God is Home

Home is where our story
begins.

Now for me, because my parents left my hometown when I graduated
high school, I never actually had the luxury (or the misfortune, depending on
who you ask) of moving back home after college—a trend among emerging adults
that sociologists have called extended adolescence.

To summarize, the theory goes that millennials, now the largest
generation of Americans, are entering and staying in adolescence longer than
preceding generations; and as such, they’re more likely to delay getting
married, starting families, and launching careers of their own.

I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with friends
who describe moving back in with their parents as a defeating and even shameful
experience. “Being back home again feels like an indefinite regression,” one
former housemate once confessed to me after getting laid off of the job he took
right out of college. To him, the promise of a path toward financial
independence and personal fulfillment came to a screech halt; and now, he’s
struggling to find himself again.

For those who can, moving out and beyond home indicates a mature
perspective shift toward what lies ahead instead of a fixation upon what had
defined them in previous seasons. For others, because coming back home means
reliving past hurts, they stay away, if they can afford it, because doing so
means never having reopen those old wounds. Still others leave home and never
come back out of a masked fear of being tied down anywhere and instead choose
to embrace their itinerancy as the new norm—a home of sorts.

Then there are the homebodies, or those who are perfectly
content to not venture past the nest, about whom there’s often such stigma as
being too bland or boring, complacent or comfortable. But what if we instead
viewed this desire to settle as a conscious step towards a mastery of a
particular lifestyle? Perhaps such fidelity to place could instead be framed as
an art form, not by which we should be repulsed but from which we would do well
to learn.

The town in which I work is one of those
people-who-are-from-here-never-leave-here kinds of places. Some of my
congregants have lived in the community for generations and never even imagined
a life beyond what has always been right in front of them. Refreshingly, they
aren’t as coaxed by promises of luxury or excitement; rather, they take
inventory of everything they need—friends, family, faith—and keep them close,
because when you have those, why leave?

Yet, I’m amused by some of the honest conversations I’ve had
with parents who half-jokingly bemoan having to welcome their extended
adolescent back home after they’ve grown accustomed to the freedom of empty
nest-hood. “We so were looking forward to not having to be home all the time
until they came back,” one parent once lamented. “Now, all we want them to do
is get a job or get married so they can get out of here!”

Coming on my seventh year of living in Grand Rapids, I’ve
naturally starting asking myself these kinds of questions about what home means
to me, now and for the future. But home is more than just a place, isn’t it?
It’s a type of warmth, an ever-presence—hard to describe, really, but something
you deeply know when you feel it.

What
is home for you? 

I have rarely gone back to my hometown since high school because
I have chosen home to mean here, in Grand Rapids, where my people live and my
support system keeps me grounded. Nevertheless, I have found the physical
return back to my roots as a necessary, albeit sporadic ritual.

I just think there’s something about inhabiting that physical
space of upbringing again, with people who knew you before you were anyone or
anything special, that is so humbling, so reminiscent, and so necessarily
recalibrating when the yoke of life grows so heavy you begin to lose sight of
yourself.

The scribes and poets of antiquity were on to something when
they wrote mythic tales of epic proportions that were always bookended with a
hero’s homecoming, framed as the ultimate fulfillment of purpose—or, as Joseph
Campbell writes, the answer the looming question, How will I
ever find true home?

A timely homecoming can be crucially healing. 

Just recently, in a moment of ecclesiastical vulnerability, a
heartbroken friend of mine recently acknowledged, “I just feel like my life is
falling apart right now, and I need to go home.”

Sometimes, no matter the occasion, whether it be of epic or
tragic proportions, we just need to feel like we’re at home again.


“Hey another thing,” my
mother wrote to me a few days later in an exchange of texts, speaking of home,
“Have you checked Zillow recently? Our old house is listed!”

I quickly opened the link on my computer to find the familiar
exterior of my childhood home, 405 Lampwick. Sure enough, it had the same
off-white paneling and light-brick finish and a few minor improvements: a much
more charming redecoration of front shrubbery and the vacancy of an unruly
front tree that often caused trouble for us.

But scrolling through the subsequent images of 405’s redesigned
interior made me think I was seeing a different house altogether. Whereas the
90s-era home I remembered was much more segmented in tone and room function,
this interior was cohesive and undeniably pristine. Yet it hardly resembled the
place of my upbringing.

Don’t get me wrong: 405 looks better than it probably ever has
before. But I think my brother said it best when he scrolled through the images
and admitted, “Home just looks unrecognizable now.”

I don’t know if there is a more displacing feeling than watching
home—and not just a place, but that quality of love and comfort and
connection—become so unfamiliar that it even starts to feel hostile or toxic,
like it’s being taken away from you or just isn’t safe to stay in anymore.

Whether that’s scrolling through the Zillow listing of your
childhood home, now unrecognizable,

Or it’s losing such sight of yourself and your community that
all you want to do is detach, and all they are left to do is ask in response,
“Where are you?” and “Where have you been?”

Or it’s moving back in with your parents after leaving or losing
a job that promised such a bright future,

Or it’s questioning not just the ideologies but the communities
of your upbringing, in which you once found so much purpose and belonging,

Loss of home is scary because of how isolating it feels; and yet
somehow, we’ve all been there before.


These days, I’m a big
believer in the holy idea of origin: Because all things come from somewhere,
the process through which we arrive at where we are here and now, our most
tangible reality, is what carries the deepest meaning.

But sometimes sifting
through where we’ve been requires us to excavate deep pain or shame or remorse
or guilt for past wrongs, done to us or by us. It is this deep inner work that
takes hard-fought focus on true Presence to find balance in the vacilation of
our mental pendulums, swinging between states of What has
been
 (past) and What
could be
 or What
could’ve been
 (future).

Defining origin can be
difficult. But I feel moved to do it, for myself and for others, because
there’s something so real about the trek down such deep, personal territory and
so hopeful about the treasure, the healing, that’s promised to be buried just
below the surface.

I’ve talked and written before about the perils of contracting
ideological plagues, which I find happens to me most when I get buried in my
own excavation process through my often land-sliding spiritual landscape. But
these days, simply choosing to inhabit the uncharted territory of doubt without
fear of rejection or self-criticism has led to deep healing freedom.

Sometimes, it’s refreshing to walk without a treasure map, not
knowing what you’ll find or beating yourself up when you fallen away from any
sense direction. In fact, now more than ever, I find myself befriending doubt,
allowing it to serve as my guide and help me set the trajectory of how I want
to be in the world instead of feeling ashamed to have it by my side.

But some days are still harder than others. It can be difficult
to remember to keep breathing when you’re fatigued or to be mindful of a
freedom that deep down you know has always been there but often feels just
beyond your reach, especially when you’ve lost count of how long it’s been
since you started your journey in the first place.

It is in those moments of teetering self-loss that we need an
oasis, a physical return back to our beginnings, so we can rediscover our
purpose of finding true Home again.

And what better place to start than a wedding—well two,
actually.


So far, 2019 has proven
to be a year of weddings. Just to prove to you what I mean, by the time this
summer is through, I will have attended five of them, and four of them will
have taken place within only days of one another.

Two weekends ago was the first round of these: A friend from
high school got married on a Saturday, and one of my housemates got married the
very next day. Fortunately for me, both took place in neighboring cities to my
hometown.

So, to make a weekend out of the whole ordeal, I decided to
travel down a couple of days early in hopes that doing so would allow me to
actually enjoy some leisurely time in a place and with people who could help
remind me of myself again.

As I took the highway exit that would begin my long-weekend
homecoming, I passed by a disheveled man, not much older than I, who
unabashedly clung to a handwritten cardboard sign that read, “I MAY BE HOMELESS
BUT I’M STILL HUMAN.”

His words reverberated in my mind all throughout my drive. Just
because we may lose sight of ourselves along the way to who we’re becoming doesn’t mean
that we’ve actually lost ourselves. There is an eternality to what it means to
be human—an essence, a soul, a spirit—an awareness as old as time itself that
cannot be lost or stripped away from us.

I know, I’m reading into it too much. Maybe he, as a person
experiencing homelessness, was just asking for any attention from the likely
thousands of passengers who pretended or preferred not to see him that day just
so they can carry on with their lives uninterrupted.

There is something powerful about being seen and powerless about
feeling invisible. But what the man’s sign called to my attention was that each
of us are vessels of a certain homey quality called our own humanity that will
always remain with us and that we are justified in demanding others to see in
us.


Perhaps unsurprising to
you, but my college years were often spent binging worship music. In everything
from study sessions to sporadic workouts to spontaneous worship gatherings,
that music was, quite literally, the soundtrack to my life. And two albums that
really defined that era for me were Phil Wickham’s Singalong
and 2, part of an ongoing series of stripped live performances by the
artist and familiar names in the worship music industry.

As an emerging evangelical adult, I deeply connected with those
albums—I think partially because they hit me in a period of deep religious
fervor. But honestly, it had been years since I had listened to those albums in
full or even at all. 

In fact, I had nearly forgotten about them—that is, until my
commute back to my hometown, when Singalong
2’s 
opening track, “Heaven
Fall Down,” came blaring through my car speakers from my phone’s randomized
shuffle songs.

Funny how that happens.

My knee-jerk reaction was to hit skip in fear of how listening to
that song again would make me react. But as I waited and listened, the song
surprisingly didn’t trigger any pain or shame in me. In fact, it all felt
pleasantly familiar.

As a disclaimer, I’m not going to pretend to understand the
phenomenon of spiritual gifts or tell you that I think they’re totally
legitimate. But if such a thing as spiritual gifts does exist, then I’m
convinced that one of them must be remembering lyrics from songs you haven’t
heard in years.

In fact, I’m even more so convinced that a specific portion of
our internal hardwiring is even designed to store old song lyrics, like one of
those rickety, neon-lit jukeboxes that you have to kick a few times to get
going.

I can’t explain it, but something in me compelled me to not just
sing “Heaven fall down,” and “Spirit pour out,” words I hadn’t heard in years,
but to belt them; to not just listen through the opening track of the album but
then to both albums in full—not just once or twice, but three times—and shout
their lyrics with the same vigor as I would have years ago.

A feeling welled up inside me—an inner hearth that warmed my
heart and even brings tears to my eyes now as I think about it—which I can only
really describe as Home.

Fr. Richard Rohr describes that transcending to higher levels of
consciousness in more mature stages of spiritual life means that we’re able to
include, not reject, the previous stages of our journey that were once so
formative.

And in reflecting on her own life, pastor and author Nadia
Bolz-Weber similarly described that she felt true freedom when she could
finally look back on her upbringing and remember its beauty without feeling
like she was betraying the parts of her that still experienced that hurt today.

Perhaps part what it means to grow beyond, to mature, is to
learn to healthfully consider to the point of appreciating what was without
neglecting its consequentiality in the here and now. In fact, it’s a deeply
mystical practice to bypass our internal hardwiring by surrendering over our
dualistic tendencies of constantly needing to evaluate right from wrong and
good from evil in order to ultimately embrace the eternality of now.

For we will always carry Home with us, no matter what we choose to make of it.


Speaking of home, I
finally arrived there around dinnertime that evening and still had a few free
hours before hitting up a brewery with an old friend of mine who recently
graduated college—which is crazy to me because I can still so vividly picture
him, in all his raw stuff, walking into my freshman orientation class eight
years ago. 

Anyways, with time to kill and travel dinner in hand, I ate
quietly by my old childhood park and watched the young families play while I
slurped on noodles and the sun set behind us. In the time I had left, I took a
(literal) stroll down memory lane and walked through old neighborhoods to some
of the most formative places of my upbringing that I hadn’t really been to in
years.

My walk eventually brought me back to my old neighborhood where,
at the bottom of the hill, 405 sat in all its glory, exactly as I remembered
it.

And there it was—that warm, lump-in-my-throat feeling again. It
was as if no time had passed since I had lived there. But the Class
of 2019
 yard sign in front
of a neighbor’s house for a kid who I remember being born told me otherwise.

It’s these strange moments, these brief encounters or close
collisions of future and past, that define what homecoming really means: the symbolic return to Self and to normalcy, with
the knowledge that life can never go back to to the way it once was.

The mystic Saint Teresa of Ávila describes homecoming as our truest encounter with God: “We ourselves are the castle,”
she writes of our souls, the residential quarters of the God in whom we also
find our Home.

In the same moments that we find God in ourselves, we also find
ourselves in God. That is the mystery of Incarnation.

I’m not talking about places in which God is specifically
designated (or even condemned) to inhabit. Religious folks can really mess this
idea up; deep down, most of us would prefer God simply play nicely behind the
walls of our church buildings or within the pages of our sacred texts.

But God declines our request: God is more than our churches, our
textbooks, our homes, or even our hometowns because God prefers to live
uninhibited and uncaged among and within everything that lives and breathes.

Perhaps it is the very idea of having to give ourselves over to
a force, a love, a feeling so designed to kill our egos in the process that we
feel compelled, out of self-preservative instinct, to confine God or confuse
ourselves into thinking that God simply is everything or nothing at all.

But again, God proves that God doesn’t play by our rules;
ultimately God is in all things:

God is in a walk around a childhood park in which you remember the time it
was so flooded that all of the neighborhood kids took old trashcan lids and
started used them as rafts to float along the newly christened creek.

God is in a swarm of bugs that used to annoy the hell out of you when they
came out around sundown that even now you’re tempted to swat at but instead and
with reverence, you simply yield to.

God is in the laughter of children and the sound of splashing water at
your hometown pool, where you literally clocked hours of your life that now you
would never take back, even if you could.

God is in a neighborhood couple’s ritual of walking their black lab that
they’ve had for years—the one you remember them bringing home, barely being
able to walk as a puppy that now limps around as an old dog who has lived a
full and happy life.

God is in the playful voice of a father who bursts out the front door of
your childhood home to chase down his infant son, just learning to walk; in
those child’s eyes in which you catch a momentary glimpse of yourself; and in
the father’s face in which you see your own dad’s and remember, even if just
for a second, the way he used to look at you.

God is in the sweet catch-up conversations with old and new friends; the uniform pelvic thrusts by the crowd of friends and family when that Beyoncé song comes on at a wedding reception; and the quieter moments in which friends sit with you through heartbreak and hardship and promise that it’s okay to simply be where you are.

God is in the parents who welcome you back home, no matter what you’ve
squandered or how long it’s been; in the people who stick by your side when
you’ve given them every reason not to; in the places you can go back to and
look back on fondly for the part they played in your life then and now.

God is Home—in whom we live and move and have our Being. And that, my friends, is where our story begins.

May you find hope and comfort and freedom in the knowledge that
Home will always be with you, no matter how far away it feels.

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