Today, the 26th ranked team in the world beat the 2nd ranked team in the world in the quarter finals of Euro 2016. Or, if you go by other rankings, the 51st ranked team beat the 9th ranked team. Either way you look at it, it was an upset. I certainly was not upset by the upset, because Wales beat Belgium, and Wales is my favorite place in the world.
While I watched the game in an Irish Pub in Salem, MA with my friend Mike (who really knows soccer – sorry, my Welsh friends, I guess I am still an American) I pondered my relationship with Wales. Outside of the US, I have not spent more time in any other place. It feels more like home than home itself. Another story for another time would highlight how I literally feel like Cymru (Wales in the Welsh language) saved my life.
Despite feeling this way, I would never use the terminology I have heard others use for places they love. I have heard people describe the places they love as places they have “adopted as their own”, but for me this is an inversion of reality. I can not adopt a people and a country with an ancient history, and I could never presume to be adopted by another place. This strikes close to home, because I am an adopted person. I was adopted by my father when I was about 2 years old – same birth mom, but a father who adopted me. Adoption is something that happens to you, not something you do for yourself. Our relationship with God is like this. It is God who adopts us, and not we who adopt God. (Romans 8:15)
So, though I speak Welsh (rather haltingly, but conversantly), and I feel oh so at home when I am there – though I have a deep hiraeth (longing to return), and have a passion for all things Welsh, and though I hope to return the favor someday to the little nation that saved my life, it does not make me Welsh. Yes, I stood at Cilmeri, walked the grounds of Abaty Cwn Hir, and wept at Caernarfon Castle when I read about the death of Llwellyn ap Grufydd the last native born Prince of Wales, and groaned that the Princes bearing that title after his murder never learned the language of the land, though it was said to be a demand upon their title. But, this does not make me Welsh. I know that I am an American, whose ancestry (albeit Welsh) goes back before we were a nation liberated from the crown. Even that feels tenuous though, because are not the aboriginal people here on this land.
And this is the moral of the story here: We can not assume our acceptance into new places. It is the cultures and the people groups around us who adopt us into their families, and it is not the individual who adopts himself into another group. Understanding this truth causes us to walk more carefully with those around us. We, as Americans, can be too quick to act as though we belong, before we are fully accepted. We act as though we understand another people group before we learn their language, and walk in their shoes for a season. We as Christians, act in the same presumptuous manner. But, even God did not do that to us. He came in the Person of Jesus, and walked in our shoes. He suffered our pains, and knows our temptations. God speaks our language, and is truly “one of us.”
So, I celebrated, as best I could in an Irish Pub with no one else really rooting so happily for Wales as myself, and I considered the fact that as a Christian, I am doing my best to identify with the people in distant places in this world, but I do not adopt them as my own, they will have to adopt me. And, this is true, whether it is here in the city of Salem, I love so much (because truly I am a California boy), or it is in my favorite place in the world – that little nation that rocked the Euro today. Cymru am byth.