Last Friday, I was walking with my three-and-a-half-year-old son to pick up my older two children from school. It's a short walk, and we often take the alley way behind our house because it's less heavily trafficked during the after-school rush. As we held hands, swinging our arms between us, I saw in the distance a cat making its way blissfully down the alley toward us. It was ambling on the edge of the gravel alley, occasionally rubbing its head against the grass shoulder. "Look, Sam!" I said in a hushed voice. "There's a cat!"
By the time Sam said, "Where?" the cat had spotted us. It froze. It squatted down with its belly flat against the ground. Its tail was tucked behind it. Starting at us, it watched our every movement. As we took our next step or two, the cat, having instinctively calculated in its animalistic brain the distance between it and us and the safety of its driveway in between, darted in a flash--at first toward us but then quickly to the side, escaping our potentially predatory grasp and gaze. I don't think Sam even got a chance to see the nimble four-footed creature.
Today, I am travelling to Baltimore for a church meeting. I've been asked to serve on the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church, and I am looking forward to our time together. It seems that most (perhaps all) of the "interim bodies" (groups that meet in between General Conventions) are gathering for an orientation and some initial face-to-face work. I trust that the rest of our work this triennium will be through virtual meetings, so I consider this trip a valuable luxury--the chance to get things started in a big, bold way before the inherent limitations of telephones and webchats begin to take away from our productivity. But, as I make my way through the airport, excited about seeing old friends and new colleagues, I am reminded of just how suspicious everyone has become.
I live in Decatur, Alabama. It's a thirty-minute drive from Huntsville's airport. Understandably, it's a small facility with only ten commercial gates. Since it's a small community and a small airport, I halfway expect to see at least one person I know. But the people I don't know keep looking at me with what feels like suspicious glances. Yes, I know a bowtie can be a little off-putting (perhaps even threatening), but seriously? Do I look that scary?
Of course, I don't know if their glances are suspicious. They might be, but my interpretation of their looks--quick, examining glances followed by a sharp look-away followed again by another raising of the eyes to check me out a second time--as the evaluation of a potential threat says more about me than them. But can I help it?
The televisions around the terminal, all tuned to Fox News, are reminding all of us that terrorists are being arrested at an airport in Istanbul. Flashes of this past weekend's scenes in Paris are not only in our minds but also on the screens. The newsfeed on the NPR app is dominated by updates on a raid in a Paris suburb. Posts on Facebook remind us of the inability of the immigration screening process to ensure that refugees are not terrorists. The headlines in the State of Alabama are a reechoing of Governor Bentley's sentiment that our state's borders are closed to anyone fleeing the crisis in Syria.
In the midst of all this fear and anxiety and resentment, I stop to read the lessons for this coming Sunday, and I ponder how far away the kingdom of God and the kingship of Christ are from this world.
Everyone is a potential threat. Everyone could be a terrorist. Everyone has the potential to hurt us or kill us. I may not be squatting down on the ground, but, as I clutch my bag tightly against my body and dart my eyes around the terminal, I realize I am no different from the cat in the alley. None of us is.
And I don't think that's anything new. Sure, the nature of the threat is a lot bigger than it was in the ancient world, but travel has always been dangerous. Why else would Isaiah's prophecy of salvation look like a safe journey:
And a highway shall be there,I don't know about you, but I want the world I live in to look more like the kingdom of God. I want my children to grow up in a place that feels less like a terrorism-dominated headline and more like a God-sheltered highway through the rough places. And, if our response to God's promises of salvation is to throw up our hands and wait on God to make all that happen, we will die having seen the kingdom get no closer in this life. Yes, salvation waits for us in the next life, but God's promises are not only for the some-day. They are for now. And that means we have work to do.
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
(Isaiah 35:8-10 ESV)
To be the kingdom of God, we must act like the kingdom of God. we must open our borders to refugees. Far better for us to accept vulnerability by welcoming in the poor and oppressed than to shut our gates and try to lock everyone out. We must let our guard down--not only as a State and as a nation but also as individuals. Far better for us to greet a stranger with a smile and accept the unknown than to hold everyone at arms length. For the kingdom of God to become a reality, we must all start looking for it. And, as long as we're treating everyone and everything with suspicion, we'll never see it.