Friday, November 23, 2018

Diaspora

Jews who don't live in Israel are often referred to as the diaspora, a term that actually goes all the way back to the time of the Babylonian Captivity. And so the verse of Psalm 106 that I'm led to think about this morning is very much a prayer of the diaspora. I am not Jewish, but I would imagine that when Jews hear the following words, it must be bittersweet to all who live far from the homeland of their people, for they have drawn people together in worship in countries across the globe to worship the one God according to the commandments of a people long in exile:

Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy Name and glory in your praise.
✙ Ps 106:47 ✙

Though the term diaspora most often refers to the nation of Israel, many peoples throughout the centuries have also been in a similar situation and have even borrowed the term: Africans forced to undergo the Middle Passage, Romani, Italian and Irish immigrants, and today's refugees from Syria and Venezuela. To leave one's homeland is often an extreme measure, and when people find themselves abroad, they often seek communities with shared culture and language.

I have pastored such communities in South America, the Caribbean, and Europe. There is an undeniably strong pull into English-speaking Protestant churches in places where another language is spoken and a different culture predominates. But what's interesting is that there are also people who don't feel at home in their own culture who attend worship at such churches. In Colombia, for example, there were those who wished to practice a Christianity that was not Roman Catholic, but found most Protestant churches in their country to be far too brash, informal, or Pentecostal. And so when they discovered an orderly English-speaking Protestant service, they often discovered acceptance there that they had not felt elsewhere.

In much of the world, I believe that Christians—especially progressive Christians—are in a situation of diaspora. We are different because we practice faith in cultures which are increasingly secular. Or we are different because our worldview is significantly different from the conservative Christianity espoused by a less-than-tolerant majority. Or sometimes we are different because we live in a country where another religion predominates. Yet we are gathered by God on Sundays to pray for wholeness (salvation), to give thanks, and to praise.

No, I am by no means comparing my own people to Jews in exile, or to African slaves, or to Syrian refugees. But it cannot be denied that we are learning more and more what it's like to be strangers in a strange land, and to come in from among those who view us as different so that we can speak a common tongue and hold to values which are different, but which we feel very strongly are worth preserving. Thus, I might speak of—and feel myself a part of—a Progressive Christian diaspora. And thus might I approach God as a stranger in a strange land.

Thank you, Lord, for my community of faith. Thank you for giving my wandering soul a home where it is understood, and from which I and others might share the good news that Christ came to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free*; in his Name who taught me to pray...

*Luke 4:18-19