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.

Check out the resources used for this post

How Donald Trump helped me become a better follower of Jesus

You may not believe it, but Donald Trump has made me a better follower of Jesus.

It is not because of his example. It’s not because of his integrity. Nor is it that he exemplifies leadership. That is not something I want to get into. I’m trying to be as apolitical as I can while still trying to make my point.

The reason he has made me a better Christian is that there are things that have been brought up during his Presidency. Things such as immigration, racism, and sexism.

Here’s the truth, I didn’t think in-depth about many of the dark things that have been stirred-up recently in peoples hearts.

I am a white middle-class male from Canada. This means I have seen and experienced the world in a particular way, a way that is not wrong. However, it is a way that is ignorant of the issues of others. Why? Because I’m a white, middle-class male from…Canada.

I need to be honest. I never thought about immigrants. I don’t mean this in a mean way. I didn’t think about issues of race. I’m not racist, thus I assumed neither were others. Unless I was confronted with it, I never thought about sexism. I presumed everyone thought the opposite sex was equal.

I guess I just figured that though they were issues at one time they weren’t now.

With every passing day of the last few years, I have been confronted with my ignorance. It has caused me to think deeply about the heart of Jesus.

The hatred some have propelled upon immigrants has caused me to think about how I would feel if I were desperate for a better life for my family. I think of Mary and Joseph, Jesus parents, who fled to Egypt to escape persecution (and it wasn’t because he was white…. because he wasn’t).

The racism thrust violently upon those who don’t look like me has caused me to open my eyes. I hadn’t seen it before. I naturally didn’t experience it. If my friends had, they hadn’t told me, and I hadn’t been aware of it while around them. How would I feel if I were maligned, targeted, and attacked? I would probably want to stand up for my freedom. I would probably be sick and tired of being disrespected.

The vulgar words people have directed toward the opposite sex have made think about my wife and daughter and mother. Would I want someone to speak in such ways to them?

It is easy to be ignorant of things you have never experienced. How could you not be? But if it flies in your face and you still choose to ignore the issues, then it is just as bad as being the one to disperse the hate.

God told the Israelites as they were about to enter the land he had promised them, the land where they were to exemplify what it means to live a God honouring life, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”

We love our neighbour because we are our neighbour. You are not better than them. Nor are you worse. We are equal. We are not to hold cold war grudges, or cast stereotypes upon others. We are to love. Jesus takes it even further when he declared for us to love our enemies and bless those who persecute you.

There is no place for xenophobia in God’s Kingdom.

There is no place for racism in God’s Kingdom.

There is no place for sexism in God’s Kingdom.

If right now, this is causing you to say, “Yes, they do need to treat me equal, they do need to treat me as a neighbour.” You’re missing the point.

You can’t control anyone, but yourself.

What is your role?

Who do you not treat as equal?

What issue have we ignored?

When we can begin to address these issues in our own heart, that is when we will start to see the world as God sees it. A world in which immigrants are welcomed and defended, a world in which we celebrate diversity but know we are all the same, a world where men and women see, work, and learn next to each other with full respect for one another.

Thank you, Donald Trump, you have made me aware of these vast issues that are still a very present reality. It has caused me to look at my self and the parts of the world I influence and decide to be a better follower of Jesus.