ve had us and them on my mind lately. Trying to figure out a bit who is “us” and who is “them.”

There’s a line between who is my family and who isn’t, although I find that line can really blur at times. (I have relatives I’ve never seen, for example)

There’s a line between who is a Christian and who isn’t. Even those lines get blurry at times.

I guess things like disasters make me think about this, why a disaster in West, Texas, seems to impact us so much more than a tragedy in Mexico, for example. Or why the Boston bombings touch us in a way that Baghdad bombings don’t.

Days like Memorial Day do that, too. We remember those who have been killed as American servicemen. What about civilians killed in war? They’re usually foreigners, but sometimes they’re Americans as well. What about soldiers from other countries? Do we just suppose that their countries will honor them?

All of this gets tricky when you start including the church. Off the top of my head, I can think of people in my home church who are from Germany, Japan, Brazil, South Korea, China, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa and Costa Rica. I know there are more countries represented; those are just the ones that come to mind. As the church talks about “our soldiers,” how are they supposed to respond? How do they fit into the “us” and “them”? Which takes precedence when we are at church, the “us” as Christians or the “them” as natives of other countries?

No solutions offered here today. Just questions. Maybe “they” can tell me how I should think of “us.”

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).

Is our citizenship a big deal?

I shared some thoughts on citizenship yesterday. I mentioned that I view this as an extremely important topic, even as some of my fellow Christians see it as a novelty issue, a footnote to be pondered and forgotten. Others, however, see it as a vital topic, even as they take a view opposite my own. The discussion on Facebook centered around a new book and video series, done by a Church of Christ group, focusing on returning America to the principles of the Founding Fathers. In fact, it’s common to find Christian groups teaching on what America needs, how to keep America great, and how to promote the ideals of America around the world.

So is the topic of our citizenship important? I’m convinced more and more that it is. One reason why is the response I get to things like what I wrote yesterday. I’ve seen Christians literally shake with anger after hearing the suggestion that nationalism and patriotism are not Christian values. Loving believers turn hateful when I talk about churches of Christ returning to their pacifistic roots. Refusing to say the pledge or sing the national anthem are reason enough to question one’s spirituality. [As a side note, did you notice that you don’t even have to explain which pledge? “The pledge” is a sacred ritual among us.]

The reactions show me that this is no side issue. This is a heart issue. It touches us deeply. It touches our churches deeply.

That’s why I’m becoming more radical in my stances. There is a very real danger of serving two masters. There is a real danger of syncretism. There is a real danger of idolatry.

And I will flee from such.