Michelle Van Loon: Recovering the Value of Our Pilgrim Identity
Born to Wander
Recovering the Value of Our Pilgrim Identity
WHO: Michelle Van Loon, cofounder of ThePerennialGen.com.
SHE SAYS: “We were born to wander, but we are born again to wander home.”
THE BIG IDEA: Tracing the themes of moral pilgrimage, physical pilgrimage and interior pilgrimage throughout Scripture, this book helps readers recognize the invitation to pilgrimage God has placed in their lives.
Drawing on personal and biblical stories and themes about exile, exodus and how God calls us, the author paints a picture of what pilgrimage mean for our souls, our relationships and the church.
Each chapter ends with reflection questions and a prayer.
“Following requires us to watch who we’re tracking and where we’re going, not where we’ve been. Our past matters, but it will not automatically transform us into pilgrims.”
A CONVERSATION WITH MICHELLE VAN LOON
How does Jesus’ command to “follow me” affect a Christian’s direction and identity as a wanderer or pilgrim?
I hear some well-meaning Christian speakers encouraging their audiences to “Discover your destiny!”, “Pursue your dreams!”, or “Claim your promises!” This slogan-based approach to faith mixes a bit of Scripture with our desires for fame, fortune and our own piece of the American Dream, and doesn’t look much like the kind of journey Jesus had in mind for his followers.
This pursuit of worldly success, baptized in Bible-sounding language sadly passes in many quarters for teaching about how to understand our identity in Christ. There was no fame-and-fortune bait on the hook when Jesus told Peter he’d make him a fisher of men. There was no promise of celebrity when God spoke to Abram and told him to leave the comfort of home and family. Both men’s lives—and the lives of most others highlighted in the Bible—became less comfortable and far more uncertain after God called them. We learn who we are, and Whose we are, as we follow him.
What does it mean to have an identity as a pilgrim?
As change ripples through our culture, there has been much talk in the American church encouraging believers to embrace their status as exiles and outsiders. This language is not without context in Scripture: In John 17:14-19, Jesus emphasizes that we are to live in the world but not be of it, and 1 Peter 2:11 reminds us we are citizens of the kingdom, not bound by this world’s ways. However, Scripture shows and tells us throughout that exile is never meant to be the destination for God’s people. Exile is meant to transform us into pilgrims, someone journeying toward a destination with a sacred purpose—and without a tidy map.
Pilgrims recognize that the desire for self-preservation embedded in hiding, warring and settling are not the marks of a follower of Jesus. Courage, confession, faithfulness, and love mark a pilgrim’s life and actions.
You write about “holy remembering”—this is an intriguing term. What do you mean by it, and why is it so important?
Holy remembering isn’t a navel-gazing retrospective look at our own experiences, though it includes reflection about who we are—where we’ve been, assessment of our strengths and weaknesses, and acknowledgment of the gifts we’ve been given by God by which we serve others. As we do, we must recognize that the Bible tells us we can’t know ourselves fully (Jer. 17:9), so it is a given we will not remember any of these things with full clarity, even as we affirm that God knows every thought in our mind and every hair on our heads (Ps. 139, Luke 12:7).
The kind of remembering to which God calls us has to do with our relationship with Him. The Hebrew word for “remember” is zakar, which captures the way in which God is bound to his covenant people: He remembers the fullness of this relationship every millisecond of eternity.
Because he remembers, he acts on behalf of his people for their good in everything he does, whether it is in blessing or in discipline. His love is expressed in this kind of remembering.
And he calls his people again and again, to zakar him. As we continually remember him in the context of our covenant relationship, we become more fully the people he created us to be.