Have you ever felt like you don’t belong anywhere? With all the roles we fill in our families, in our jobs, in our schools and in our communities, it seems impossible that we could ever have these moments—but then life happens. We change schools. We change cities. We change jobs. We change professions. Our previous cultural shorthand becomes an anomaly. Our new friends don’t like our old ones and vice versa. And suddenly we find ourselves sitting alone in the midst of the nightmare formerly known as the most exciting adventure of our lives remembering every misfit moment of our lives and contemplating how we don’t really belong, how maybe we’ve never really belonged anywhere.
On a recent episode of the CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother titled “Duel Citizenship,” Robin (Cobie Smulders) faces such a moment. As a Canadian in New York City, she has found herself slightly out of sync with U.S. cultural customs. Even her American friends have never quite understood her Canadian colloquialisms or the abominable sports fan that hockey brings out in her. After one particularly stellar performance in the latter vein, a U.S. citizen presses assault charges against her for throwing the chair that broke his nose—anger management being a topic for another column. The legal charges force Robin to contemplate becoming an American citizen in order to avoid deportation. Her boyfriend, Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), does his best to help her prepare for U.S. citizenship with everything from American government review to a more unorthodox re-education process. (Showing a picture of people engaged in the sport of curling, Barney asks Robin what is taking place in the picture. Robin replies, “Oh, that’s curling. It’s a sport where …” “Wrong!” Barney interrupts. “The answer we were looking for is: ‘I don’t care. It’s dumb.’”) As a result of this process, Robin swings entertainingly from an extreme Canadian stereotype to an extreme American one.
Although Robin is more than ready to pass the written test in pursuit of U.S. citizenship, the night before the test she decides to visit a Canadian bar in New York City one last time. She gets drunk and wakes up in Toronto, where Barney has found her in a ransacked motel room. “What happened last night?” she asks. Barney replies, “You … went Canadian.” However, more than waking up in a Toronto motel room with no memory of how she trashed it or even that she trashed it, Robin is disturbed that when she buys coffee in Canada, she is assumed to be American. In the same way that Americans do not see her completely as one of them, Canadians do not see her as completely one of them either, causing Robin to ask herself where, if anywhere, she really belongs. Ultimately, she discovers that each country has a place within her and she has a place in each country. Robin emerges from her brief identity crisis to proudly embrace the best of both countries and pursue dual citizenship.
As Christians, I wonder if the reality of our lives doesn’t share some striking similarities with Robin’s fictional conundrum. Spiritually, we are citizens of God’s kingdom, but physically, we remain residents of planet Earth for the foreseeable future. Since our two cultures do not always mesh well with each other, we are often tempted to make our journey easier by playing the stereotypical extremes, striving either for spirituality unmoved by human need or humanity untouched by spiritual transformation. These extremes render us, at best, lifeless and, at worst, dangerous. We, like Robin, are meant to embrace our dual citizenship. We are most useful, most alive, and most relevant when we are both fully committed to God and fully engaged in the world. In this combination of spiritual commitment and practical engagement, perhaps we come as close as we can on Earth to answering the question: Where do I belong?