I am a citizen of a country that is at peace.
I have never lived in exile.
To live in exile means not to be able to return home or to live in a particular place of your choosing because of the risks if you chose to do so.
However, I have been an expatriate and though it was my choice to live on the other side of the world from my homeland, it’s the closest personal experience I have to draw on when thinking about exile and exodus. It is often much easier to connect with a biblical text when you are able to draw upon an experience of your own as part of your frame of reference.
Sometimes we need to draw upon the experiences of those close to us – of those whose stories we have been told. Without these experiences of connecting with the experience of the exile I would instead be finding myself associating the experiences of friends whose countries of birth are in such turmoil that they can never return, or whose grandparents or great-grandparents or aunts or uncles were removed from their families and sent to schools to give them skills that might mean they relied less on their aboriginal heritage and more on seeking to “assimilate” with the non-aboriginal societal structures– it was an exercise in cultural battery and one which many Australians are only just coming to grips with five years after an official government apology was offered.
When put in this light, my experiences of struggling being so far away from family during important events and feeling incredibly homesick are not as significant as the experiences of entire people groups and nations, however all of these stories and experiences – both my own and those which have been shared with me – serve to provide a rich and vivid framework for considering the plight of the Israelite people fleeing oppression and why they might have wanted to look back. The yearning for what once was is a common human emotion.
As Christians I believe that we need to be careful not to make more of our perceived daily struggles, especially in countries where Judaeo-Christian ethics are still pervasive – this is not to say that it isn’t sometimes difficult to be a Christian in an environment that likes to think it stands for these kind of morals and so leaves you often with a false sense of security – but recognise the ways in which we have freedom in Christ that the Israelites did not.
We also must, I think, be willing to acknowledge where the church has been a vehicle for oppression and seek to reconcile with those who have been hurt by its members and its structures. So too, I believe that the freedom we have in Christ compels us to challenge oppression that leads to exile, both physical and cultural and social.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This file was written for last month, but was unseen in drafts – enjoy!