Saturday, May 16, 2009

I Am an Alien

This world is not my home. I'm just passing through.

We are strangers. We are aliens. We are not of this world.

These lyrics from two very different songs mirror a repeated theme of scripture: The Apostle Peter refers to us believers as "aliens and strangers in the world." Moses referred to himself as a "stranger in a strange land," and he was not just talking geography. The writer of Hebrews tells of heroes of the faith who died as "aliens and strangers on earth."

It becomes clearer and clearer to me that I am not of this world. Some of you reading this have known what a misfit I am a lot longer than I have - you have been trying to tell me for years. You have known that I will never fit in.

Some of it is a matter of pop culture. For example, (at the risk of sounding like my parents...) I cannot go to a movie or read a novel that does not simply assume that unmarried couples who have gone on at least a second date are sleeping together. The assumption that sexual activity will actually wait until marriage is not even seriously considered in prime time. Today's culture is full of these things that are simply outside my understanding of what ought to be - the language that is used, the assumptions about how people treat one another, behaviors, values, the place of the spiritual in the life of human beings... The list goes on and on.

But it is more than pop culture. It is real life. My contemporaries live in a different world from mine. They focus on this world that really holds very little for me. Values, character assessments, priorities, and goals are set based on items of such little concern to me. And in turn what is most important to me befuddles those around me. They sort of chuckle at my life as they try to hide their wonder and disdain.

(I do not mean to imply that I do not understand these differences, nor do I fault the culture for reflecting the hearts of those who create it. As I have written before, it seems backwards to me for us to expect non-believers to act like believers. Why anyone expects people to repent of behaviors that those people do not believe are wrong is beyond me. My point is not that I want the whole world to start acting like I think it should - my point is that I am becoming more and more cognizant of just how out of step I am.)

I of course have to live and function amidst all of this. I do not mean to pretend that I am not caught up in a lot of these very same earthly priorities at any given moment. But I can at the same time say that I am not comfortable there, and I do not pretend that these momentary distractions are anything but just that - distractions.

It can be uncomfortable to be an alien - after all, people treat you funny. I can look around for signs of home and not always find them. The music that lands best on my ear is often nothing more than a far-off hint of a tune, almost (but not quite) simply a memory.

Ironically, we have the church itself to blame for increasing our alienation. Infightings and insensitivities to the world around us have combined with a failed mission to lead to suspicion and outright disregard of our words, our values. For us to talk about "seeking a deeper personal relationship with Christ" smacks of "conservative blather" to some and is simply label-spouting to others. Frankly, many even in the church don't know what we are talking about - asking those who do not believe to understand may be beyond the pale.

Thankfully, of course, I am not alone on my alien pilgrimage through this world any more than I am alone in the church. Of course there are many believers walking with me, helping me along, leading me in the right paths.

And of course, we can affect the culture one heart at a time. That is our mission. We can and do change this world, little by little. But I do not think we will ever really be anything but strangers here. There is a reason that Isaiah writes about the holy mountain of the Lord, why John writes about the city for which we are looking.

In some ways, it is quite comforting to recognize anew that I don't belong here. It makes it easier to take the fact that there are any number of earthly goals that I cannot achieve for whatever reason. It softens the blow of simply not feeling accepted, not being comfortable, not fitting in. I am not meant to fit in. All things have become new - I am a new creature.

It is easier to keep my eye on the ball when I remember that I am playing a different game from those around me. As the fortune cookie says, those who dance are thought crazy by those who cannot hear the music.

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