One of the great, haunting images of the book of Hebrews - stretched out over three chapters, from 11 to 13 - is an extended portrayal of believers as strangers and exiles upon the earth. Let us go to Jesus, says the writer, outside the camp, and bear the reproach that he endured. For, here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Let us not become too comfortable here, settling down, rounding out, accumulating privilege. Our job is to run a race, to go through a great shaking-up - in order that things that cannot be shaken shall remain.
I get that.
But I also worry that I can make it a cop-out from my real responsibility to the neighbors with whom I - for now - share this journey. On the same theme of exile, Scripture also contains the letter of Jeremiah to the refugees from Jerusalem who have been deported to Babylon (Jeremiah 29). Apparently, some diviners have been encouraging these people to treat their new location as temporary - to live on its surface, not to get involved. Jeremiah disagrees:
Thus says the LORD of hosts, 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; marry and give in marriage; 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.This is not a call to compromise, but it is a call not to be superficial. Go deep, says Jeremiah, get involved, and do what you can to bless the place in which you have been set.
In America in 2016, Google searches for "how can I move to Canada" spiked 350% following Donald Trump's primary victories. I have chosen a different path. After eighteen years living in the US as a "legal permanent resident", I am becoming a citizen. (Lord willing, the ceremony will take place at the end of this month.)
There are many reasons for this, but my desire to "seek the welfare of the city" - this city, this place where I live, with all its virtues and vices and things I just don't understand - is very high on the list. As I think about the US in 2016, I can't help feeling that this is a critical time. I want to support and defend this place, where I have made my home. As I think about my faith-based environmental work, I want to be engaged in the free exercise of religion. As I desire to continue Eli's faith and justice mission, I want the right to petition for the redress of grievances. And, yes, as an important election draws near, I want to vote.
It's time for me to seek the welfare of the city. Sign me up.