The woman in the car ahead of me wore a scarf of some sort on her head, and that’s what I noticed. It was tied casually at the nape of her neck, as though she anticipated a day of heavy housework. I absently studied the vibrant colors while the rest of my mind concentrated on what lay ahead of me for the day. I liked the scarf, and thought to myself, “I wish I could get away with wearing something like that.”
About that time, she turned her head, and I got a full view of her face. The first thought I had was, “Oh, she’s foreign.”
And then I wondered, how do I know that? What made me think that? The woman didn’t look particularly different from many other regular Americans around here. And the scarf wasn’t worn in a way that indicated a foreign background — really, she could have been just any woman having a bad hair day and deciding to be done with it. I didn’t really have a clear idea of what sort of foreign I meant. But I knew. Something in the look of her eyes, something in the set of her face.
I started thinking about that idea, of people or things being foreign, not from around here, wherever “here” happens to be. When I meet people who are truly “foreigners” to this country, I can usually tell. It’s not the look of the person. Goodness knows, I have plenty of students who, despite their varied backgrounds, immediately strike me as being “American”. It’s because they THINK like Americans. But I also have students who, despite the fact that their names sound American and they dress like all the other kids, look out at me with “foreign” eyes. Usually these are kids who were raised in some other country and have come here later in life. They view the world through a different lens, a different filter.
“Foreign” elicits two different reactions from people — either it’s intriguing and draws people in, or it’s scary and keeps people out. Sometimes we experience both sensations at the same time.
At this point in my thoughts, the Lord reminded me that technically, I am here on this earth as a “stranger in a strange land.” Believers are to be a peculiar people, a people foreign to the world they live in. But when it comes down to it, which kind of foreign are we? Are our lives beautiful and intriguing, so joyous and so different from the ugliness around that we are noticed and sought out? Or do we barricade ourselves in our own communities, eying the neighbors with mistrust and causing the people living nearby to fear what they do not understand?
Or, do we even look foreign at all? Do we look on the outside like we might belong to another country, but actually think and view the world exactly like the people around us? Unfortunately I have noticed that sometimes, that’s been the case in my life. In my quest to be accepted, there have been times when I have put my godly heritage behind me, acting like I’m embarrassed by my different background. But that’s not ultimately what I want. As difficult as it may be to live in a different culture, I don’t want to forget where I’m from, and who my Father is.
Which kind of “peculiar” have you seen from believers? What kind of foreign are you?