Nomads, Exile, and Alienation

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Over the past few months, I’ve read articles debating the difference between immigrants and expats. The questions of refusing or receiving refugees. The place of foreign workers in countries, and problem of sending them back where they came from. I read a dissertation from a friend about the philosophical problem of alienation, and am eager to read another dissertation on the question of inclusion.

And at the same time, our church, a Chinese heritage church, located in the centre of the UK’s 2nd city, Birmingham, has been on the move as well. Outgrown the previous location, we have been willingly forced to find new accommodation, and are renting a school just to the north of the City Centre.

And all of this, all these discussions, revolve around the question of belonging. Where is home? Where do we belong? Who are we really? They are questions of identity and questions of place.

I am Chinese, and yet I am not. I am American, and yet I am not. My home is in Birmingham, and yet it is not. My country is England, yet it is not. We are part of the city, and yet we are not. We are part of the EU, and yet we are not. It’s this dichotomy that causes such confusion, and frustration, and enhances that sense of alienation.

And so we cling to the things that give us familiarity or comfort. It’s why immigrant cultures are often frozen cultures, clinging to the parts of their culture that they left, even though though cultures are no longer the same. Like how HK immigrants from the 1970’s are still 1970’s HK, compared to what the 2016 HK population is like today. It’s why I’ll still go into a restaurant, and choose a burger instead of fish & chips. And although it doesn’t “define” me, it’s still this part of my old life.

The thing is, as Christians, we know that we’ve been given this new life, this new identity. Over and over again, God reminds us that we are his children, that we are part of his family, that we are called by a new name, we are his ambassadors, we are his kingdom — but that identity finds itself in conflict with the old self of us. Because following Christ, is often like making that first step into a nomadic life. Where it often feels like, “I don’t really belong.” We are exilic. Nomadic. Sojourners. And it’s hard to hold onto the hope of a place, when no place *feels* like home. And so, like all the people in the Old Testament, we turn to what is familiar, what is reassuring – the old self – and hope that that will satisfy. And it never does.

And so, where do we belong? What is our place? Who are we really?

As our church has moved into a temporary location, like the Israelites in exile, we’ve been forced to rethink what makes church – church. And as we gather, and as we look into God’s Word, and as we worship — it becomes clear again — home is when your heart is at peace with God. And worshipping together is when you find your family again. And all the questions of identity, and place and security fade away, in the knowing that God is with us. Emmanuel.

So, maybe you’re a little confused. Maybe things have been just a little bit more frustrating that usual. Maybe, in this life’s transition, you’ve lost your way. Turn your eyes to Jesus, and he will lead you Home.

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