Asking the Right Question {The Grove: Citizenship}

My last name may not scream an ethnicity to you. Unless you are Chinese, and then when you see my pale face, sturdy bones, and slightly curly hair, the response comes from an ancient script passed down from generation to generation. Eyes widen, “You are not Chinese.”

Yes, I know that.

Growing up I latched on to the “Scotch” part of my “Scotch-Irish” heritage. I don’t know why I wanted to be Scottish so much more than Irish, but I did. Fostering this lovefest was the bag my great-grandmother brought through Ellis Island in New York. As a child it all seemed so exotic and exciting.

One of my dearest friends in college moved to Scotland after graduation and served three years as a cross-cultural worker in a small church. My first visit to Scotland was one year into her term.

I was going to walk the land of my ancestors! I was going to get in touch with my Scottish roots! I was going to find where a distant relative was buried! I was going home!

Except it turns out, that “Young” is an Irish name. My enthusiasm was met with blank stares. Even in the tourist stores where I was desperate to buy anything with the “Young Tartan” on it, there was a nary a thread to be found.

{Side note: Two years ago, when I visited Scottish friends I made on that first trip, “Young” has either been discovered in the Clan Annals OR the wise merchants wanted in on the action. Either way, I bought “Young Clan” coasters for the whole family.)

While I had a wonderful trip and fell in love with Scotland, I left with a profound sense that no matter how much I wanted to be Scottish, no matter how much I loved Scotland, no matter how many scones I ate or cups of tea I drank, I was an American.

Today we finish our two-week series that has been like a two-sided coin on belonging. Last week we explored the side labeled “alien,” and this week we have taken a closer look at the other side of “citizenship.” Truth be told, many of us now exist on the narrow space between them. We are edge people.

It seems to be in vogue these days to either cling to a country or reject identifying with it outright. Are those the two options God gives us? As I considered what it is that God says about citizenship in the Bible, I noticed the following.

1. Last week I said “God has a soft spot for the alien; however, God’s soft spot for the alien seems more related to power than to citizenship. One of the few passages that directly relates to citizenship is the well-known “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” and is related to taxes. Other passages talk about our citizenship being in heaven and are almost all in Paul’s letter. Keeping in mind he was writing to people in the Roman Empire, they too were trying to figure out the boundaries of loyalty. This post is too short to go into the context of each letter, but if we had more time, I would love to explore what Paul (and a messenger for God) was saying. In short, the bottom line is not that citizenship and loyalty to a place are bad or to be denied, but they must not be supreme.

2. God gives a face to those who are rooted to a place. In the Bible God weaves the stories of the foreigners in with those who stay, those who are known in and for a place. God also lists other nations throughout the scripture. Outside of a few specific times the Israelites were told to destroy a people group or city, God preserves the different nationalities.

Those associated with a place (or at least not known for being a foreigner) who also modeled the tension of holding God above nationality:

Jesse

Mordecai

Rahab

Jesse

Shunammite Woman

Elizabeth and Zechariah

Isaiah

Phoebe

When we compare the list from last week of those who were known for the foreignness in the Bible and this list, I love the Bible all the more. God includes both, inviting us to keep interacting with this tension. Well done VA sisters, we join a long tradition of growing in maturity when it comes to our faith.

3. This two-sided coin, points to a bigger story.We see in both the Old and New Testament that variety, differences, and uniqueness will exist in heaven.

He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Amen and Amen!

I had coffee with a friend who recently returned to the US after 18 months in a poor area in India. She’s transitioning to another assignment and told me after explaining to her mom the analogy that many cross-cultural workers are from Circle cultures who live in Square cultures and in the process become Triangles. Her mom asked her to please be a Circle person again. She wondered if it was possible to return to being a Circle.

I laughed.

Her mom was asking the wrong question. Maybe we are too. While there is nothing wrong with asking “Where do you feel like an alien” or “How has your notion of citizenship changed.” In fact, these are good questions. But let’s use them to propel us deeper into the mystery and beauty of a faith that points to Already/Not Yet of Belonging in and to the Triune God.

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4 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Trotter July 8, 2018

    Nope, we can never return to being Circle people! Was just realizing that today at church. I have so many different perspectives now, and I don’t even know how to explain them.

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