My first experience with the word expatriate occurred ten years ago as I was reading a travel guide to Estonia, the country in which I would spend my summer. The book was describing bars and coffee houses in the university town of Tartu and spoke of some of them as great places for expatriates to hang out and visit. From the moment I laid my eyes on the word I sensed it would become my friend and would stay with me for the rest of my life.
Expatriates are those who stand on dirt they choose, not on the ground in which they belong and which belongs to them. They make a home out of that which is not their home. They find those in similar circumstances and they gather around each other to share stories and in the sharing they hear echoes of a distant land that they either cannot or will not return to just yet.
I've realized the feeling I've been feeling the few weeks is a result of being an expatriate, a resident of many lands but a citizen of only one. There are others. We meet in bars and coffehouses and homes and we share the stories and we hear the echoes and our laughter and tears serve as the sails that catch the breath of God that leads us home.
Sutton Lake, armed with the impatience of a child and the knowledge that his dad is in that distant land, is prone to occasionally make the comment, "Heaven is taking too long to get here." It's natural to feel pity and sorrow for such tragic innocence, but after I shed a tear I pick myself up and remember what the greatest Christian thinkers (Sutton's dad included) have said about the Kingdom of God over the years. This kingdom Jesus spoke of more than anything else is one that is here, but not here. Already, but not yet.
And this is where community (the word we've talked about being a cliche' so much that talking about it being cliche' is itself becoming cliche',) unlocks the keys to heaven. In grasping for a vibrant community centered around the person of Christ we are putting our arms around the Sutton Lakes of the world, those who have experienced the greatest of all losses, and telling them we know, heaven is taking too long to get here. But while we are waiting how about we try to imagine what it will be like. Let's try an audacious experiment. We'll try to make a little heaven right here on the dirt we are standing on. We've already got the King of the Kindgom with us, in our souls and in our midst, so why not?
I've felt the experiment working lately. I caught a glimpse of that kingdom when Tom and Beth walked through the Dugan's back gate, arm in arm, Beth's ring finger sparkling in the Texas sunlight. I heard the echoes of home in the dedication of Josh and Lindsay's house this evening. Every time I remember those I love who are in far off lands and know our kinship, our love that really does transcend place, I'm reminded how far this kingdom reaches. The quick glances and the hugs and the tears and the suspicion that we are all in this together for the long haul-- these are the notes to our national anthem, our colors and our seal.
And we sing, we laugh, we cry, we play. In all this we realize heaven isn't really that far. In fact, some of it is right in front of us....Laughing, laughing, laughing.