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Those Damn Foreigners!

Posted: October 7, 2016 by Rob Voyle

Perhaps it was because he was a Gentile, or a Hellinzed Jew outside of the norm of the Palestinian disciples, Luke seems to focus several stories on "the foreigners getting it" whereas the people of Israel miss it completely. The good Samaritan and this week's Gospel in which only one leper, the foreigner, returns to give thanks for his healing are examples of the acceptance and righteousness of foreigners.

There is a strong theme throughout the Scriptures that the "outsiders" are actually "in" and the ones who think they are "in" are actually "out." There is also a strong theme of caring for the outsider, and the failure of this basic hospitality is a constant source of judgment from the prophets in the Old Testament.

In many of the healing stories in the Gospels there are two dimensions to the healing. A physical healing of some malady such as blindness or leprosy, and a spiritual healing of being an outcast. Jesus' unwillingness to let the woman with the hemorrhage anonymously steal a healing was possibly prompted by his desire to resolve her outcast narrative rather than let her settle for a physical healing.

It seems this Gospel message is very timely amidst the rhetoric against foreigners and immigrants in American politics today. What is especially vile is that much of it is supported by those espousing a Christian faith who claim to take the Bible seriously.

It seems that those who "claim to be in" are as blind to what they read as the nine lepers who were healed and failed to acknowledge the source of their healing. As both a priest and a psychologist this blindness baffles me.

Clearly we have a group of people who are not overburdened with insight. How to help them have insight is the challenge. Perhaps we should be like Jesus and not even bother as he didn't even try with the nine who were formerly lepers. I think Jesus knows better than me that arguing with ignorant people is a waste of time.

I also wonder whether Jesus was too successful in his healing of the nine former lepers. In many of the healing narratives the healing is instantaneous rather than a gradual curing process.

As my colleague Andy Austin has pointed out in his Metaphors of Movement work that when a person describes their predicament as something they are "in" they are describing their problem as a container. When the solution arises they will be "out" of the container and the transformation will be rapid if not instantaneous. In contrast, a person who describes their predicament as though they were walking through a desert, may have a significant journey before their problem is resolved.

I often experience this when teaching people to forgive. One moment they are "in" a state of resentment and the next moment they are "in" a state of forgiveness. They can't be in two states at once. Sometimes it is possible to see the instant the change occurs with a change in facial expression or posture. I have not had a person need to do a follow-up session once that shift has occurred.

What I have also discovered is that these instantaneous changes are very robust and stable over time. They are so stable that people quickly habituate to the new state and often very quickly forget that they used to resent. At follow-up several weeks later they respond with: "what resentment?" I wonder whether that is what happened with the nine former lepers, that they were so profoundly healed that they forgot to remember that they had been lepers.

It seems that way in our nation. Beyond the Native Americans we are all recent immigrants in this land. But once we have the feeling of being "in" America we forget what it is like to be "out" to be an outsider. Sadly, so many people who live within the boundary of America live like outsiders as they live in the American nightmare of poverty and hunger and not in the American dream of freedom and prosperity.

Spiritually speaking we were all outsiders. We kneel and eat at a table that is not of our own making nor our own entitlement. We can't inherit it from our parents or our friends. We can however share it with everyone.

From a spiritual perspective we live in two giant containers. One is to be "in" fear the other is to be "in" love. When we are in the existential container of fear we will want to exclude all those who are different because they frighten us. Yelling at, ridiculing, or berating such people will not help as it will only reinforce their fear. The only thing we can do is stand at the door of love and welcome them "in."

Can you remember when you were an outsider or have you forgotten. Are you still an outsider or did you get "in." If you did get "in" can you remember how you got "in" and who do you need to thank for helping you "in."

With much gratitude to a man named George who welcomed this foreigner in.


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About the Author

Rob Voyle

Rob Voyle

The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle is a leader in the development and use of appreciative inquiry in church and coaching settings.

Rob's Approach to Training

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