See The Stranger

They are everywhere.

At your door. In your school. They are at your work—passing you by in the hallways, streets, and supermarkets. You may even know their name.

Strangers really are everywhere. They are as far as the country that is furthest from where you are right now, in a context that is vastly different, to in your family as you sit next to the child or parent you haven’t taken the time to get to know. The stranger can be as foreign to you as a person that you never have and will never meet, or as intimate as a spouse that you have slowly lost connection to.

It is because strangers are everywhere that we must take our interaction with them so seriously. As the world’s communication significantly deteriorates into a dark abyss, it is more important than ever that we choose to see the stranger.

I recently have been listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, Talk To Strangers (as I have noted in a previous post, it is an essential read). It has truly provoked the question, “How do you see the stranger?”

Due to my training in the Birkman Method (a personality assessment tool), I have come to realize that each and every one of us has a deficiency when interacting with others. We all have personalities, tendencies, and stress responses that determine how we see others.

I think this is why God, in the book of Leviticus, tells the people to love neighbours, take in wanderers, and treat the foreigner as a local. My favourite is in chapter 19.

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 19:33-34

We often say, “Treat your neighbour as yourself.”

I think this is the problem.

We look at others, near or far, and expect them to treat us the way we think we treat people (which isn’t how you think). We expect them to act the way our cultural conditioning has formed us. There’s the assumed reality that we think the same way, have similar cultural values, react the same way in stressful, fearful, sad, happy, joyful—whatever emotional situation you can think of—situation as we do. Then we treat our neighbours how we would want to be treated.

BUT NO!

What we need to do is treat our neighbour the way they want to be treated. After all, we want to be treated the way…we want to be treated. It seems simple. However, it is a necessity we not only put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, shirt, pants, and coat but also in their time, country, family, situations. We cannot do this by assuming their position—assuming the most applicable stereotype.

There is a subtle reminder at the end of the commandeer of Leviticus 19. “Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” How do you want to be treated?

Do you want someone to listen to you? Someone to not assume they know you, but take the time? Maybe to see you as a person—wants, needs, desires, dreams?

We are all complex creatures. We are all creatures God loves and calls children. We thus should treat each other as though we are, and they are.

The reminder in Leviticus that the Hebrew people, too, were once foreigners is a reminder to all of us as we look to the stranger.

We have all been misunderstood. At times others have assumed things to be true about us based on our family, education, skin tone, religion, or nationality. At one time in the late 1500s, my ancestors were foreigners arriving in my country encountering strangers, my other ancestors who had been here for hundreds of years prior. It didn’t go well. There is baggage from these types of interactions that still looms in my country today.

The great news, it’s a new day. You are a new person. We can take the advice that God gave the Hebrew people nearly 6000 years ago. Today, let’s choose to see the stranger.

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What’s Your Story

Thanks to Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, I’ve been thinking a lot about story. What is the story of our life?

What’s the climax?

Who’s the narrator?

Where does the arc begin?

Who’s the protagonist?

Some of these may have answers. While for others, we may never. But let us not fool ourselves, we are all in a story. The choice we have is whether we choose to enter into it and make it the best we can or sit and wonder what our story could be like.

Too often we allow comfort to set in and we never take a chance. I think, how would Jesus’ disciple Peter’s narrative be different if he never stepped out of the boat to walk upon the water (Matt 14). What would the world look like if Dr. Martin Luther King never dreamed of equality and took a step? How many generations would be stuck in hopeless abject poverty if not for an immigrant braving oceans and deserts with all but hope?

The problem being, so often we need an upsetting moment to push us out of comfort into the story we were born to live. For Peter, it was the storm. For Dr. King, it was the brutality of racism and hate. The immigrant, it is loss, governments, and desperation.

Miller writes,

“Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, they won’t enter into a story.”

Comfort is just that, comfortable. While comfort is vital from time to time, it can also be like a pot of cold water with a frog upon a stove (not that I have ever eaten or cooked frogs… yet). The water is cold, and the frog is content and comfortable, but slowly the heat is turned up until it’s dead in the water. However, if you put it in hot water, it knows it needs to escape. You might say it knows that the meal it’s being prepared for isn’t the type of story it wants to live.

While comfort can be great in a moment or even a season, it can be a dangerous trap that pauses the story of our life.

As I write in Hidden Faces: Discovering our True Identity in Christ,

“It’s easy to be crippled from starting the journey God has for us. It can feel daunting. It’s hard when it can mean leaving the secure job or disappointing a friend or family member. Too often we have to lose the job or the family member or have a health scare to take the step we should take. I know that was what happened to me. It was not until I lost a job that I took steps. It’s easy, especially when you have a young family, to play it safe instead of braving the oceans of discovery that lie before us.”

What is it that your story is waiting to write?

You may not even know. The problem being is that comfort is of no help. If we always escape the uncomfortable, we will never learn what it can teach us.

What if…

we decided to try something new?

we went on that trip we always longed?

we sacrificed and took control of our finances instead of the comfort of excess?

we risked our heart and entered that relationship?

Who knows what it is? Well, maybe you do or perhaps not yet. As long as we choose the “Kingdom of comfort where [you] are king[/queen]”, to quote Delirious, you will forever live in wonder.

There will never be an arc.

You will never reach the climax.

You will never know what it’s like to be the hero/heroine.

You will be a frog slowing cooking in your comfortable pot of slowly warming water and your juices.

Now, doesn’t that sound lovely…. not so much.

Jeremiah declared the words of God Judah and Jerusalem a truth that I believe also applies to us.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future… You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring you back from captivity.”

Jeremiah 29:11, 13-14

Let’s seek the discomfort of God and allow Him to release us from the captivity of comfort. Let’s step into the plan, destiny–braving the ocean and stepping out of the boat.

Where do you find comfort?

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