When I told friends that I was moving to Switzerland, many of them said, “Oh, I’ve been there. I took a train one time from [somewhere] to [somewhere]. Yeah, beautiful country.”
And to be honest, I’ve used that “oh, I’ve been there” routine a time or two myself. I’ve been to lots of places. Istanbul? Of course. Lima? Yep. Cape Town? Loved it. Nagoya? Never left the airport, but a great place!
In fact, I’ve been all over the world and have worn out a few passports in the process. Lucky me.
But there’s a difference, I am coming to see, between passing through and living somewhere. Having a beer in a pub in Zurich on a pleasant spring evening and then heading for Italy the next morning, as one of my friends did recently, is not the same thing as seeing Switzerland. It’s not a bad thing to do, spending one night and then moving on, but it’s not the same thing as getting to know a place.
I realized this morning as I was walking the dog around the neighborhood that I now live here. These people are my neighbors. Their habits and ways of doing things are (slowly) becoming my own habits and ways of doing things. Their language is also (slowly) becoming my own language. I am registered, I pay taxes, I buy groceries, I whisper “grüezi” to people I meet on the street.
I live here. I am not passing through with only three more countries to see before heading home.
When I interviewed for the position I now have – pastor of the International Protestant Church of Zurich – I was asked more than once, “Do you have any international experience?” And of course, each time I was asked, I proudly said, “Yes, lots.”
Not a “pants on fire” kind of lie, but not completely true either.
“International experience” is not a well-worn passport. It’s an ability to adapt, adjust, learn, get along, speak a new language, and more than anything else live somewhere new.
In spiritual terms – you knew I would get here eventually – one could make this same distinction. When I ask people about their spiritual lives, I get a lot of “yeah, sure” answers, as if taking a train one time or having a beer in a pub makes one fully knowledgeable about the spiritual life.
To have faith is much like living someplace new. To do it – and to do it well – requires that one stay awhile, learn the language, get to know the people, be patient, live with the frustrations, and get registered.
To have faith is not to live out of a suitcase. It means to unpack and settle in. Buy groceries. Walk the dog. Learn to say “good morning.” And then say proudly, “I live here.”