Thursday, February 28, 2013

An Alien Kingdom

Resident Alien, by Stanley Hauerwas, was a book that influenced my thinking a great deal. The idea is that Christians are like resident aliens in this world. We're “from away,” as they say up here in Maine. In a sense, wherever we go, we are always the other. We are strangers. We come from another country, with different customs and values that sometimes seem at odds with the customs and values of our host country. We run into some of the same problems that all resident aliens run into. There will be, on the one hand, a desire to blend in. To lose the accent. On the other, some in our host country will not want us here. Our strangeness, our difference, seems to bother and affront them.

Imagine country people moving to the city. The pace is faster, the morals looser. It seems kind of threatening. Some of the young people will dive into this new setting with gusto, with a sense of new freedom. Others, some of the older ones, might long to go back. Some of them might relate to a song like this:


Now, I admit this description of the faithful does not exactly jibe with the predominant American Christianity. I am not suggesting that every manifestation of cultural Christianity looks just like the picture I have described here. By and large, we have more than adjusted. We keep trying to do American culture bigger and better.

First Baptist Dallas Construction Video from First Dallas on Vimeo.

But what I am describing here is the description of the faithful in the sermon on the mount. There, we find Jesus' own introduction to the life that his followers were in for. It was going to surprise them. To follow him would take some daring, some chutzpah. To follow him would be to take on difference, strangeness. To make oneself alien.

Christians today have trouble with the sermon. They mostly avoid it, except in bits and pieces, taken out of context. And when it comes up, well, you can watch the squirming begin. Someone does you harm, say. The sermon would suggest that the kingdom person takes such a stance to the world that is so free and open and undefensive that even that person who has already harmed you once will have the opportunity to harm you again. Isn't that what “turn the other cheek” actually means?

Or try this, you men, at the next meeting of your church men's group: try bringing up meekness. Then watch them try to talk their way around the plain meaning of the word. I've heard Christian's actually pretend that they didn't know its meaning. I mean, clearly Jesus can't mean what it sounds like he means, so he must mean something else, right? Perhaps there is a translation issue here. Perhaps “meek” really means courage!

All I'm saying is, don't expect the next big Christian blockbuster movie to be called "Meek!" And the sequel, "Getting Meeker!"

Or maybe the problem is political.  It's all the fault of those Democrats after all. If the Republicans had won the last election this country would be more like it should be, and we Christians wouldn't feel so, well, alien. We'd be more at home. And America would trend back toward what it's supposed to be: a Christian nation!

That's the implication of much of the political talk-talk I hear from my fellow believers, but it's at odds with the attitude depicted in the sermon on the mount. How quickly and comfortably Christians I know will change the subject to politics or its related topic, morality. Indeed, if Christianity were a morality-system, and if Republicans were the “moral” party, that attitude would make some sense I suppose. But Christianity is not morality, it is a people, and they are a people “from away.”

But it should be said that their home country is not the place they're from, it's the place they're going. It's their destination. They're so sure of it, they simply don't have a stake in the contestings of this world. Winning or losing in this world's contests doesn't matter to them. That includes national crusades, wars, and "taking back the country." They have nothing whatever to prove, and they certainly they don't have their heads in the game! That's why they don't fight back. That's why they're “meek.” That's why they don't mind giving away their cloaks along with their tunics, or walking the second mile. That's why they don't get indignant at the drop of a hat, calling people's fools, jerks, idiots.

That's why they don't spend time imagining themselves receiving accolades, pats on the back, raises, promotions, and having their way with the neighbor's wife (husband).

Strange, these people of the sermon. They want something, they go to God quietly, when they're alone, and ask for it. They they don't worry about it. What is it like, do you think, to neither bey hypocritical nor anxious. Jesus spends most of the sermon counseling against these two things.

What would it be like? It would be strange. It would be alien. It would be a kingdom thing.

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