Never Talk to Strangers?




By Jeff Mallinson

strangerYour momma said you shouldn’t talk to strangers. So maybe you were a bit nervous clicking on a post by the Wayfaring Stranger. Perhaps you’d be more at ease if I told you that the National Crime Prevention Council describes teachers (I’m a professor of theology and philosophy) as “safe strangers”? They also list firefighters and police officers in that category. I suspect you would agree that even public servants and law officers can also fail to live up to their vocations, and that you would do well to remain cautious. Nonetheless, I still want to invite you to talk with me, a stranger. I want to stimulate a conversation that will engage intellectual pilgrims, soul adventurers, and everyday folks on a journey.

So that we aren’t complete strangers, let me tell you a bit about myself and why my moniker, The Wayfaring Stranger. I’m a Lutheran, and the early theologians in my tradition described theology in this life as “derived” or “ectypal theology,” by which they meant that it involves our best, but tentative, human attempts to make sense of God’s ultimate reality, or “archetypal theology.” Thus, they described conversations about divine things as theologia viatorum (theology of people on the way or pilgrim theology). They didn’t approach their subject in this way because they believed there was some deficiency with the revelation of God in Christ. Rather, they recognized that even believers with firm trust in the objective promises of Christ outside of ourselves and our subjective experience of belief never master all of truth in this life because humans are both finite and fallen (Rom 1:18-19).


In all this, they drew from the great Western theologian St. Augustine, who wrote in his Confessions: “Why wonder that you do not understand? For if you understand, it is not God.” They recognized that, despite our desire to tame God and even God’s word, we are better off sitting back and letting biblical images and statements roll over us and do their profound work. They also recognized that, in this life, our theological formulations remain tentative and open to correction or modification. Likewise, as we take our faith with us and enter the world of our diverse neighbors, we must muddle through a complex landscape. How do we walk that fine line of maintaining faithful prophetic voices, yet remaining hospitable to outsiders, and all the while be open to God’s truth realizing that we don’t know all of the answers?

I share all of this so that you have a better understanding of the nature of the posts that I will be submitting and the background for why I chose to be called The Wayfaring Stranger.

Despite the theological nature of this particular post, most of what I’ll be sharing will be topics related to a weekly show I do with Dr. Dan van Voorhis, “The Man about Town”. It’s called The Virtue in the Wasteland Podcast.  Most of what we do is “Left-hand kingdom” stuff. That is, we approach so-called secular ethical and intellectual issues, albeit from the perspective of a couple of Christian, Lutheran fellows. If you are interested in this idea of muddling through the tough conversations of life, I invite you to read my weekly blogs and, if you are so inclined, you are welcome to check out our show. However, a word of warning, be sure not to start from the beginning (we started a bit rough in terms of audio quality). Instead, I suggest that you subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher, and select from shows with descriptions that interest you. We’ve interviewed several interesting people, from MMA fighters to sociology professors.


If you are interested in hearing more about the idea I mentioned in respect to being a person in progress, you can direct download one of my favorite shows, “Graduation Special 2” by clicking here. We investigate the ways in which, despite our inability to fully arrive at final conclusions in this life, we need to develop the courage to take informed stands and press forward, for the good of our neighbors.

This post is meant to serve as an introduction.  In the future, I hope you’ll enjoy many lively discussions about ways in which we can find and defend goodness, truth, and beauty in our cultural wasteland.


Click here if you want to hear the song “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” covered by a score of artists

Here are the lyrics:


I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger.

I’m a-traveling through this world of woe,

But there’s no sickness, toil, or danger

In that bright land to which I go.

I’m going there to see my father.

He said he’d meet me when I come.

I’m only going over Jordan;

I’m only going over home.


I know dark clouds are going to gather around me,

And I know my way will be rough and steep,

But beautiful fields lie just before me,

Where God’s redeemed their vigils keep.

I’m going there to meet my loved ones,

Gone on before me one by one.

Oh, I’m just going over Jordan;

I’m only going over home.


I want to wear a crown of glory

When I get home to that good land,

And I want to sing redemption’s story

In concert with the blood-washed band.

I’m going there to see my savior;

To dwell with him, no more to roam.

Oh, I’m just going over Jordan;

I’m only going over home.


I’ll soon be done with my earthly trials;

My body will sleep in the old church yard.

I’ll drop this cross of self-denial,

And I’ll go a-singing home to God.

I’m going there to live forever,

And there I’ll sing redemption’s song.

I’m only going over Jordan;

Oh, I’m just going over home.