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All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.  Hebrews 11:13


Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.  1 Peter 2:11


But our citizenship is in heaven.  Phil. 3:20

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? – Psalm 137:4

I once heard a young woman speak in a small group at a CLS conference.  Her observation was striking, and doubtless grew out of her own experience on confinement for periodic mental illness.  She observed, “I don’t think we know how to thrive in captivity.”

She went on to note that one thing she had to learn during her “captivity” was how to keep her spirits alive and vibrant, even when she was in seemingly hostile environments.

That observation struck me, especially in its spiritual implications.  There is, as the texts above note, many respects in which the Scriptures identify us as “in captivity” as not being of “this world,” but having a citizenship elsewhere.  We are, as a recent book by Hauerwas and Willimon suggested, “Resident Aliens.”

Indeed, Israel’s history reveals the constant call of God to faithfulness in the midst of slavery and captivity – whether in Egypt or Babylon.  They were called on to “sing a song in a strange land” – as tough as that may be.

Many believers have had to learn that capacity: believers in Russia for seventy years, believers in China or Iraq today.  But in our own culture, perhaps we have not learned it so well.  We expect the culture, the society, the government and the laws to be accommodating, to even support our faith.  We want Pharaoh to delight in our presence.  We want Nebuchadnezzar to give us tax breaks, and attend prayer breakfasts.

Psychologically, we resist being aliens.  Aliens are unappreciated, discriminated against, stand out as “odd” and peculiar.  And we certainly don’t like that.  In fact, in much of our lives we strive to “fit in” to “belong.”  So desperate are we to belong that we adapt to changing fashions and customs, like chameleons, adopting the styles and culture of the age.  And if we so eagerly adapt in these human respects, perhaps we do spiritually as well.  In fact, the tragedy is that in most instances we have no concept of how deeply we are shaped by the culture around us – taking from it, unconsciously, its clues and ethos.

And if any profession is, by its nature, caught up in the culture of the age, is it not law?  Are we not as lawyers under an even greater pressure to adapt and conform?  Law as a system, and law as a profession, reflects the spirit of the age, the prevailing ethos.  It mirrors the values and moralities of the age.  While law ought to be subject to eternal principles, in fact, it is often a reflection of the cultures values, and of the interests of the powerful.  And as lawyers, we professionally have a strong investment in this age.

How then can we be eager participants in the legal enterprise, and at yet not shrink from our ultimate “alien”- ness and “stranger”- ness?

Certainly our distinctiveness will not be preserved without vigorous efforts to resist the acculturating forces about us.  In the sociological realm, only vigorous efforts by distinctive minorities, such as Jews, have given them any chance of retaining their identity.  They have had to recognize and accept their uniqueness, and then build the kinds of institutions and structures which can sustain their traditions in the face of the prevailing culture.

Yet the history of modern church in America, increasingly alien in values and ideology from the culture, has gone the opposite way, and so have many Christians.  Our life styles and behavioral patterns look more and more like our neighbors.  We “fit in” comfortably with the respected social classes.  We often seem to “hide” our identity.  We want a religion which our neighbors and partners appreciate.

We want to belong to our kingdom – the peculiar people of God.  And we want citizenship.  We want to belong and be included.  And we can’t have it both ways.

Lynn R. Buzzard


– This article comes from AI’s devotional for lawyers titled, “What Does the Lord Require of You?”

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