Listening for your mother tongue (aka tuning out sin’s voice)

Molly, my pug, at the Louvre

Thoughts from a long-term tourist – II

Being a long-term tourist has had an interesting effect. I’ve become accustomed to not understanding the conversations I overhear as I’m walking down the street or sitting in a café. The sounds of these conversations have become background noise for me. When I attend to them I realize they are speaking a language I don’t understand, but for the most part, they provide the white noise of my walking around existence. Occasionally, I hear English spoken and it gets my attention. But generally, even though the people basically look the same as me and dress the same as me (well, to be perfectly honest, they are a quite a bit more fashion forward than me. The women dress like they do in magazines or in Macy’s display windows and they carry it off!) The different language we speak reminds me that I am not at home. I am in fact a tourist, albeit a long-term one.

This got me thinking.

You see, Jack and I have found a church we like. It feels very similar to our church in San Francisco – it is young, we sing many of the same songs and the service style is relaxed. We walked in and felt at home. There is something about the familiar that causes a welcome feeling inside you.

The church is called Trinity International Church and it is definitely international. We’ve met people from so many different countries and cultures. The only thing we have in common is that we love God and we speak English. We look different, we sound different, and we hail from different homelands. But we all desire to worship God in a common language.

It is the common language of worshipping God that makes me feel at home with these people. As Eugene Petersen says in the message, “Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word.”

The good news is that as a citizen of heaven, walking around on earth, the dead language of sin can fade into the background and become the white noise of our walking around existence. We can become accustomed to not understanding it. Instead whenever we hear our mother tongue, which is the love and worship of God, our attention will be piqued, we can join the conversation and be at home even while we remain long-term tourists.

With you in the journey,


Written while living in Paris, 2005

Passing through this foreign country called life

Thoughts from a long term tourist (1)

photo by Wes Loh

At the Musee Carnavelet in Paris, 2007

Jack and I had just finished our third week in Paris. We’d unpacked, settled into our apartment, walked, worked, rested and made fools of ourselves attempting to speak the language. Generally speaking, it was going well. But being a sort of long-term tourist in Paris raised some thoughts in my mind.

I hate looking like a tourist. You can spot them a mile away, guidebook in hand, a dazed or an awed look on their face, standing on the corner consulting a map of the city. Living in a tourist city like San Francisco has heightened my awareness of how touristy tourists look. And how annoying they are, with their slow driving and their gawking at sights familiar to us locals. I hate looking like a tourist so much so that I’ve even sort of lied. Not really, but sort of. Jack and I walk around Paris with our dog, Molly. (Only locals would have a dog out for a walk, right?) And when people stop to pet her or comment on her looks, I quietly smile and nod. I don’t say a word, because if I do, they’ll know I’m not a Parisienne. I let them believe I’m French. On purpose. See what I mean about hating to look like a tourist. It causes me to almost lie.

That’s what got me thinking. At church we speak of living in the reality of the Kingdom of God, that our citizenship is in heaven and this world is not our home. So in effect, we are all tourists. Passing through this foreign country called life and taking in as many sights and experiences as we can.

So is there something we can learn about living this exiled life of the Kingdom from these “annoying” tourists? I believe so.

One thing is that tourists, even long-term ones, are just that – tourists. They are only visiting; they do not intend to stay. They know their home is elsewhere and that when the vacation is over; they will head home, richer in experience and often with a greater appreciation for their homeland.

Oh, for the ability to keep that perspective as we walk through our daily life. We are here on earth for just a little time, and soon, we will be going home. Until then, we are tourists. The scriptures are our guidebook, Jesus is our tour guide, (he knows the best places to go and the places we should definitely avoid), and hopefully, we will stand out in a crowd of “locals” as different, foreign and other.

With you on the journey,


Written while living as an expat in Paris, 2005