A few weeks ago I was on a plane bound for a church retreat, when the guy next to me struck up a conversation with me about what I do for living.

Immediately he wanted to tell me about his own walk of faith. He had been raised in India as a Hindu and his family moved to England when he was a small boy. He had lost the religion of his childhood and expressed to me that he was now “very into” Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.

“It is interesting,” he went on to explain to me, “how people are often stuck in what has happened and what they have done. I have learned that we must simply stay in the present.”

“What exactly do you mean?” I pushed him a bit further.

immigrant children

“Take Germany for example,” he thoughtfully responded, “they are so shadowed by their history of hurting other people that they have let tremendous amounts of immigrants into their country. And what has happened to them? Bad things.”

I sat in stunned silence for a moment. I wish I could tell you that I was judging his callous assessment of the Holocaust as something that made Germans unable to outrun their past. Millions of people were murdered. That’s not the kind of thing a country forgets. Perhaps I could have reminded him that he was, in fact, an immigrant too. But I have been in ministry long enough to know that when politics and theology come to roost we rarely see ourselves as the outsider. And I’m not sure the white lady needed to remind the brown guy from whence he came.

Honestly, I just found myself super envious of his theology. We should live in the now. The past is a burden. Why worry about what you cannot change? Be more present, Sarah!

So, for about 3 seconds I tried it out.

When I am “present” on airplanes I have one clear thought: If this thing goes down I’ll leave two children motherless. It turns out that it is impossible for me to inhabit whatever we are calling “the present” for longer than a few seconds.

For Christians, the past actually matters a great deal. And it is troublesome. We are unable to forget what we have done and what we have left undone, we believe we are made outsiders by our past. For Christians, the only hope lies in Jesus interceding to offer us mercy, meaning where we come from, what we look like, or what national commitments we hold are relativized. We know we have sinned and have been forgiven; we were on the outside, but were let in anyways. Such a ridiculous thesis of faith makes us do stupid acts of love with enormous consequences.

We give money to homeless people, who may or may not spend it on booze. We forgive and love one another, only to be hurt again. And we awkwardly alienate acquaintances because we feel compelled to tell them about Jesus on an airplane. We do not do these things because we are righteous by comparison, but because we know that “we” are “they” and they are beloved of God.

We realize that we have been forgiven of our past and have little control over our future. The knowledge of this places our present squarely at the foot of the cross. Which, we all know, is precisely where the most ridiculous things happen.

I get anxious when people portray Jesus as the Ultimate Refugee. It’s the same part of me that gets anxious when it is suggested that we all start turning tables over. It’s true that Jesus came into the world, “and the world esteemed him not.” It’s also true that tables need to be turned over. But I’m not exactly sure Jesus was a refugee in the sense that we keep insisting on, and when we talk like this, we’re not talking about him so much as ourselves. And I am 100% sure that I would have been standing in that temple with a bag full of coins like, “Who is this crazy Jesus guy and why is he messing with my display?”

In either case, we are not Jesus, and he did not come to be our universal Show and Tell. He came to be the refuge for sinners.

What I am clear about is that Christianity is an incredibly inconvenient religion. I do not know why anyone would insist on being one. We are asked to both acknowledge sin and to forgive it. We are told to welcome the stranger in, no matter the consequences. We are called to death solely that we would know true life. In this way, we all have immigration stories–stories of being lost in one part of ourselves or another. Astonishingly, God risks it all and keeps letting us in.