Philip Yancey, in his book Vanishing Grace, quotes the former chief rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathon Sacks: ‘The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) in one verse commands, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”, but in no fewer than 36 places commands us to “love the stranger”. He adds, “The supreme religious challenge is to see God’s image in one who is not in our image”.’
So, an alien/stranger perspective. This may sound strange, but I’ve interviewed myself using many of the same questions that people have asked me along the way
What brought you to Australia? Christine and I, when we were engaged, promised that we would experience both countries. We lived in the United States for the first thirteen years of our marriage. We moved to Australia four years ago, and I’ve been a pastor in the Lockyer Valley Lutheran parish in Queensland.
What is one question that many Australians ask you? Which place do you like better?
What is your answer? Well, it’s like asking people whether they like the ocean or the lake better. Both are beautiful; both have amazing people; both have incredible opportunities for life and calling.
When did you know you could fit in here? I suppose fitting in occurs best when you take part in people’s lives. For me, it occurred at one of my first night services at Green Pastures Lutheran Church. We had a meal afterwards and as we were doing dishes in the kitchen, one of the members of the congregation was choking on a sandwich. For the first time ever, I administered the Heimlich manoeuvre. If I can succeed in that, I should easily fit into the Lutheran Church of Australia, dispensing sermons rather than dislodging sandwiches.
When do you still feel like an alien? To be honest, it’s pretty rare now. There are times when the Australian slang throws me into fits of disbelief and laughter, or when people attempt to copy my accent, but for the most part I feel like an ‘Australican’. Sometimes when we do the more traditional services, I feel a little liturgically out of place because I was not steeped in the tradition of the LCA. I really have to focus when attempting to sing the liturgy. I’m a bit all over the place.
What does your ‘alien’ experience teach you in relationships with others? I’ve learnt not to compare. It does me no good to say, ‘Well, this is better here than there’, because it leaves me unavailable to new experiences of how God can work in our lives together. I’ve learnt to listen very carefully to contextual issues. I’ve learnt to recognise there are a lot of people who have lived in Australia for a lot longer than I have, and I can use their gifts to solve problems.
Reid Matthias is school pastor at Faith Lutheran College, Plainland, Queensland, and a regular columnist with The Lutheran.