Thursday, December 15, 2011

OnFire #270 Christmas, Star Trek and From Away

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #270 On Christmas, Star Trek, and From Away

I grew up on Prince Edward Island, a beautiful place but not without its interesting ways of doing things. There is an expression every Islander learns from an early age to describe someone not born on PEI. “From away” is the phrase used to explain that someone does not hang from the branch of an Island family tree.

It is important for Islanders to be able to “place” someone, and so introductions and initial conversations often revolve around where people grew up, where their families live, maiden names, parents’ names. I call it the Family Name Game, and most Islanders of a certain age do it instinctively. You introduce yourself and the wheels of the other person’s mind start turning.

“Dennis.... Are you related to the Dennis’ in Ellerslie?” Everyone in Prince County knows Dennis Motors and wonders if there is a connection. If I’m talking with someone who lives closer to the middle of the Island, they might ask if I’m related to anyone in Charlottetown because a number of Dennis’ live there. This is how the name game works.

“No,” I reply. “My dad is from O’Leary.” (The original Dennis family settled near Ellerslie, but two descendants moved near O’leary and that’s where my family comes from).

“Yeah?” The response at this point is always hopeful. They are close to making a connection - they know someone in O’leary or have relatives there - “What’s his name?”

My father knows a lot of people, so sometimes this helps to make a connection. Sometimes not. They’ll probably ask about my mother’s family, or I might volunteer the information. This often helps because the name is common in that area. (I can almost predict that the Islanders reading this are now thinking about emailing me for the information because they don’t have enough info to finish putting the family connections together. The instinct is powerful.)

They will probably follow up by asking if I know someone they know. There are extra points if I do, with an additional measure of goodwill if the person is related to either of us. This is how the name game works. With my Island family credentials firmly established, conversation moves on to some bit of Island news, weather, or politics. There is a mutual feeling of trust because we share a common bond as Islanders. (Of course, if the family name has bad history this can also work against someone. Thank the Lord for great families!)

My wife was not born on PEI but the name game is played with predictable results. Her maiden name is not an “Island name,” which results in polite inquiry: “Where is your family from?” As soon as she tells them her parents live off-Island, the topic changes with a gentle, “Oh...” And forever after it will be said that I married a girl “from away.” There is no harm or malice intended. It is simply a signal to other Islanders that she cannot be “placed” in a family they may know. I’m sure this kind of thing happens in other places, too.

There is something comforting about connecting with someone from the same area because we share background and roots. We get the inside jokes and understand the idiosyncrasies of the people. It is not something which can be bought or earned. It comes from knowing the same people, going to the same schools, walking the same routes, knowing the same people, being born in the same place.

This is why it is so important that Jesus came to earth and was born as a baby. If had he been beamed in from heaven like a figure in Star Trek, he would be “from away” and could not have been “Immanuel - God With Us.” Jesus came to us as fully God but also fully human. He was born, learned to walk, grew up first as a child, then was a teen, and finally a man.

John 1:14 says, “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelled among us.” Hebrews 4:14 tells us, “We do not have a high priest who unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way as we are....” It makes me wonder - was Jesus ever bullied at the synagogue? Did he have pimples? Did girls have crushes on him? What did he do when an attractive woman walked into the room?

Of course, I fully believe Jesus treated people with utmost decency and respect. I’m simply thinking out loud to make a point. We can trust Jesus with anything because there is nothing we face which Jesus didn’t face. He encountered it all, maybe not in exactly the forms we do, but the essence of the testing was the same. Jesus was not “from away.” He gets it because he was born here.

May this Christmas be a reminder that Jesus is “Immanuel - God with Us.” May this thought add extra meaning to the holiday season, and point us, not to the gifts, food and parties, but to the Saviour who was born to be one of us. Hebrews 4:16 sums it up: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

I hope this helps. Have a Jesus -centred Christmas and we’ll connect in the New Year. Be on fire.


OnFire is a bi-weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Dec 15, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

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