Last week, Natalie brought home a book of academic geography (her background discipline) — Land of Strangers by Ash Amin.
I’ve only had the chance to glance at it so far. But it looks absolutely fascinating!
As far as I can work out, Amin’s case is that modern Western societies are deeply divided over the stranger.
On the one hand, we feel threatened by strangers.
Strangers evoke emotions from low-level anxiety all the way through to outright terror. In the globalised West, every stranger could be a serial killer or an identity thief — even a terrorist.
On the other hand, we desperately long to stay strangers.
We relish our anonymity. And are fiercely protective of our privacy. Note the public outcry every time Facebook changes its privacy settings — or is rumoured to be changing its settings.
(I still remember how offended I was when I went into the bank to perform some routine transaction only to have the teller wish me Happy Birthday. That is not the kind of relationship I want to have with my bank!)
And when we take steps to reclaim that sense of community we’re so nostalgic for (even if we’ve never actually experienced it), we simultaneously insulate ourselves from it.
So we leave the anonymity of the inner city for the imagined intimacy of a suburban neighbourhood. But then we ‘cocoon’ ourselves — gliding from our air-conditioned houses to our air-conditioned cars to our air- conditioned offices and back again without pausing to be neighbours to anyone.
But I’m not excited to read Land of Strangers primarily because of the light it promises to shed on many aspects of our society.
I’m excited to read it because I’m keen to know why I find it so hard to embrace what the Bible says about strangers.
Whether it’s the biblical insistence that God’s people are to welcome and care for the strangers in their midst — because we too have been/are strangers in a foreign land.
Or if it’s the summons to be true neighbours — not walking past someone in need as the priest and Levite did on the Jericho road but crossing boundaries of social acceptability at great personal cost (just as our Lord graciously did)…