5-14-15 - Dual Citizens

I lived in New York City for a long time before coming to Connecticut. The rhythms and pulse of the city were my way of life – I could navigate the streets and subways, theatres and restaurants, even drive like a maniac on the rare occasions I was behind a wheel. Like most New Yorkers, I felt it was where I belonged and thrived, the environment best suited to my energy. I didn’t think I would ever leave.

Until I did, to go to Yale Divinity School. I had an easy transition, going back and forth on weekends for a few months, until gradually I went less often, and built up friendships and activities in New Haven. Now, I regret to say, I almost never go in, though there are friends to see and such a wealth of culture to enjoy. When I do find myself in “the city,” though, I easily drop back into its pace and flow. I can get around like a New Yorker, but I no longer am one. It’s like a language I can still speak, but rarely use.

Maybe that’s a bit what Jesus meant when he talked about his followers not “belonging to this world.” This world is clearly not a place to rest for citizens of God's realm:
“… I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”

Why such suspicion of “the world?” By the time these words were set down, the early church was into its fourth or fifth, maybe sixth decade. It had grown and spread and developed structures. And it had become familiar with controversy, resistance and fierce persecution, not only from the occupying Romans, but from the Jewish establishment which saw this reform movement as a blasphemous threat. It's easy to read back into these words the opposition the early Christians who wrote them were facing. Even apart from that history, though, there is a clear distinction expressed here, between the world and the Christian community.

In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with “the world," right? After all, God created it. But Jesus, and Paul and other leaders after him, used "the world" to mean human-centered society – materialistic, corrupt, full of oppression and inequity. It is the realm which is passing away, of which the saints of God, committed to reflecting the holiness of God’s realm, are called be wary. Paul writes to the church in Rome, “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2) The pattern we are to conform to is the one Christ laid down for us, and in which the Spirit leads us.

Are we "of the world?" Or "In the world but not of the world?" I tell the newly baptized that they now have dual citizenship – they are still very much a part of this world, and now simultaneously citizens of the kingdom of God, that supra-national realm of supernatural power and peace. That realm is where we will spend eternity; this realm is where we live now, preparing for that other world, and participating in Christ’s redeeming, transforming work here.

I believe our spiritual work is to love this world as Christ does, because it is filled with creatures and people God loves. And we are to live ready to leave it when we’re called to New Heaven (the original name for New Haven…)

See? We all leave the city and go to divinity school someday.


  1. Do dual citizens necessarily believe in dualism? Is the new heaven really disjoint from this world or is that a human construct built on availability?

    1. Hmmm... Playful questions, Kirk. Is there a leaving and s going, or a remaining and transcending? But what do you mean by availability?