For many years now, Megan, our kids and I have had the privilege of sharing our house and dining table with many people who are not like us. And these beautiful people, all with different stories, have taught me, stretched me, grown me and blessed me in so many ways. They have deposited far more in my life, than I in theirs.
Walter Brueggemann paints a beautiful picture of what the church should be, a place where “exiles” feel welcomed, loved and embraced. But so often words – or “talk” as Brueggemann puts it – creates a culture, where people like me can feel very comfortable, but where people who are not like me are excluded from experiencing authentic community.
With beautiful and yet challenging words Brueggemann proposes that “the church is now God’s agent for gathering exiles. First, there are those exiles who have been made exiles by the force of our society, those who are rejected, ostracised, and labelled as outsiders. But the story of the Bible is so written that God’s care for the disenfranchised is a main theme, yet mostly screened out by those who like to talk a lot about biblical authority.”
I’m thankful for a friend who shared this quote on social media last week. It’s had me reading some more Brueggemann, but also reflecting on recent rich conversations with “exiles” – beautiful people – who sadly have felt not only labelled by society but also by their church; or specifically by the key voices that shape the culture of their faith community.
Welcoming, loving, gracious, non-judgemental community is what most exiles yearn for. And so do I! I share this same innate yearning.
Those of us who get to experience such community should cherish it, but, here’s the rub, should it come at the expense of those who don’t, when God’s heart is clearly with the outsiders?
I was only talking with an “exile” last week and she doesn’t seek to be a problem. She doesn’t seek to cause strife. She knows people don’t agree with her choices. She graciously respects that, despite the cost. She offers the church so much, but feels exiled, adrift with so many hurts, questions and feelings.
All this follower of Jesus wants is genuine community where fellow Jesus people – like her, and not like her, love and care for each other with authenticity.
Yes, so many issues are complex. People will share different opinions on a range of matters, but Brueggemann is right. It’s too easy to embrace a stance that closes the conversation. That doesn’t allow for genuine dialogue. That has no space for different voices. Such a culture, as loving and welcoming as it is to the majority, sadly closes the door to those pushed to the edges. They become exiles.
And yet Walter Brueggemann would ask the question – isn’t God’s grand love story all about welcoming the disenfranchised, the labelled, the ostracised, the outsider?
I am thankful that exiles keep teaching me so much more about what love with skin on really looks like! And I am thankful for churches and people of faith who are unwilling to simply let different opinions and convictions get in the way of genuine, Christ-like pastoral care and an invitation to authentic community.
How do we take a step in this direction? We keep quiet and we humbly listen to the faith stories of exiles!