Friday, May 28, 2010

Living as exiles

Last weekend, I was in Michigan's Upper Peninsula participating in a work weekend at my in-law's place. Over that weekend, I had the chance to reflect on some points regarding our Christian faith. Two of the points actually ended up interweaving with each other.

One point had to do with how some people have maintained a sense of living in their homeland, or within their home culture while physically being distant from that homeland. While I've witnessed a number of examples, perhaps the one that stood out the most for me is that of the British. Whether here in America, or in Canada, or even a Caribbean island such as the British Overseas Territory of Grand Turk, I have seen examples of those who have maintained a sense of their "Britishness" while thousands of miles from Britain.

Years ago, across the street from my first apartment, there was an individual who lived in a house across the street who prominently displayed a large British flag on the wall of his living room. At night, with no other street lights nearby, the lights from the owner's living room lit up that part of the street. With no curtains drawn in that house, one could easily see (more like not miss) seeing this very large (4 feet by 6 least) flag. It was obvious that someone lived there who wanted to maintain a sense of being British while living here in the United States.

A decade later, my wife and I flew to Montreal for a Christmas gathering sponsored by the travel agency at which my wife worked at the time. The aircraft was run by British Airways. Though I had never set foot in Britain, I felt that I was there once onboard the plane. The cabin's main view screen ran a series of pictures taken in England. The flight attendants had British accents. In addition, it was hard to miss the Union Jack motif in the cabin. I think a British citizen would have felt right at home onboard this plane, sitting on a tarmac in Romulus, Michigan, thousands of miles from home.

In my reflections from last weekend, I realized how similar this sense of maintaining "Britishness" is to a Christian maintaining a sense of "Kingdom of Heaven-ness" while here on Earth. Like a loyal ex-patriate British citizen, we as citizens of "the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10 NIV) need to maintain a sense of our true homeland. In Scripture, we Christians are likened to strangers and exiles (Hebrews 11:13). For me, the example of the British in who live in our country serves as a great example of what we as Christians should do in yearning for and living as if we were already in our homeland.

The second point I reflected on has to do with legacy and descent. Genetically, I have American, Polish and German roots. Yet, over the years, I have come to appreciate how adoption broadens our cultural horizons. The influences of a heritage into which you've been adopted can be just as powerful (perhaps even more so) as a genetic heritage. In the same way, when it comes to my spiritual heritage, it occurred to me that that heritage is overwhelmingly British. I've been strongly influenced by the Anglican Book of Common Prayer as well as the writings of Thomas Watson, Thomas Brooks, John Owen, Thomas Manton and Richard Sibbes, all of those individuals who were part of the Puritan movement in Britain in the 17th century. Jonathan Edwards was actually a British colonial subject during the entireity of his life, having died 18 years before America declared its independence. The writings of Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, both from the 19th century, have been tremendous influences on me. Again, both were British. How wonderful it was to realize that in terms of my spiritual descent, I'm British!!!

The picture of the flag in this entry is known as the King's Colors or the original Union Flag (or Union Jack as "Jack" was a term for flag). It combined the then existing flags of England and Scotland, around the year 1606. It remained the British flag until 1801 when Ireland's flag was merged into the Union Jack we know today. As most of my British spiritual ancestors lived in the 17th century, I thought it proper to include the flag of that time.