We are leaving, and soon.
Matter of fact, odds are good that by the time you read this, Mrs. G*Nat and I will be well on our way. We’ll have already packed up our stuff, and commenced driving across the country – from Chicago, Illinois to Portland, Oregon.
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, with most of my most formative years spent in Portland. I’m a die-hard Trail Blazers fan, and I have a prominent West Coast bias in the way I look at things. As a result, our decision to relocate to Portland was not surprising for many people in my circle. Many of my friends, in both Chicago and Portland, have referred to this trip as “moving home.”
They couldn’t be more wrong.
I say this with no malice or bitterness. In many ways, I’ve missed living in Portland. God knows I’ve missed my family. Even though having a large extended family like mine can bring its share of issues into the picture, it’ll be good to be only a stone’s throw away from most of my family, instead of the two-time-zone difference I’ve had to endure for the last eight years or so.
But my home isn’t in N.E. Portland. Neither is it in on the north side of Chicago. It’s inaccessible by roads, bridges, or other forms of civic engineering. Most people have heard of it, but few know very much about it. It can’t be located on Mapquest, or delivered-to by Domino’s, FedEx or UPS.
I am a citizen of the kingdom of God, and my home is in heaven.
And that’s a hard truth to hold onto, the idea that the place where I dwell on a regular basis is not my true home. I’m reminded of the legions of Israelis who’ve recently been forced to relocate out of the Gaza Strip. I don’t want to trivialize their experiences by comparing them to mine, because they are, needless to say, incomparable.
Yet I find it to be a vivid example of a simple truth:
People don’t like to move.
Even if there are compelling, overarching reasons for the moving, reasons that are grounded in the perennial values of truth and integrity, those reasons don’t make moving any easier. Even if you ignore all of the logistical headaches, there can be significant heartaches inherent to the process of gathering up all of your earthly possessions and setting out for new territory.
Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt. Sometimes familiarity breeds more familiarity. And when something is familiar, it feels, well, like family. That’s why it hurt so much when I lost the house I grew up in after my parents divorced. Afterward, I vowed to myself that I would, someday, buy that house back and live in it with my own family. Like a teenage Inigo Montoya (“you killed my father… prepare to die”), I was bent on reclaiming the house, because I longed for that sense of safety, security and acceptedness that I enjoyed in it. That‘s what made it home for me.
But the popular saying is true — you can never go home again. Because the place I knew as home really only existed in my mind. I enjoyed a great childhood with two loving parents who did their best to provide a nurturing, close family atmosphere. But if it were possible for me to relive those years with my grown-up mind, the illusion wouldn’t hold. I would see all the things that escaped me as a child: the economic realities, the potential dangers of criminal activity, the emotional strain of urban ministry, and a host of other issues that never penetrated my childhood bubble. Even if I would’ve grown up in a more affluent setting, it wouldn’t make much difference. You can’t gentrify the effects of sin. People in upscale communities still divorce, commit suicide, and overdose on drugs. White flight isn’t gonna fix it, either.
All of us, as we transition from childhood to adulthood experience an erosion of this sense of true home. We may not consciously address it, but it’s there – a sense that the world we thought was fine is somehow tainted. As adults, we see a fuller picture of the world’s fallen state, but we still long for home.
This is what the apostle Paul was getting at in 2 Corinthians 5:1-6 (NIV):
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling,
because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.
It also helps to explain Jesus’ response in Matthew 8:20, when one of the scribes talked of wanting to follow him wherever he went:
Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Reading it now, I feel like I finally have a read on what Jesus may have meant. So many times in the past, I’d read that verse and imagined Jesus as a divine Rodney Dangerfield, complaining about his digs (or the lack thereof). But that’s not it at all. I think Jesus was trying to portray what life as his disciple would be like – that, here on earth, there’s no real home for us. Not that we’ll never be comforted, but that it won’t come from a physical place – it will come from being in the presence of God.
That’s why you can’t read Psalm 84 (“How lovely your dwelling place… better is one day in your courts…”) and interpret it only in the context of the institution of church. The church exists to represent and accommodate the presence of God – not the other way around. It’s not a building on a piece of property that’s so lovely, that our hearts are longing for. It’s Him. And God’s presence can’t be boxed in.
So as my wife and I cruise down the interstates, you can wish us well. You can pray for us, or just hope for good luck if that’s what you’re into, but we won’t make it home until much, much later. And when we do, we won’t be driving any more. We’ll be flying, baby.
I’m G*Natural; thanks for mixin’ it up with me.