Not From Around Here
There are a lot of Wisnewskis in the world but not many with a southern accent. As you might imagine, with a name like mine, I am no stranger to the phrase, “You’re not from around here, are you?” When people say that, they’re usually surprised, and relieved, to find that I am a southerner and that my family has deep roots in this country. But my name sometimes is a roadblock for folks. We can be threatened by people we perceive to be from another culture.
Part of the job of a priest is to not be from around here. We are to live fully in the culture to which we are assigned, we are to honor and respect that culture, we are to love and be loved wherever we are. But we are to remind the culture where we find ourselves that God is not limited to this particular culture. God’s world is big. God’s ways are mysterious and not always like our ways. We are to help people be less attached to the world they know and more attached to the kingdom of God.
In some ways the Church and culture are necessarily at odds with each other. Priests, as representatives of the Church, feel that rub. It’s our job to be at odds with the culture, at least from time to time. Otherwise, we are simply blessing people’s lifestyles and encouraging them to be unduly comfortable with the status quo. Jesus was at odds with the world. The Church is supposed to do that too. The Church is not to be holier-than-thou, nor is it be hypocritical. We must challenge our own worldly attachments too.
Jesus lived in this world but he was not of this world. We all are to live in the world but the manner in which we do that is with our primary allegiance to the kingdom of God. In John 15:19 Jesus says, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you.” Our motivation in life should never be to get the world to hate us. But if we’re doing our job as Christians, the world will hate us occasionally. Jesus’ life and message are encouragement for us when we seek to live in the kingdom of God while the world seeks to hold us down.
As Christians we don’t have to go around condemning everyone and bringing down judgment on everyone we disagree with. We are called to bring God’s radical love into every situation we encounter. We are to be people of faith and hope, people who set our sights on God’s great compassion and love for all creation. Instead of bringing down judgment, we are called to rise above it and do the Christian work of gathering. Whatever judging is to be done, that is best left to the wisdom of God. God’s judgment is about bringing justice and transformation, not exclusion or punishment.
Being a loving and compassionate presence sometimes puts us at odds with the cruel hard world which too quickly judges things as good or evil. Every time we have a baptism we are asked to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” Renewing our baptismal vows is a way of encouraging each other to live according to God’s love instead of the world’s reward and punishment.
Each day we are asked to examine what is truly important and then pursue it. Sometimes that means breaking some rules. Sometimes that means following some rules that everyone else is breaking. Sometimes it means letting someone know we disagree with their actions or words. Always it means applying Jesus’ radical, inclusive love to all people in all situations. That is not an easy life. Not being from around here leads to some worldly conflict, but eternal peace.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.