Have you ever found yourself in an otherworldly landscape? A place where your context has somehow shifted? The colors are unfamiliar. You lack names for the vegetation. The shapes of the rock formations even seem illogical.
The Toadstools, in the Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah, will make you think you’ve been transported to just such a place. This remote, wild landscape is known for its unusual mushroom-shaped rock formations, which are called hoodoos. The top-heavy caps of these hoodoos precariously balance on eroded rock stems. When hoodoos form, a small cap of a resistant layer remains and protects a cone of the underlying softer layer from erosion. Their proportions somehow defy the laws of physics. If this were Earth, you suspect, they’d have toppled long ago. Their shapes would’ve been worn down into normal peaks -- wider at the base, and rounded on top, not the other way around. Shapes that make sense.
When observing the hoodoos, the colors that surround you are as startling as their top-heavy balancing act. You’ll see rich hues of ochre and rust. There are innumerable shades of cream, buff, and off-white. As you take it in, ancient layers begin to materialize, with mounting details vying for your attention. A thin, walnut-colored striation here, a fiery-gold slab of earth there. Vegetation crops up in unlikely places. There’s an ethereal quality to the air, as if dust particles have hung suspended for eons.
You might as well be on Mars. Or some as-yet-undiscovered red-hued planet.
To be alone in such a place is an extraordinary experience. You can’t help but ponder the big questions in life. Who are we on this planet? Is there a purpose for our existence? Is there a plan that transcends the worries and concerns of Earthly citizens, especially those in the United States in the midst of election year upheaval?
With respect to the last two questions: yes, and yes.
From a faith perspective, we are citizens of a different world. And we’re here on this one – right here, right now -- for a purpose.
The Bible has a lot to say about citizenship. The writer of Ephesians references our citizenship in a passage that deals with the elimination of any distinction between Jews (God’s people) and all others (gentiles):
“… [Jesus Christ’s] purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility … Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.“
Together, as believers, we belong to the Kingdom of God.
Yet, we find ourselves here. Earthbound. Citizens of a specific country, state, town or city. Places where our landscapes – both physical and otherwise – sometimes seem to defy description. They may even feel foreign. Wrong things are deemed right. Things that shouldn’t stand up, like the Toadstools, somehow do.
Our current world (or worlds, if we’re getting metaphorical) doesn’t always make sense.
As a person of faith, it helps to EXPAND your view. You’re a citizen of God’s Kingdom, first and foremost. It’s His law we obey. That’s the case whether we’re talking about the natural world, or our relationships with other humans. And His Kingdom is built on a sure foundation.
As citizens of God’s Kingdom, we’re called to be ambassadors in this one, wherever we find ourselves voting, living, or existing. Ambassadors are respected representatives of the authority that sent the representative to a place. Their words and actions reflect on the authority that sent them. Similarly, what we do and say, and how we live here on earth, should reflect well on God. 2 Corinthians 5:20. We’re called to live – here -- as a testament to the fact that there’s a way for all of humankind to be reconciled to God, through Christ.
And we’re called to live as if there’s a heavenly Kingdom. We aren’t solely defined by the country, state, town, or city in which we live. We can take pride in those places, sure, but having a Kingdom perspective means that we should also regard the rest of humanity from a Godly point of view: all of those that call upon God as their King are our fellow citizens in the Kingdom.
Those wild places in the world provide a fascinating backdrop against which to examine the big issues in life.
Here on earth, we’re just ambassadors.
We're the strangers.