Spiritual Homelessness - A Contemporary Phenomenon or Normal State?

There's no place like home. There's no place like home.

In a magical moment in far-away Oz, Dorothy utters the words we all feel deep in our soul: we long for home.

When we are in a foreign land and we suddenly realize we miss mom's cooking or the air doesn't smell familiar, homesickness creeps in.

We live in a world not as it ought to be. A world aching, broken, longing...for home. 

"Home" can be a tricky thing to define. It can be even more difficult to experience. For some it may be simply that house you grew up in - that's "home." Some have enjoyed the feeling of "home" and its warmth, safety, security, peace, joy and belonging. For others, "home" was a place of abuse, neglect, chaos and pain. For others, perhaps it was a friend's house, or grandma's house where the smell of fresh baked cookies wafting from the kitchen evoked a sense of joy, peace and belonging. 

For some, actual "homelessness" has been a dreadful stage or life - or even a permanent state - in which they have not had a physical address, a house - a home. The effects of homelessness upon children are quite traumatic and psychologically destructive. 

Most of us grow up and leave "home." Whether it's off to college, to marriage, to our first job, to study overseas, to take a gap year, to go on adventures, we leave "home" in that necessary process of differentiation from mom and dad. Some of us discover a new place of belonging and security that fosters many of the sociological and psychological desirable aspects of "home." 

But, many of us knowingly wander our entire lives searching for "home." Big box stores, magazines, Instagram accounts, Pinterest boards, TV channels and Netflix episodes are dedicated to displaying beautifully-designed "homes" that will guarantee you the warm, cozy feeling of "home." It's the stuff of Hollywood. Wizard of Oz is not the only film to capture this fundamental aspect of our humanity.

It's my belief that "home" is a God-given longing that cannot be fully satisfied in this current age. Our "homelessness" is at the very heart of why the God became incarnate - taking on our humanity - to lead us home to Abba's house.

"In my Father's house are many rooms. I will go and prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will come and take you to be with me that you may be where I am," Jesus said. "But how will we know the way," Philip asked? "Have I been with you so long and you still do not know?" Jesus replied, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but through me." 

Jesus spoke these words just prior to his ascent to the Roman cross on which he laid down his life in the most unexpected, subversive and decisive act in history. Through the cross, he opened up home for all - Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, female. Through the cross, he opened up the Way. And, it isn't "up yonder in heaven" as much as many Christian folk hymns may lead us to believe. 

In a recent conversation between Skye Jethani and Mike Erre, the two discussed a growing phenomenon among American Christians which they described as "spiritual homelessness." The language they used was fitting for my own sentiment. 

Having left my physical "home" and the religious traditions of home (of which I am eternally grateful for and indebted to the grace of God and my faithful parents), I have wandered through years of deconstructing my "embedded theology" and assumptions about the Bible, God, Jesus, the Church, while searching for the place where I belong. (See my subsequent post for more on this.)

I've come to identify as a "homeless" Christ-follower, a sojourner who feels acutely the groaning for home of which Romans 8 and Hebrews 11 so vividly portray. In our cultural moment transfigured by technology (world wide web, social media, communication media, etc.), capitalism, globalism, shifting family structures, warfare, refugee crises, and polarization between "conservatives" and "progressives", rural and urban, over-educated and un-educated, wealthy and impoverished, we see Christians deconstructing their faith, leaving the Church, abandoning the traditions of their ancestors and rejecting meta-narratives. Some reject the community of faith in Christ. Others cling more tightly, dig their heels in, or go looking for a more authoritarian, ordered or fundamentalist church that provides clean, black-and-white answers to all the questions. 

Spiritual "homelessness" is settling in among the most "settled" of us. Myself included. As one who relates to the Enneagram 4 type, the supposed foundational question sitting deep in my soul that shapes my decisions and emotions is "Where do I belong?" But, it's not just "4s" who feel this, I believe. Though this "spiritual homelessness" is a growing phenomena, I'm not convinced its a bad thing we're facing. For this world as it is was not, and cannot, fully satisfy our desire for home. 

If we believe the Big Story as depicted in the witness of Scripture, then we know that only when our Triune God makes dwelling with us on the renewed heavens and earth will we finally be at rest - we will finally discover home which we've been aching for our entire lives. Home is where we God's space ("heaven") and human space ("earth") meet - that place and time when we will dwell together with our Abba Father as he created us to be - humans living in shalom on a good and beautiful earth where we will exercise responsible and creative stewardship over the earth together with our elder brother, King Jesus.

While we wait for that age to come, we live and labor, though, as if it is already here. Though it is "not yet", the Church that King Jesus left on the earth is to be a sign and witness to the fact that the kingdom of God is "already" here through the Spirit of God that lives inside of Jesus' followers. We are to provide that "foretaste" of home for an aching, searching, pain-riddled, sin-stained world longing for "home."

We have to be cautious, however, of idolizing any community, or any house, in which we dwell - of making it our ideal home. Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned Christians against idealizing Christian community and of making the community a balm for that lonely, homesick ache we feel when we are alone. But, we need to be cautious of the other error of rejecting Christian community because it is not perfect. (Ala the current wave of de-converted Christians rejecting the evangelical brand of Christian faith they see portrayed and even supported by faulty, celebrity "Christians" who think they have all the answers and don't seem to any room for grace or nuance in their public witness). 

We are all broken, on a journey. The "homey-ness" of Christian community is a gift and blessing in this current age while we await the return of King Jesus. It's a place of belonging - of more transcendent permanence and significance than our biological family of origin - in which we grow and mature as disciples of Jesus. It is the new home to which we attach. We leave the home of our mother and father and cleave to the home of our heavenly Abba. 

I write all this today as a reminder for my own soul to "abide" in Christ, for apart from him, we can do nothing. (The abiding language Jesus uses in John 15 is essentially the same as making our "home" or "tabernacle" in Christ.) On my own journey of discovering spiritual "homelessness", I have wrestled intensely with a search for my vocational, relational and geographical home. As one who grew up in a stable, secure "home", I am not immune to the brokenness and sin of this world. I am learning to discover that one of my own greatest treasures is this inner poverty - this deep need and desire I feel for home. Jesus came announcing a subversive, revolutionary, unexpected kingdom in which the "poor in spirit" are given the inaugural blessing from Yahweh. As much as I want to be rid of this feeling of "homelessness" in the world, it is a gift - a void in which the Spirit of God wishes to fill up so that I may be an arrow pointing to the true "home" in the kingdom of God.


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