This week in my French class (sur zoom) it became obvious that I am the odd one out in the group. The class is structured around different themes, and the latest began as the others had before it: we read a bit, suffer through dictations, write a paper, and discuss it. Lately we have been talking about values and from where we derived ours. It didn’t strike me as particularly unusual until the professor opened the discussion by remarking how very different my paper was. I quickly scanned the other posted papers, and everyone else’s read like stereotypes of their countries of origin. The Chinese students wrote about respect, the Saudi Arabians about family, and the Americans about liberty. Mine might as well have been responding to another prompt entirely.
As the discussions commenced, I didn’t remotely resemble the Americans. In fact, I had more remarks in common with the two Muslim students. At first, this sort of bothered me. I think it’s natural to want to belong to a place or a people. No one wants to sound like a Martian. Yet, I could not get around the fact that for me, the quality and character of my values should come from something greater and deeper than myself. These kinds of statements turned discussion time into a ministry opportunity pretty quickly. The professor asked me things like is it important for Christians to meet together, what I mean by “helping others,” how do I do that in France, and why I think praying is important. By the end of class, everyone had heard a mini rundown of the practicalities of the Christian life and the basic tenets of what Jesus taught in my mangled French. I talked a lot, and they heard about Jesus because my values make me an odd expat.
I think as Christians we are all expats. Our true country of origin is a kingdom not located on a map. Our values must be based on the Bible. If the transitory customs of culture construct how we live and who we are, are we really following Christ? People around us might say to seek revenge, offer no grace, and when someone fails, cancel them, but Christ offers complete grace, mercy, and restitution. Culture offers excess, fame, and money; Christ says true treasures and substance aren’t discovered in any of those things. When people are hoarding things and being selfish, we are commanded to share what we have and love others.
In short, I am a bit un-American as sometimes my flatmate claims (though not only because I complain about Oklahoma). My values are different because my citizenship is. Of course I still value things like independence, equality, and trips to Target (Christianity always exists in context), but my ultimate loyalty and the cornerstone of belief I hold to have to belong to Christ before any culture or country or even my own family. If I profess to follow someone as radical as Jesus of Nazareth, I’m going to be a bit odd. I’ll probably look a little foolish to others sometimes, but that’s okay. There are far better things to be gained by following Jesus than by the momentary discomfort of not being like everyone else.