Stranger in a Strange Land

February 16, 2021

Back when I was a teenager, or BD (Before Dystopian novels), the most popular work of science fiction was Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein.

Heinlein, an aeronautical engineer and naval officer, was called “the dean of American science fiction writers” by many people. He was one of the first sci-fi writers to stress scientific accuracy. He would take science and then stretch it to where he felt it might go in the future. Heinlein used science fiction to explore delicate social, spiritual, political, and sexual ideas. While stressing individual liberty and self-reliance, he often wrote about situations in which governments and organized religions repress nonconformists.

Stranger in a Strange Land is about Valentine Michael Smith, a young man born on Mars and raised by Martians. Smith has “gone native,” and exposes Earth to a bigger “game changer” than a biological virus. He exposes Earth to Martian culture, philosophy, and forms of spirituality. In the process, Smith kicks off the start of a major counter-culture movement on earth.

Perhaps at the core of Heinlein’s Martian culture/philosophy/spirituality is the concept of grokking. To grok means to be at one – on both the heart and head levels – with another person, place, or thing. “I grok you” means “I feel a real unity with you. I have experienced things from your point of view. I have walked a thousand miles in your shoes, and I feel real compassion because of this experience.”

Of course, the Earth’s “powers that be” can’t allow all this grokking to continue. If the Earth is overcome by this wave of grokking, then there is no telling what might happen!

The phrase “stranger in a strange land” comes from the Bible (Exodus 2:22). It is striking how many times God reminds the Israelites in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) that they were slaves in Egypt, treated harshly by the Egyptians, and on the very bottom rung of society. God also repeatedly tells the Israelites that when they come into the Promised Land and flourish, they are to treat the strangers – people different from them, the refugees, etc. – kindly and with full compassion. They are to do this and remember that they were “strangers in a strange land.”

Did the Israelites follow this advice from Spirit? All you have to do is read any one of the Old Testament prophets to see what happened after the Israelites entered the Promised Land. The compassion for the stranger often went out the window. There was no grokking. When Jesus spoke about the Golden Rule, a Pharisee asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. To say that the Jews looked down on the Samaritans would be putting a positive spin on the situation.

All of the above is not just about long ago and far away. It is not just about science fiction and a story concerning a young man from Mars. It is about right here and right now. Recently, many leading analysts and commentators have been talking about the large flows of refugees and immigrants around the world. Let me stick my two cents in. Well, maybe I will let Al Jolson, the great jazz singer, speak for me: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Given reasonable projections of climate change and rising sea levels, it is expected that much of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, will be underwater. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world. It is reasonable to expect that in a post-pandemic world refugee levels will significantly rise. If problems with the distribution of resources escalate, it is reasonable to expect that economic, political, and military tensions will also contribute to a significant rise in human migration levels from current totals, which are already high.

You don’t have to go outside of the United States to see this. Recently my two daughters and I visited New York City. This was the first time that Rachel and Therese were in the Big Apple, and I thought a good way to show them the city would be to take the Circle Line cruise around Manhattan Island. When we got to the Harlem River, our boat had to turn around because the water was too high for us to get under the bridges. On many days water level has risen too high for some boats to circle Manhattan. Reasonable projections show that large portions of New York City could be underwater.

You don’t have to go outside of Virginia to see what is happening. Friends in Norfolk, Virginia, tell me that during the course of the year it often looks like they live in Holland and a dyke has broken.

It is very easy for us to not really grok all of this. We live in, or near, the mountains. It would be foolish to think that we who live in this beautiful and privileged part of Mother Earth will escape untouched.

Remembering Jesus’ expansive definition of ‘who is our neighbor,’ I look forward to working with many of you in forming a new group at Unity of Roanoke Valley. As I understand it, in the past such groups at URV have been called a “social justice” group. I do hope this new group will be concerned about social justice, but I hope it will be very much interested in “neighbor helping neighbor” and “community building.” I hope it will help expand a sense of grokking the stranger, for we all were – and could be – strangers in a strange land.

I view URV’s Giving Room as a very good start in this process. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could apply Al Jolson’s words (“You ain’t seen nothing yet”) to URV’s grokking?

I am really interested in your comments and suggestions about all of the above. You can text or phone me at 571-215-9481; or you can email me at

If you think all of the above is extraneous and irrelevant to spirituality, remember what the apostle James said concerning “the heart of true religion” in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” – New International Version

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

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