In 587 B.C. the exiled Hebrew nation sat on the banks of the Euphrates River singing this lament:
“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137)
In many respects, the United States is no longer the nation it once was. Even though millions of people claim a cultural Christianity, the biblical worldview has waned within our culture. As the culture drifts from its Judeo Christian moorings, it is as though we are now exiles in our own land. We can’t take for granted that most people share the overarching narrative about God, marriage, human life, sexuality, and human freedom. In this age of affective post Christendom, how do we reengage with our culture; how do we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
We must grieve and mourn this loss, but within this loss, within this liminal time, could there be an opportunity? Before a resurrection something must die. Eugene Peterson said,
“Pain isn’t the worst thing. Being hated isn’t the worst thing. Being separated from the one you love isn’t the worst thing. Death isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is failing to deal with reality and becoming disconnected from what is actual. The worst thing is trivializing the honorable, desecrating the sacred. What I do with my grief affects the way you handle your grief; together we form a community that deals with death and other loss in the context of God’s sovereignty, which is expressed finally in resurrection. We don’t become mature human beings by getting lucky or cleverly circumventing loss, and certainly not by avoidance and distraction. Learn to lament. Learn this lamentation. We’re mortals, after all. We and everyone around are scheduled for death (mortis). Get used to it. Take up your cross. It prepares us and those around us for resurrection.”
We have a calling to belong to God and to participate in his creative, redemptive, and restorative work in the world. We receive and respond to this calling as more than individuals, as members of Christ’s body connected to and dependent on each other.
The prophet Jeremiah spoke these words to the very people lamenting on the banks of the Euphrates,
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:4-7, ESV)
Seeking the welfare of our cities and culture requires significant shifts in our thinking, our posture, and our practices. But, we must remember that new life always comes in a new season. I believe that as exiles we must make a shift from a theological over focus on the future to a focus on the present; from merely a focus on heaven to more of a focus on earth; from a Christological focus on the Messiah’s deity to a focus on the Messiah’s humanity. He was the perfect human. His humanity is what we can “see”, “feel”, and “touch.” We must reaffirm Christ’s commitment to this earthly life, a commitment to social justice and righting wrongs; helping the poor and the vulnerable, defending the rights of women and children, and of those who are powerless to change the very institutions that keep them that way.
African American author and human rights advocate, Bell Hooks says in her book Outlaw Culture, “It’s interesting—the way in which one has to balance life—because you have to know when to let go and when to pull back…There’s always some liminal (as opposed to subliminal) space in between which is harder to inhabit because it never feels as safe as moving from one extreme to another.”
The Hebrews may have never felt comfortable during their time as exiles and perhaps neither will we. Rediscovering how to sing the Lord’s song as exiles in our own land may never feel safe but I’m convinced that as we seek the welfare of our cities and culture others will begin to hear and experience the sweetest music they have ever heard.
John and his wife Nancy have been married for 38 years. They have three grown children and four grandsons. John and Nancy have served for 37 years with Cru where John currently works as a Strategy Consultant with Cru City in the Denver/Boulder area. His focus is whole city transformation through God’s kingdom leaders in the domains of education, business, government, family, media, the arts, and religion. He and his wife Nancy mentor young couples before and after marriage. John serves as an Elder and Director of the Life Groups with Cornerstone Church of Boulder Valley. John also teaches Worldview and Ethics at Colorado Christian University.
 Eugene Peterson, Leap Over A Wall: Earthly Spirituality for Everyday Christians, 120-121.