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

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