Sixth Sunday in Easter
In our contemporary world, it is difficult to belong. We are so busy and on the move, it seems to be better to keep commitments to a minimum. 20% to 30% of all Americans move each year and the average American moves fourteen times over a lifetime. Poet, essayist, and editor of Poetry magazine Christian Wiman remembers that when he was thirty-six years old, he had moved forty times in fifteen years. He said he owned nothing that would not fit easily into his car. When talking about this with some friends, all of whom were in their twenties and thirties, all smart, well-educated and upwardly mobile, they compared notes and realized that between them they had lived in every state and dozens of foreign countries. Not one person lived near where they were born and raised and none of them ever asked anyone else where they’re from, “skirting the question as if it were either too intimate or, more likely, too involved to broach.”
We are a society that believes in being mobile – people with no sense of belonging to a place or to anyone else but themselves and who can pick up and move whenever the corporation, the job, the career demands it.
The 2001 novel Up in the Air by Walter Kirn was made into the 2009 movie with George Clooney. It’s the story of a businessman named Ryan who lives his life in what’s called “Airworld.” He’s either in airports or in hotels or in the air on a plane and his greatest ambition is to get a million frequent flyer miles. He’s from no place in particular, has no commitments, and the only people he considers friends are the flight attendants. Kirn said he wrote the novel when he had a conversation with a fellow passenger on a plane who said that he was on an airplane 300 days a year and gave up his apartment in Atlanta and bought a storage locker instead.
To settle, to belong, to make and keep commitments in such a society is often considered a sign of a lack of ambition, a vice to be overcome, or some sort of backwardness or lack of self-esteem. In American Anglo culture it is rare to hear someone define herself or himself as belonging to someone else. “I am my own person” is our rallying cry and we admire the “self-made man” or “woman.”
We are losing our sense of belonging. No sense of home; no sense of each other; no sense of belonging to a place. Gertrude Stein, after years of living in Europe, in the 1930’s returned to the U.S. and to Oakland, California, where she grew up. She could find no trace of her childhood home, no durable landmarks, leading her to remark that she could not imagine settling down and writing in Oakland, for “there is no there there.”
Nowadays we have mass media with mass advertising for chain stores, chain restaurants, newspaper chains, chains of radio stations playing the same music, cable and satellite television showing the same programs, chains of bookstores all selling the same books which, of course, are now giving way to online shopping where you can buy anything from anywhere at any time. There is no there there, what writer Scott Russell Sanders calls the “homogenizing of America” – where everyplace looks like every other place, where we have lost touch with our distinctive history, cut ourselves off from our surrounding landscape, where our accents have more to do with television than any regional dialect, where our local towns are becoming colonies of global corporations, and we move through relationships and marriages like we move through places. We hit a rough spot in our marriage and move on rather than doing the hard work of belonging to each other. We destroy God’s land and move on to another place. We live up in the air and don’t care and don’t notice who else is destroying God’s earth.
In the novel and movie Up in the Air the worst thing that can happen to a person who lives in “Airworld” is to be “grounded.” Mechanical problems and inclement weather ground airplanes and play havoc with the tight schedules of people like the character Ryan. “Airworld” is about being in the air, in transit, on the move – not to be grounded.
Our readings for today are about the groundedness of redemption. Much of the Johannine writings are concerned with being grounded, from “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14) to “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16) to our texts for today where Jesus says, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (14:23) to Revelation where the holy city Jerusalem is coming down out of heaven (21:10). This great vision of redemption at the end of all history is not about going up in the air, not about ending up in heaven. It’s about God and heaven coming down and redeeming, transforming this place.
God’s work is about entering into this place that God loves. This is what Jesus did. He entered it and loved it. This world, this place defined as ourselves, others, all its creatures, and this land is what and who God has created, called good, and entered into in Jesus Christ, to redeem it, serve it, love it, and make it whole. At the end this same, very place will be the dwelling of God with us.