Adam and Eve were rooted out of the Garden, Cain was booted from his land and Noah’s descendants scooted out of Babel when God confused their language. Abram scooted from his country when God promised to make his descendants a great nation, Hagar and Ishmael were booted out of the family home with the arrival of Isaac, and Lot was rooted out of Sodom prior to its destruction. Exile was at the heart of these events, and these encompass less than half of the first book of the Bible.
From old to new
Forced absence from one’s country or home is at the heart of the human experience. And this country is the prime repository for all of us searching for a second home. I, for one, have wandered endlessly, temporarily “settling” in many locations around the world, from Key West to Tallahassee, from Bradenton to Los Angeles and on to El Paso, then to Caracas, Mexico City and Lisbon and then back to Fort Lauderdale. I was originally booted out of my country, then scooted around the world before temporarily being rooted in South Florida. Therein lies the trek of many world inhabitants today… expulsion, inclusion and cohesion.
A tale of two cities
My story is about a tale of two cities: Havana and Miami. My roots blossomed in the first, the young branches sprouted, and even small leaves could be seen growing in this tropical paradise. This place would be my lasting home, I thought, as the tree would grow tall and strong with time, but for “the plans of mice and men.” The rats arrived and gnawed at my leaves until no choice was left but to uproot and graft this young sprout into the second location. Despite the shock and brutality of the removal, the plant was able to bloom in foreign soil and in due time produce fruit. Most of us can identify with this grafting scenario… the city of our birth is not the city of our growth.
This vision of competing cities was brought to life by the travails of Christian, the main character in the book Pilgrim’s Progress as he traveled from his home, the City of Destruction to the Celestial City looking for atonement of sins. Leaving his family behind, this journey brought him in contact with numerous characters such as Despondency, Lord Hate-good, Morality, The Interpreter, Piety and Charity, among others. He likewise traversed the Valley of Humiliation, battled the monster Apollyon, crossed the Hill Difficulty and continued through the terrifying Valley of the Shadow of Death. We, as Christians, have been assigned a task for such a time as this, expected to follow a similar tortured path as we sojourn between cities. But travel we must, encountering life’s surprises and grieving our losses until God brings us home to his Holy City.
A joyous merger
The publisher of this newspaper and I enjoy a friendship which stems from a Bible Study years ago. We share a similar worldview in faith, social justice, politics, family, friends and finances. As a result, we have been given the moniker “Jewban,” the joyous merger of a Jew with a Cuban. Hidden to the naked eye is the fact that we are both exiles, coming to a foreign land through the actions of our forefathers. And, in the process, as God would temporarily “abandon” his chosen people as the result of their rebellions, I was grafted into the original tree through the inclusion of the gentile Church in His perfect plans. Havana and Miami are now part of the covenants made with Abraham in the city of Ur, Moses in Midian and Christ Jesus in Bethlehem. And now my friend and I share a common faith, one that A.W. Tozer calls “the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.”
I have been extremely fortunate to live and travel throughout many places around the world. The location that has made the most impact in my life is the city of Jerusalem, where I have been privy to visit on two separate occasions. The City of David, the spiritual homeland of the Jewish people, was considered the center of the world, where God resided. At the same time, it is the third holiest city in Islam after Mecca and Medina. It is impacting to see how Jews and Arabs are able to live in the same space, given that four out of ten inhabitants of the city are Palestinians. But this is a very fragile arrangement, as recently showcased by the ongoing war and the growth of antisemitism. The handwriting was on the wall as Jesus wept over the city and exclaimed “the day will come when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Our final destination
My globetrotting days are behind me. The last, and most important trip lies ahead. My reservations have been made as I look forward to traveling and settling in the City of Jesus, the New Jerusalem. And what a wonderful place it promises to be. Filled with interesting residents like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Jeremiah, Esther, Peter and Paul, among so many others, and in the constant presence of the Alpha and the Omega. There we will share the river and the trees of life where there will be no night, for God gives off his perfect light. The twelve gates of the city will be pearls and the street of the city will be pure gold.” Nothing impure will enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” As we leave our green card behind, we will enter our final destination, the Perfect City, the City of God…..Heaven.
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