I have an assumption that many Christians don't. America is NOT a Christian nation. If it ever was, those days are past.
The problem is that many are living as if it is. Like a few seasoned pastors in my area. “Did you hear the Cardinals won’t give me my complimentary tickets this year?” The baseball team had given clergy two free tickets for decades.
When the church was at the center of society, things like clergy discounts were common. The church occupied a place of influence and respect. Society reinforced Christian values.
Today the church is more at the margins than the center.
In October I visited Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, CA. I was given a tour by a young, Russian-born Christian. John walked me around a bustling campus of 10,000 hipster techies. With an average age of 28, I looked geriatric.
In terms of being a Christian, John is a minority. Not that he's persecuted, but the society in which he lives does not reinforce his values. In his work world, youth is the holy grail and technology is a savior. To trust in a first century Jewish carpenter seems so 20th century.
John is living the life of a pilgrim. He joins a venerable list. Abraham, Elijah, Jesus, Paul. They were wanderers in a foreign place, exiles in a land not their own. They knew they came from the margins and not the center.
In this era, I believe we need to reclaim pilgrim traits.
I presented at the Best Practices for Ministry Conference in Phoenix last week. Building off an article I wrote on The Pilgrim Way, I asked my audience for concrete examples of the five traits.
What does it look like to be a 21st century pilgrim? Below are a few of the more than 100 responses I received.
Present: Pilgrims are present where people are at, regardless of where they find them.
A 17-year-old confided in me that she is gay. She needed more than a lecture (she knows the Scriptural stance). I gave her a listening ear. She needed someone to know her burden and care for her regardless. So I listened, and then reassured her of God’s unfailing love for her. I made sure to let her know she’s always welcome and my door is open. She continues to seek me out when she’s struggling. This is not because I’m so cool, but because God is.
We serve the poor in our community. We meet them as they are.
It’s easy to obsess about a person’s choices, looks, or different understanding of life. I need to see each person as a son or daughter of God who may or may not know it at that time. Each person already has value, and I need to be with them.
We open our home to Airbnb guests from around the world.
Prayerful: Pilgrims pray with their eyes open, as they encounter need along the way.
I had a woman who shared with me that she had a PET scan that day. We were at a preschool pancake breakfast. Instead of saying, “I’ll pray for you,” we prayed right then and there.
I try to pray in the middle of fear, challenge, and lack of words. I want to be real with God. He already knows.
I walk my neighborhood and pray.
I pray in the car while driving.
I keep a prayer list on my phone (Evernote) or in a small moleskin journal. It keeps my prayer life focused, immediate, and active.
People Over Place: Pilgrims occupy a place, but are relentlessly focused on people.
The buildings we use are not ours; they belong to God. We should ask him how he wants us to use them. It might mean Kool-aid stains on the church hall carpet, but we can be grateful for them. It means people are present.
Our church has a small farm where all the produce goes to a local food bank. It doesn’t put butts in the pews, but it meets a HUGE need.
The church building is not ours. We open it to be used by the community.
We host a high school youth group at our house. Sometimes I feel like my house is “invaded.” My husband gently reminds me that our house is a place where the kids feel comfortable.
It’s important to care more about the relationship with a person than the amount of people that fill a space.
Paradox: Pilgrims live by faith, where two seemingly opposite things are true at one time.
I have a Muslim friend. I am honest with her about our differences. And I’m serious about maintaining genuine friendship.
I try to live a life that demands explanation. It makes people want to know . . . why?
My friend shared with me that she had an abortion. On the one hand she knew that I valued life. At the same time, she knew I would always love and accept her as my friend.
We welcome Muslim and Jewish students at our Christian school, and also share our convictions of faith.
Peculiar: Pilgrims are peculiar because their values and customs are not native to any one land, but a kingdom yet to come.
I bring my squirmy, fussy, crazy kids to church every Sunday . . . seems really odd at times.
I’m a virgin. As a young adult who’s saving herself for marriage, other friends find me exceedingly odd and insane.
My family and I love to be vulnerable enough for people to see our human side. We are loved by God even in our peculiar messes.
Instead of buying a house with the sale of our last home, we intentionally chose to live in close proximity to others in a 850 square foot apartment. In our affluent suburb, that makes no sense.
I thank all those who responded and shared their pilgrim traits.