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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Longing for Home

Sara recently emailed me:
I have been feeling homesick for San Diego and was so glad to hear from you! We are happy to be "home" with family, but are finding that we don't totally have a place here yet (emotionally). I feel kind of like I did when I came back from Russia. I was thrilled to be back, and sad that I left behind such a magical place and it really took some adjusting. I think that all change is painful but very healthy. For now we are living with Derek's Parents for a few more weeks until my parents' apartment opens up. We then plan to move into a forever house in a few more months.
Sara's words got me thinking about home, belonging, homelessness and unbelonging. Aside from not having a forever house and as a result almost living in the future when she will have a very physical and settled "place," I think part of what's happening with Sara is having lived a bunch of locales and been settled and at home in them, it's the same as I've experienced: I love being everywhere, feel everywhere is home for me, yet I always have a sense of longing not only for where I've just been but for every place I've ever lived. So I usually have a feeling of not belonging "here" because of my intense longing for "there!" At Open Door Books I noticed the title, Home is Always the Place You Just Left: A Memoir of Restless Longing and Persistent Grace - Very, very apt. (book by Betty Smartt Carter; Paraclete Press; ISBN: 1557253234; May 2003)

Ultimately, feeling rootless gets back to the nature and reality of living the gospel - just like the Israelites of the Exodus, in Jesus Christ we live in the precariousness of nomadic, unsettled existence, daily undergoing baptism's liminality: each day recalling and actually reliving the perilous and risk-filled underwater moment in that watery font of death that at the same time is sustaining womb of new life, the fragile instant in which we need totally to trust the baptizer - who, after, all represents God, the One Who really baptizes.

The early church baptized in the flowing water of a river: just as every life moment is different, you can't step into the same river more than once! Living baptized means although every moment is perched and balanced on the limin - the threshold - between our old lives of bondage to sin and self and our new lives of Eastered freedom for others, living baptized means during some of those moments we also know fleetingly the fullness of gospeled community. Many times I've pointed out for Israel the River Jordan had been the barrier separating them from the Promised Land and then became the boundary and border of their Promise Landed lives. Likewise, for us baptism keeps defining us as different from those outside the community of the church yet is an event that counts us into the people of God of all generations: the Covenanted People!

A few months ago I quoted from an author who said grounded-ness was one of our principal needs; to me her conviction feels so correct! But more about feeling homeless and unanchored; here's a pair of celebrated directives from the Pentateuch:
  • Exodus 23:9
    "Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt." NKJV
  • From Leviticus 25, the Jubilee chapter: v. 23
    "The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me." NKJV
In these verses, in another foretaste of His incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, God commands Israel to show hospitality to the stranger because of their stranger-ness in Egypt and God assures Israel of His stranger-ness alongside them, so this text delineates both horizontal and vertical relationships. I love how the UCC Statement of Faith says in Christ Jesus God "shared our common lot," and that's what God has done since the Exodus from slavery - that commonness and common lot of being a stranger, the one not-like-us, the one who doesn't belong with us or among us because they're not the same as we are. But our baptism into the Christ Event obliterates the non-essential differences between us so we can walk together as a community of crucified and risen people. In Christ Jesus God became the alien and the other for us; we live baptized into the God Who in Christ still accompanies us every step of our journey!

Friday, March 12, 2004

Main Street

Main Street experiences?! I love this topic and the Main Street/Church Street sign on the UCC homepage is wonderful! First, I’ll confess I’ve never read Lewis’ Main Street, so I’ll run with some images and impressions. BTW, many years ago I spent an interesting citified summer on West Main Street.

That particular urban locale aside, for me the name “Main Street” kindles a generic picture and a general metaphor. My picture is from New England or somewhere in the American Midwest; it’s a single central street lined with shops: hardware store, drugstore with soda fountain, flower shop, curio shop, bookstore, coffee/sandwich shop and maybe a down-home-cookin’ restaurant. Ages ago a poem I wrote included the phrase, “The Colonial’s a restaurant on Main Street” [Hudson, Ohio]. This Main Street sports one or two branch banks, the town offices and – at one end of the commercial strip – the absolutely requisite iconic white-steepled church building, most likely Congregational, possibly Presbyterian or Lutheran, but you’d better believe it’s big “P” Protestant!

My Main Street picture has featureless people, but my Main Street metaphor is primarily a lifestyle that includes a describable type of person. Here’s a start: this Main Street Person [MSP] wants to belong - to be homogenous yet stereotypically distinctive and noticeable; trendy and up-to-date about ideas, politics and general styles of everything like attire and apparel, vehicles, home furnishings, recreation pursuits and vacation venues without being on the cutting edge of much of anything; spiritual, but without real commitment to institutional religion or to the radical way of Jesus...this MSP is anything but counter-cultural and not remotely willing to disengage from whatever society’s mainstream conventions have become for the moment, the particular moment that’s (very) close at hand. Do you remember Charles Schulz’s Lucy as psychiatrist with her, “The Doctor is in...The Doctor is Real in?” Well this MSP is real, real “in!”

How does my life and style as a Christian correspond to this MSP? And, should it - or not? The “Main Street” subject relates to our discussion over in Evangelism and to the “12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me)” book thread. Last summer we talked about “evangelism in the vernacular,” in a twist on Luther’s insisting on “worship in the vernacular” as a mark of the true church. Peculiar people as we’re supposed to be, we also need to be appear enough like everyone else that they can identify with us and therefore with the reasons we’re in Christ (aside from God’s calling and election of us, but that’s a different subject for another day).

Recently I’ve been reading again Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives in Evangelism (I originally read it a couple years before the UCC E-Forum became so active, and I wanted to see how my perspective had been changing). In that book he talks a lot about living “gospeled” lives, which include keeping covenant, keeping the Sabbath and keeping the tithe. During this Lent I’ll be participating in a live(!) discussion of Lauren Winner’s new book, mudhouse sabbath. nd, some time ago I read Marva Dawn’s book, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting (Eerdmans, September 1989). So I’ll conclude by saying one of the distinctions and contrasts between the MSP and what my lifestyle as a Christian needs to be involved the way I keep Sabbath! And I’m planning to continue this topic some other time.