Monday, 15 August 2011
There's No Place Like Home?
In a few hours, I'll be winging my way across the Atlantic to eastern Canada. This is the place I used to call 'home'. Some people still ask when I'm going 'home'. I haven't visited there for nearly 5 years, and have lived in the UK for almost 15. I have lived in Wales for 4 years, Watford for 9 and now in Northwood for 1. Sometimes I'm not at all sure where 'home' is.
I’m sure I’m not unlike many if not most people in western culture today. We need a sense of home for emotional well-being, yet we are the homeless generation. Through family breakup, mobility, fragmented neighbourhoods and lost community we find ourselves in Rich Mullins’ description, where ‘home is just another place where you’re a stranger, and far away is just somewhere you’ve never been.’ And so we seek our security, our sense of home in strange and diverse places. We can so easily end up disoriented, frightened and alone.
A few years back, I encountered the the German concept 'heimat'. My German friends will have to correct me if I've got this wrong, but, I think it’s an idea of home that is not just a place you live, or the neighbourhood you’re from. Rather, it conjures up all kinds of nostalgia about belonging, and rootedness. Regardless of where life takes you, you can go back home to your ‘heimat’ and to the people there, you never moved away, rather you were just travelling for awhile. It is a romantic concept.
But in reality we can never go back. In the words of Heraclitis, you can’t step into the same river twice. More than that, TS Eliot observed that you cannot step into the same river twice, not only because the water has flowed past but because we have changed in the meanwhile. Those of us who try to go home to visit family will recognise this. Each time you need an entire renegotiation in order to make room for each other. As frustrated as you get with all of THEM, something within you prompts you to think that the problem isn’t all them – you have changed while you’ve been away, and that makes going home more difficult than you’d imagined. So this idea of home, of heimat, is really only a romantic ideal. It’s hard to see how it could be a reality.
During my own journey I'll be reflecting on 3 encounters people had with Jesus in Luke 9. I think all of them teach us something about home. Here's the first one:
In the first encounter on the journey, someone approaches Jesus and makes the proclamation, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ We can imagine the earnestness, the enthusiasm. But Jesus will not allow him to have any illusions about what following him means. He might have said,'great, welcome aboard.'
But Jesus surprises, and instead presents himself as the iconic homeless man: foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head . He is a homeless man, but one with purpose, and direction. Not homeless in the sense of aimless, but rather one with such purpose that he does not have the luxury of enjoying the natural pull to security and stability. He wants to make it clear that travelling along with him requires costly commitment – surrendering natural rights in order to engage a supernatural mission.
In other words, to follow Jesus means packing light. Keeping on the move. Perhaps giving up claim to home, surrendering security and comfort for a life on the move. Following Jesus means a new kind of commitment, where desire for permanence is traded for the excitement of journeying in the company of Christ. But count the cost – a rock for a pillow and dew for a blanket. We don’t read of the response. The indication is that the question is left open for us. What will we do when confronted with Christ like this? Are we really willing to sacrifice Aga and duvet for life on the road?