Wednesday, October 18, 2006

the stranger in my DNA

Yesterday during Kingdom Conference at Asbury Seminary, Professor Christine Pohl spoke in a moving and prophetic way about the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger and care for the alien in our midst. With this year’s theme “Crossing Borders at Home” the focus is on refugee resettlement and immigration. Artfully and yet plainly, she lead us through the metanarrative of Scripture, reminding us of God’s loving and hospitable initiatives to a nobody people who were guaranteed that throughout their history they would be strangers again and again. We were carried through texts such as Exodus 23, Genesis 12, Matthew 25 and 1 Peter 2. In and through these, an identity unfurls of being both a stranger and a host. This central thread in the Bible culminates in the report that Jesus, as a child, was forced to flee to Egypt with his family. It is not often remembered that our Lord and Savior himself was a refugee at the start of his life.

As I heard this message, I was inspired, convicted, and overcome. I thought of two things personally. I recognized the privilege of my fatigue and burnout in the work of refugee resettlement and the shame that goes with it. I had the honor of receiving and serving families forced by war and conflict to reside in a strange and sometimes unwelcoming land. And yet, even as I’ve shared in the role of host, I hadn’t realized that somewhere wrapped up in me is an alien and the genetic memory of being an outsider. Because we are grafted into the story of the people of Israel, this identity of stranger in a strange land is ours too.

This is our story, our genealogy. Recently my father shared with me about his substantial work on our family’s genealogy. He loves it. He managed to meticulously document our relatives back to the 1600s. What he unearthed is rich in stories and places of the people who made us, the Espy’s. Without any effort or leap of imagination, I easily associated with these long-since-dead people I never knew and I thought, “oh, great, these are my people.” An inherited dignity is ascribed to me by my ancestors that takes no work on my part and asks nothing of me – a detached history.

More ancient and central than this earthly lineage is my inheritance and place in the story from Scripture As Christine reminded us, this family tree comes with mandates, frightful promises of exclusion, burdens to live justly, and the Head of the clan being crucified. This heritage is one I don’t always want to belong to. Of course, it also comes with the mystery of grace and abundant life. The important thing about the renewal that came in those moments in chapel is that the reminder of identity and the acknowledgement of who’s I am spills over into the call again to live and to act as a servant, a blessing…to cross borders again and again, simultaneously aware of my own exile and the holy honor of being a welcoming host.

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