For a long time, I felt like I was kind of a nomad. I am still reminded of the fact every time someone asks me “Where are you from?” It’s not supposed to be a difficult question.
But, I don’t really know.
I will often reply: “I’m from around.”
At times I have had a real sense of rootlessness. Things are different now, but I haven’t forgotten.
I guess you have to know my life to understand the problem.
In my childhood, my father changed jobs several times. That involved uprooting our family and moving to a new place. We moved from Michigan to Illinois, and back to Michigan. I’ve lost track of so many of my childhood friends — though now Facebook has made some re-connections possible. At the close of my High School years my parents were divorced. It was a bitter and painful experience. It was the clear and definite end of the family structure I knew as a child. I went to Kentucky to pursue a theological education. And then, my experience in the United Methodist ministry was one of uprooting and moving.
I served several very different pastoral appointments in my years of ministry in the United Methodist Church. I was always very much aware that the parsonage was not home. It could not be home. To call it home was to deny the inevitable and necessary separation that lay ahead. There have been so many places and people over the years: I found myself wishing my life were not so continually disrupted. Now that Robin and I are living in our own home, that period of wandering is over.
And, I’m glad. It feels strange. But, I’m glad.
In the parishes I have served I have had the privilege of meeting people who have spent their whole lives in one community. Some spent all — or almost all — their lives in one house. I sometimes envy their clear sense of place and of belonging.
The image of homecoming is especially powerful to me. There is an attraction to the idea of belonging. For author Garrison Keillor that home is apparently Lake Wobegon — or a small town very much like it. I don’t really have such a home.
Sometimes the call of the Gospel is pictured as a homecoming. The old invitational song speaks yearningly of the Divine call for us to come home to God.
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home,
Ye who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!
The song speaks to a universal spiritual homelessness. We feel we are lost in an uncaring world. We do not know our role or place until we find it under the reign of God. We can only be truly home in the will and purpose of God.
Yet, those who have “come home” to God in Christ are, more than ever, estranged from this world. We are simply not at home in a world of injustice, warfare, strife, inequality, racism, sexism, corruption, selfishness, greed and immorality. If we were sure it could never be any other way, we could (maybe) live with it. But, because we have chosen to walk along side the Prince of Peace and the ultimate lover of the human race, we can never be reconciled to it. We are at home with our God, and at odds with our world. We become, like the saints before us, “strangers and exiles” in this world, looking toward that city God has prepared for us (Hebrews 11:8-16).
I once remember praying with a middle aged man at an altar rail. The evangelist had given the appeal. The invitational song had been sung. He came to the altar rail to pray. I knelt beside him to pray with him. He said to me. “I used to know the Lord. But, I’ve drifted away. First there was the army. Then there was work. There were failed relationships. I’ve become bitter and hard and angry. I’ve been complaining about my life, my family, my job. I’m tired of living like this. I don’t want to be this way any more. Tonight I want to come home.”
He prayed. I prayed for him. Tears streamed down his face. We prayed together for some time. Then we rose from the altar rail and embraced one another. We went our separate ways. I’ve never seen him since. I don’t know where he lives anymore — I don’t even remember his name.
I just hope he found his way home.