we are family

i got something today in such a huge way that i can’t keep it to myself. rather than a light bulb turning on, it’s more like an explosion! my skin is literally tingling just now as i’m seeing new aspects of it.

the seminal conversation occurred several months ago. a lot of the folks i worked with at were indian. i shared an office with kiran patel, who was a great pleasure to work with and has become a friend. we talked a lot on all variety of topics and i especially enjoyed hearing about india its culture. i mentioned another indian friend and kiran asked where he was from. i remembered it was on the northeast coast but couldn’t think of the town. she said, “what is his name?”; thinking that she could tell his home area from his family name. india has one of the world’s oldest cultures and has been continuously populated by many of the same people-groups for thousands of years. indian states are really the names of people groups. andhra pradesh, for example, is the homeland of the andhra people. within a people-group there are families – so knowing someone’s family name says a lot about them. i told her my friend’s name was jameson titus. kiran looked puzzled for just an instant and then said something like: “oh, he’s a christian, their names mess everything up”. since his name didn’t help i went to the christforindia.org site and found the name of the town (visakhapatnam) and we continued our discussion.

as you can read in previous posts, the post-election violence in kenya has been on my mind and in my prayers. a thriving western-style country broke out in tribal violence almost spontaneously when the ruling party (and tribe) possibly used election fraud to maintain power. i was talking about it with my friend kelly johnson, who’s a missionary to kenya. my comment was that in third world democracies (maybe in all democracies) the tribal system is just beneath the surface and will break through when there’s tension. kelly commented that the same is true in churches. we do a good job of looking right, but a little pressure send many folks back to our tribal (natural) roots.

that was yesterday. today i got it!

i’ve known for a while that family is a key topic in the bible. look at all the references of god as our father or of us as his children. they are literally throughout the bible – one of its most recurrent themes. but today the concept of family is a whole new thing to me.

take the words of the american pledge of allegiance: “one nation, under god, indivisible”. if that’s true (which i rather doubt), what is happening in kenya could not happen here. essentially the words of the pledge say: “we identify ourselves as americans more than our ethnic or religious or economic background”.

he who overcomes, i will make him a pillar in the temple of my god, and he will not go out from it anymore; and i will write on him the name of my god, and the name of the city of my god, the new jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my god, and my new name. (revelation 3:12)

in this single verse, jesus speaking to john from heaven, sums up the whole bible. it describes in a few words what john will see later in his vision (revelation 21 and 22), describing end-of-time events. everything comes together. god’s people have a new name as members of our new family. we’re in jerusalem, the place god has chosen for his name to dwell and we’ve somehow been built together into the house where he’ll live forever! like 1st corinthians 3 says: we are his house. i don’t understand all of that and i don’t think it’s possible to (1 corinthians 2:9), but i like the picture! god is growing his family, one child at a time. dividing us from the world and adopting us into his family (luke 12:51-52).what’s more, our new name – our new family affiliation messes up the world system. they would like to describe us, confine us, and predict our behavior based on our earthly heritage. no? anywhere you go in the world you can ask someone to describe a neighboring people group. in kenya, as a luo to describe people from the kikuyu. ask a japanese to describe a korean. ask an american white to describe a black. it does not matter what group you start with. just ask about an other people-group they’re familiar with but not part of. they’ll have an opinion! “they’re hard workers”. “they’re shrewd businessmen”. “they’re lazy”. “they fight all the time”.the list goes on, but you get the idea. people expect a certain set of behaviors based on another person’s family. it’s even true of our self-expectations! when you join god’s family you mess up the system. you have new desires, new motivations, new direction and especially new family ties!where people-groups bump up against each other there is friction. when a person perceives another as belonging to a different tribe they become the competition. someone to be cautious of. someone to take advantage of, given a chance. it’s what jesus talked about in john 15 when he told us to love each other, but that the world will hate us.

[originally posted: 1/31/2008]


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