The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

‘Padre? Isn’t that your name? I thought it was your name!’

Yes, it was an interesting discussion – chat really – as one does when you’re waiting with Sea Ca-dets at the end of an evening for them to be collected and driven home. It had been a good evening on the lake with the cadets sailing and me helping on shore, pulling trailers, holding sails, assisting with the launch and so on. Summer months are all at the lake or at whatever water we can use – the rig (clothes) are casual and what you can get wet and dirty – and there isn’t a uniform in sight. He is relatively new to the Unit and very much enjoying the experience on the water. My guess is that he doesn’t know much of who the adults are – the cadets have to use our titles not our names – and so PO is PO (rather than Petty Officer) and CI is CI (rather than Civilian Instructor) and officers are ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’. And then there’s me …

‘Padre? Isn’t that your name? I thought it was your name!’

Of course the logic doesn’t make sense if he’s not to call adults by their names but we live in the real world with things happening all around us (like all the cadets calling out ‘Bye Padre!’ and ‘See ya, Padre!’ moments before) and so he’s using the word because of eve-ryone else. And the most logical thing to conclude – I agree with his logic – is that it is my name. I explained who I was and what I did – and we ended up talking about chaplains in the military. I don’t yet know how much he understands. Time will tell.

I’ve had his experience of not knowing when travelling in foreign countries where I don’t know the language. I’ve watched carefully when boarding a metro in a city I’ve never been in where I don’t speak the local language to see what other people are doing about getting a ticket, getting it vali-dated and so on. I’ve received help many times from people who can see I’m ‘new’ or ‘foreign’ and give me local knowledge or advice – eg. this is where you get off the bus (always a tricky one I find).

People live in foreign countries all the time. This isn’t home and you try and live as best you can – for your sake and for the people around you. We do this when travelling or migrating. It might be-come home but to some and maybe to ourselves, we’ll always be an outsider. Now we just don’t think in these sorts of terms when we are home – or in our homeland! When we’re home it is others who are foreign, who don’t know the language or culture, who are different.

When we’re in groups we want people to be like us – or enough like us. Difference is always a threat or potential threat to the harmony and stability of the group whether that be clan, corporation, or country. We also find ourselves wanting to be members of groups too. When we lived in much more bordered communities – travelled less – life I think was ‘simpler’ in as much as people gener-ally accepted the prevailing world-view. Today we live in overlapping communities more and more and have to negotiate how best to live together and retain a sense of identity.

For Christians – living in a foreign land has always been part of our identity – but those of us who know the history of or live in so-called ‘Christian’ countries might find today increasingly difficult. The point however is that Christians are always different when compared to any community or group of

this world because we follow our Lord whom the world doesn’t recognise. We march to a different drum and that difference is becoming increasingly evident at home. We might sigh or bemoan the fact that a lad doesn’t know the word ‘Padre’. Neither is the way to go. All it means is that I’ve met a foreigner – and he (in this case) has also met a foreigner – and hopefully we’ll get on but there will be things upon which we simply won’t agree. The world doesn’t want to follow Jesus – and we struggle with it too. But Jesus’ presence – he is alive! – and his words do change our lives – indeed bring us from death to life – and living with him becomes the best way to live.

So we recognise our surroundings – this isn’t our home – but our home is big enough for all and so we serve (and never force) the foreigners to meet Jesus who is always more than we think he will be.  — GS