Thursday, January 24, 2013

Finding Home in a Strange Land

Four years ago I boarded seven airplanes in 24 hours to spend four months in a place as far away from my home as possible--West Papua, Indonesia.

I traveled there for an adventure, but what shocked me was how quickly the highlands of Papua felt like a place I had always known. What I expected to be exotic felt strangely familiar.

This subconscious comfort of belonging was suddenly shattered when we learned our visas were expiring earlier than expected. In that moment reality pierced through perception.

A place of belonging on the other side of the world

I am an alien in this place. I've outstayed my welcome. It is time to go home, to the home that is not here.
This may not be true, but I suspect Americans are quicker than most to feel like they belong in a foreign land. All that talk about being whoever you want to be when you grow up has predictable results. We are, after all, a country of recovering imperialists.

Either that, or immigrants.

What is the difference between an imperialist and an immigrant? Is there any other than the former claims "Mine!" over that which is not?

Both are aliens. Both far from home.

I talked to a friend last week who has been far from home for 16 years. After spending over half your life in a place, one would expect to develop the comfort of belonging I so quickly acquired in Papua. However, my friend--an undocumented, Mexican immigrant brought to the states as a minor--had this illusion of home shattered daily. Every job application, volunteer form, driver's license, lease, and health insurance card screamed "You do not belong!" Each thought of inaccessible opportunity in the land of opportunity reinforced the hypocrisy. The vulnerability of authenticity meant the fear of being sent to a "home" no longer remembered.

How does one hope to find home in a place which labels him an alien?

Thanks be to God, Hugo no longer needs to ask that question for himself. For the first time, thanks to an executive order and a unique nine digit number, home and a place of belonging are reconciled.

Unfortunately, this question resonates on behalf of many others in this country who are regularly reminded they are foreigners in the only home they have ever known.

Our legacy

May we as individuals and collectively as a nation learn to love the sojourner among us.
For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, 
                                    the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 
He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow,
            and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.
LOVE the SOJOURNER, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
 Deuteronomy 10:17-19
 How can we love the sojourner?

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