Aliens and Exiles
We are now approaching the home galaxy. Please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts. Flight crew prepare for re-entry."
No, I haven't really been doing a spot of intergalactic travel. But I might as well have been. Bobbing about far above the clouds in the comparatively tiny tin can that was our aircraft left me quite disoriented and feeling that I could be anywhere in the universe.
Flying halfway around the world is not a familiar experience for me. My recent trip to England and home again gave rise to some interesting impressions. The 'white noise' - which my uncle informs me is pumped into the aircraft cabin to make passengers more comfortable - the sense of timelessness, the lack of landmarks to inform my curiosity as to exactly where I was, and the complete exhaustion engendered by missing what amounted to two nights' sleep, combined to produce a sense of eerie unrealness, of being 'lost in space'.
Physically removed from my family and friends, my home, my possessions, and my country, I could have been anyone from anywhere. I was a sojourner, a refugee, an exile, cast adrift above the earth.
Many would say that the normal Christian life is that of an exile, an alien in a foreign culture. "Dear Friends," says Peter,1 "I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world to abstain from sinful desires . . ." The dictionary defines an alien as: "one who belongs to, or is characteristic of, another and very different place. One who is strange".
If we have indeed been born again as citizens of another world, so that the old has passed away and all things have become new, then our lifestyles should reflect that change. We are called to leave the pervading worldly culture in which we are immersed and to live out of another culture which is not bound to changes in earthly circumstances and perceptions, but is birthed out of God's heart which is unchanging.
We are exiles: those who are found living away from their native country.
Talk of Generation X, post modernism and post evangelicalism is deeply disturbing to some. It is decidedly unnerving to feel that all around us the culture is subtly changing; that the sureties we once stood on are re-forming under our feet.
Which culture is in operation here? The Generation X culture? The Baby Boomer culture? Do we belong to either? Should we be standing apart from both? How do we understand people who think so differently from us? Where do we fit in?
Whichever culture we find ourselves immersed in we must not lose sight of the fact that we are called to another culture -we might call it the Superseding Culture - it is the place where we 'fit'. It is the culture of the Kingdom of God.
We find the rules, or the blueprint for this culture in the Bible. It provides for us a normative framework - like the steel girders of a skyscraper - on which we can build our lifestyle. As scaffolding provides support for those building or repairing a house, so the Word of God provides undergirding for us as we build and repair our lifestyles, as we construct a culture which will show forth the Kingdom of God.
To maintain a contrary lifestyle amidst a predominantly opposing set of values which roars in our ears and glares in our eyes at every turn is no easy task. The temptation to form a cosy huddle and shut out the rest of the world is strong, but we must resist it. God has not called us to build ghettos for ourselves in order that we might live out this 'other' culture undisturbed. That would be to light a lamp and place it under a bushel. Rather we are to live out our culture in such a way that we are a disturbance to the cultures surrounding us.
Certainly we need to build strong communities amongst ourselves if we are to survive resiliently in a world of foreign and often antagonistic values, but we are to be facing outwards and not inwards if that world is to benefit at all from our choice to live out the values of the Kingdom of God.
It is all too easy to assume that because we are Christians we will naturally display the culture of God's Kingdom. A regular reading of the gospels and epistles with our eyes wide open washes away such presumptions. Again and again we see that there is much we still do that we should not do and much we leave undone which needs to be done.
We maintain the culture of the Kingdom of God by a continuous patrolling of its boundaries - recognising that those boundaries are organic in nature and not allowing rigidity to seep in for the sake of our convenience. The Kingdom needs to be allowed room to express itself, it does not thrive where it is squashed into the mould of 'the way we always do it'.
How then should we live? We need to be regularly questioning ourselves about the direction of our lives, about our motives, and about what is informing our decisions if we are to avoid being subsumed by the prevalent culture of our day.