Her proud grandpa followed behind carrying a steaming coffee and a small hot chocolate. The girl turned slowly and saw me and the guy sipping his java at the next table, and in a young voice tinged with fear said: "I don't like strangers." She spoke loudly enough that we all heard, perhaps to warn that she felt vulnerable.
Labelled an unwelcome foreigner, I didn't want to confirm her stereotype. "Who does?" I said smiling. As he set down his mugs, grandpa responded, "They won't bite ya." Hoping to console, I added, "No way. Enjoy your cupcake!"
I don't know if the girl's fear was put at ease, but I think we can identify. At some raw level, we all fear strangers because they are a great unknown. Different. Possibly threatening, even harbingers of conflict and calamity. 'Others' may prove to be allies, even friends, but how willing are we to find out?
Biblically-speaking, the 'stranger' or, more poetically the 'sojourner', is surprisingly a regular character. From Abraham being called out of his homeland into a strange land, to the Israelites being sojourners in Egypt, to Jesus calling followers to be residents of an alternative kingdom, our ancient stories of faith are rife with outsiders. Isn't that part of why we love these stories? Even Jesus -- himself a stranger on several levels -- had his mind changed after being confronted by the Syro-Phoenician woman, a stranger.
The core story of the stranger Jesus' life, death and vindication by God breaks down a lot of walls: cultural, social, gender, not to mention religious. As they fall, a spiritual 'reign' opens up in which conventional categories are transformed. Through God's faithfulness to us, we are welcomed strangers of a new world! A world built on love, not on the debilitating powers of self-preservation. Through the Spirit's help we too can welcome the stranger by seeing and honouring God in the people we read about in the news, in our neighbour, our co-worker, our family member, in even our own shadow.
This process isn't finished. We are continually moving out of the old country and into the new. Yes, we may be like vulnerable four-year-olds, but we have an abiding Presence that accompanies us. We don't have to give in to fear. God is with us, and ultimately that is enough.
Psalm 119: "I am a sojourner on earth; hide not thy commandments from me!"
In our new Watershed Online edition, you are welcome to read along with our various takes on encountering the stranger in our lives.
Also In This Edition
* In A Reading Guide for After The Flood, Arthur Paul Patterson explores the art of reading slowly with Shane Joseph's new dystopian novel of hope.
* In The Stranger at the Door, Arthur Paul Patterson delves into the encouraging yet strange book of Ephesians in light of Markus Barth's The Broken Wall.
In The Strange Power of God, Linda Tiessen Wiebe, in reviewing Shardik by Richard Adams, asks whether a book about bear worship can be taken seriously!
* We all like seeing justice done to somebody else. In A Stranger To Justice, Arthur Paul Patterson narrates his personal relationship to justice. Can we get behind a justice reconfigured for all?
* In The Stranger at the Fringe, Lyle Penner journals about Reign of God themes he met at the 2010 Winnipeg Fringe Festival.
* Erik Berg, in The Hidden Gem of Naboth's Vineyard, explores the meaning of this strange, little-known story wedged into the pages of the Old Testament book of First Kings.
* In The Stranger's Gospel: The Modern Magi, Arthur Paul Patterson returns to an old story he wrote about unlikely visitors to a church on Quadra Island. The theme of strangers offering unexpected gifts still resonates with us today.
* In Linda Tiessen Wiebe's Response to Oryx and Crake, she wants to know if in books like Margaret Atwood's we can find redemption and hope within dystopia.
* In Giving the Gift of Expression, Joel Penner tells the story of the encouraging gifts of a Nigerian newcomer to Canada, Benjamin Tamana. (Originally published in the West Central Streets community newspaper.)
* In The Shining: Lydia's 50th Birthday, Arthur Paul Patterson reflects on the meaning of being spiritually accompanied during the 'birth pangs' of middle age.
* In Welcoming The Stranger, Lydia Penner answers the awkward question of "why do you live in this neighbourhood?" (Originally published in the West Central Streets community newspaper.)
* In The Broken Stranger: A Review of Mary and Max, Linda Tiessen Wiebe finds in Adam Elliot's 2009 animated film much evidence for God's friendship with us within human relationships, however difficult they may be.
* "So you are no longer strangers or outsiders." In No Longer A Stranger, Bev Patterson explains the concept behind her funky watercolour for this website edition.
Seeing God in the mundane, reading the bible seriously but not literally, reflecting theologically on TV storytelling...follow these ideas in Blogs: Seeds That Are Sprouting section.
* Welcome the strangeness of a poem or scripture suddenly seen, as it meets you through the images and verses in Icons For Our Time
* Images in header and sidebar graphic from www.vladstudio.com
* Lyle Penner reviews the compelling PBS documentary series, God in America.
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