Neither Strangers Nor Foreigners

Dear Will:

When my wife Dana and I were first married, we lived in a two-bedroom duplex apartment in Westwood. We attended church in the building just north of the Los Angeles Temple, with an interesting cross-section of Angelenos: from young, poor married couples (mostly UCLA students like us) to wealthy, established families of Bel Air and Beverly Hills; we had Frenchmen and Persians and Iraqis and Nigerians mixed throughout the congregation along with the usual collection of expatriates from Utah and Arizona. And of course, there were lots of Californians. It was an interesting crowd, full of both ideas and faith. We loved them and loved attending church with them.

Eventually work (and children) made it necessary to move to Orange County, and the initial transition was difficult for us. It took us a few years, but eventually we found our way to Orange where we settled—quickly—to establish a permanent base-camp for raising our children.

One of the things that made it so easy to set down roots here was that the people we met at church—members of the Orange 2nd Ward—were so quick to take us in and treat us like family. We’re not necessarily an easy bunch to warm up to (too many idiosyncrasies, I’m afraid), but the locals were undeterred. They welcomed us, befriended us, cared about us and our children, loved us into submission. Even on the first Sunday we attended our church services, I can remember saying to my wife that it felt as though we had come home.

That was over 12 years ago. A lot has changed around these parts since then, as you know. Especially in the last four or five years, economic and demographic shifts have begun to take their toll on the area. Many of the people we love the most have cashed in their real estate and moved away; others have been driven out by the soaring cost of living and the battered job market. The spirit of the place hasn’t changed for us, but many of the faces have.

Such population trends have consequences, of course—which is why it was not altogether surprising to us when last week the Orange Stake Presidency announced a redrawing of the various boundaries to turn seven wards into six. So today we attended the first-ever meeting of the Santiago Creek Ward, which now meets at 1 p.m. in the Stake Center down on Yorba. Our friends who live east of Cannon are now members of the adjacent Peters Canyon Ward, and we in turn welcomed many new friends from the east side of the city. It was a strange day, meeting in a new place, greeting new faces, making a fresh start, as it were, even without having moved to a new place.

That’s one of the things that makes our church unique, I suppose: We don’t attend meetings based on convenience or preference; rather we are assigned to a place and time based on where we live and nothing else. That’s a hard practice when it means that you’ll no longer see good friends on a regular basis. But it’s a comforting practice as well, because it means that when people like us move to a place like this, we already have a family waiting for us—a group of instant friends who we can count on to help us settle in and feel at home.

I guess I look at it this way: Rather than losing old friends, we now have an opportunity to make new ones. Thus we will strive to emulate the teachings of Paul, congregating neither as strangers nor as foreigners, but as “fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19)—regardless of where we live or how we speak or what we look like. Our common bond—our faith in Jesus Christ—will provide us with instant unity, enabling us to call each other brother and sister even when meeting for the first time. Just how Christ would have wanted it, don’t you think?

PW

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The Fellowship of Less-Than-Basic Cable

Dear Will:

When we moved to Orange in 1998, we owned a single, 13-inch color TV with rabbit ears. For the first 12 years of our marriage it served us well, both as an entertainment medium and as a symbol of the importance of television in our lives. Unfortunately, tucked in among the hills of Orange we found it virtually impossible to get television reception through old-fashioned , over-the-air technology. And so it was with reluctance that we phoned TimeWarner and, for the first time ever, we signed up for cable, or I should say, the cheapest cable possible: local channels and not much else. It’s the less-than-basic package they refuse to advertise and will sell to you—reluctantly—only if you ask.

Which is to say, the only TV programs we get at our house are mostly unwatchable. (That may also be true if we got the Gazillion Channel Package, but we would never know.) We don’t get HBO or FSN or even Animal Planet for that matter. Its just UPN, ABC, and several others which are incomprehensible even with the subtitles.

So how is it, you might wonder, that my seven-year-old sports nut, Seth, is in the grips of World Cup Fever? Since we don’t get ESPN, most of the games are available to us only in Spanish on Univision. And Seth doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish. In spite of it all, there he is at 6 a.m.—watching Lithuania versus Bora Bora or whatever—and trying to explain to me why the officiating is so bad. At the same time, he has developed a curious vocabulary: falta, tiro de esquina, fuera de lugar, and the one word we all understand, ¡gooooooooooooooooooool!

What I find so interesting is how this event has begun to introduce Seth to other lands and other cultures. (Do you know where Trinidad & Tobago is? I didn’t. Seth does.) It’s not just that the announcers are speaking in a foreign tongue, but he gets a chance to see the passion of the spectacle which isn’t present at all in the United States. When I was on my mission in Uruguay, I witnessed firsthand the way in which the sport both divided the country (Nacional and Peñarol were the Yankees and Red Sox of their pro soccer league) and united it (in international competition anyway). I even found myself out working one night when Uruguay won the Gold Cup soccer tournament, and all 1.5 million citizens of Montevideo (or so it seemed) streamed into my neighborhood to celebrate. It was as if I had stepped into a completely different universe where I watched, agog, as the citizenry joined in song, deliriously happy, united by a silly game.

Or perhaps not so silly. After all, the World Cup brings people from all over the world into close proximity and forces them, for a couple of hours anyway, to give some thought to another place and people. I witnessed, for example, a moment at the conclusion of one of these matches in which players from opposing teams exchanged jerseys in a traditional display of post-game sportsmanship. One of the players noticed blood on his shirt—the result, no doubt, of rough play—and then good-naturedly insisted on giving his opponent a clean, unstained one instead. It was a marvelous moment of international goodwill, and I was pleased to have Seth see it.

I’m even pleased to have him watching in Spanish inasmuch as we now find ourselves living in an increasingly multi-cultural, bilingual city. Watching a game is helping him to resist the ethnocentric tendencies to which we all fall prey, and if we can begin that process at seven instead of seventeen, I’m all for it. One of the things that the gospel of Jesus Christ is supposed to do is make us “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens” (Ephesians 2:19). I just never imagined that less-than-basic cable could contribute to that end.

PW

Saving You a Seat

Dear Will:

As I write this, I’m on Alaska Airlines flight 352, returning to Orange County after a fly-in-fly-out business trip to Portland (such trips are my favorites: maximum mileage but still home in time to tuck in the kids). I’m trying to remember how I survived without a laptop computer, and it’s a little fuzzy to me.

It occurs to me that, strange as it is, for all I know you could be seated beside me there in seat 12C. You could have been the person in front of me at the grocery store on Saturday (I’m easy to spot: I’m the guy with the cookie-faced two-year-old and seven gallons of milk). We’re neighbors, and yet we don’t know each other. We’re strangers, and yet we share a common bond. The notion prompts a couple of thoughts:

“We’re neighbors.” Jesus taught that anyone who needs our help is our neighbor (remember the Good Samaritan?). The lesson of that story is that, as children of God, we should reach out to one another in times of need, pausing to help regardless of the differences, either real or imagined, which may separate us. The tale reminds us of our common bond as children of God.

“We’re strangers.” This last Sunday we dedicated our sacrament service to that scripture in Ephesians that says something like (I’ll get this wrong, but you’ll get the idea): “Therefore are ye neither strangers nor foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints and of the household of God.” Paul’s point was that, no matter how our backgrounds or ancestry may differ, our faith in Christ joins us as if we were countrymen. It is a powerful metaphor, reminding us as it does that we are all in this together.

This note is intended simply to reiterate that, as your neighbor, I offer you my help. And as your fellowcitizen in Christ, I pledge to you my friendship.  Call me some time if you feel like it. And let me know next time you’re flying to or from Portland and I’ll save you a seat.

PW