Embracing Place

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7


What will I do? What
will I do without exile, and a long night
that stares at the water?

-Mahmoud Darwish, from “Who Am I, Without Exile?”

What is exile in American culture? What is home?

The way we might define both perhaps differs dramatically from how they might have been defined a century ago, or how they are still defined in cultures less marked by our infatuation with transience. To know exile, we must first know home, and we are arguably a culture of non-places. With mobility a marker supposedly for our freedom, we fall too often for the lie that transience is the path to transcendence.

We have perhaps embraced the nomadic as a symbol of what it means to be successful. What is the old adage we use about our gain of influence? We say that we’re “going places,” or “on our way to the top.” Ambition feeds the lure of mobility, and we are tempted to take as normal the illusion that human beings are free agents, untethered from the constraints of place and earth.

Lest I seem to be launching a curmudgeonly critique which might merely fan the flames of nostalgia for a different time, let me note how this is for me confession. I am a prime example of the impulse toward mobility: In my fifteen-ish years of adulthood, I’ve made nine interstate moves, and have lived in seventeen different apartments or living arrangements. As I write this, it doesn’t seem possible that these numbers can be true – and yet they are.

And I am not alone. Read more

Becoming Home

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Joshua 5:9-12
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

what is the word beyond. home.
after home.
where is it. this word.
why can i not remember how to say this
thing. this feeling that is my whole body.”

–Nayyirah Waheed

“I think that love comes so seldom, so brittle, that I’m always knocked over by the offer of a little. But asking for a lot would take a lot of bravery.”

A friend and I had spent the afternoon in the sun and the breeze talking about relationships, and after, I’d had this dawning vision that perhaps she was worthy of more love than she was allowing herself to hope for. So hours later, through a bit of trembling, I told her so. And her response was one so resonant with my own experience, so human, so all of us.

Sometimes to hope to be lavishly, abundantly loved is almost too much – to hope for the much over the little, the embrace over mere proximity, belonging over mere fitting, forever over merely tomorrow. Faced with anxieties about ourselves, history that leaves shame or deep wounds in its wake, or supposed proofs of our inferior humanity and supposed reasons our imaginations have run too wild in wanting, we settle – because scarcity is more than nothing, proximity more than distance, fitting more than alienation, tomorrow more than merely today. Read more

Take Comfort

Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a

A week ago Saturday, I heard myself mumble “so much for Thanksgiving.” We gathered with new friends, a family in many respects the mirror image of our own, and we had eaten like princes, albeit a feast we (or, certain among us) had a significant role in preparing. The people Jaimee and I once mentioned we should incorporate into our celebration for fear they had nowhere else to go conveniently dropped out of mind in the later stages of planning. Our habit of pondering how good it would be to reach out to the lonely has not yet become a skill for making it happen. Or, perhaps, such skills are subject to perpetual atrophy.

It may be that my Thanksgiving dinner, however sumptuous, unsettled me because of what I was bringing to the table. Instead of the labor of lovingly preparing food together with others, during the days leading up to the holiday, I was sequestered with my computer grading papers, worrying about what my students and colleagues were thinking of my performance during the first months on the job. The pear cobbler that likely evoked shared experiences for those who worked together in its preparation, for me was just a delicious thing to be consumed. Forgetfulness of the lonely, lack of preparation and crude (unsocial) desires for comfort food: “three strikes,” I hear the umpire say, “you’re out!”

Comfort… Read more

Our Place Redeemed

Sixth Sunday in Easter

John 14:23-29
Revelation 21:10, 22:1-5

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. Read more

Home is Often a Troubled Place

Jeremiah 31:7-9

Jeremiah offers a compelling vision: the people together, a great company, coming home. But the picture is all wrong. They seem to be marching triumphantly like a military party coming back from war. They move along the banks of the water in plain sight. But this is no army. This is a bunch of worn down and broken nobodies. And they seem to know it.

They walk back home through a curtain of tears. Forget those translations that say they come home with “tears of joy” (Jeremiah 31:9, CEB, NLT). The text does not say that. It simply says that they were weeping. Read more