My Journey of Spiritual Homelessness

I grew up in conservative, Christian, midwestern family with agrarian roots in Southern Illinois farmland. My father is from cotton-picking, peach-growing southeastern Missouri at the border of Arkansas where he moved from to join my mother's family in rural corn-fed Sparta, IL. I'm the youngest of four siblings; our parents are approaching their 50th wedding anniversary in 2020 and are now members of a recent church plant in a nearby town.

We were a part of a PCA church during my early years, and then joined a Southern Baptist church around the time I also moved from a small Christian school to a Lutheran school in a different town where I remained until graduating 8th grade. I was baptized around the age of 11 and was fully immersed in the evangelical youth culture of the early 90s: VBS, youth group, youth rallies, summer camp, re-dedications to Christ at altar calls, True Love Waits and lots of CCM - dc talk, anybody?

I left home at age 18 for the University of Illinois where I quickly landed in a non-denominational campus church which was familiar enough in theology, but different enough in practice to feel comfortable yet exhilarating. During my junior year, I studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa where I joined a multilingual, British-influenced, charismatic church. I returned back "home" to my college church community. The time away made my return very sweet and further solidified my sense of rootedness in my adult Christian "home." I joined staff with this church after college, after a year of fundraising during which I encountered a slew of other expressions of church, albeit mostly conservative, midwestern churches that weren't too dissimilar from what I'd experienced thus far in life.

After two years of marriage, Amber and I moved to Memphis for a one-year Christian Community Development residency program during which we learned about other expressions and forms of church and situated ourselves quite enjoyably in a multi-ethnic house church network (which was still largely white, but had a sizeable number of African-American and refugee neighbors).

Boomeranging back to Champaign, we landed back in our familiar college church community for four more years, during which the gnawing feeling of "spiritual homelessness" really began to manifest in a conscious manner. It was eating at us during our decision process the previous year, though, we wouldn't have language for it then as we chose to leave Memphis and return to Champaign.

After several transient years since leaving our families of origin - or, "home" - Amber and I were becoming quite acquainted with a "restlessness" that kept us fidgety and searching.

During this four year period back in Champaign - post-Memphis - we purchased our first "home" and welcomed our first daughter into the world. We served as spiritual parents to a "home fellowship" in which we journeyed with young students learning to follow Jesus during the dynamic university years.

At a juncture in which I was grieving the parting of some close friends and quite unhappy with my work situation and missing Memphis, I got a phone call and invitation that eventually led us back to Memphis where we purchased a new "home" and sought to plant our roots in the city we had formerly loved.

But, once again, the gnawing "homelessness" was eating away at my soul and I was not emotionally healthy. During the moving and transition, I began to experience panic attacks and anxiety for the first time in my life. My coping mechanisms were failing. The arrival of our second child was a disrupting event for Amber and I (you can read about her own journey of post-partum depression on her blog). We experienced a rocky return to the house churches we had once loved and ended up seeing the one we were leading dissolve. We found a new "home" in a recent church plant that reinvigorated us for a brief time, but we struggled to make Memphis the "home" we dreamed it would become...

We hit the escape button on Memphis and sprang ourselves back to Champaign where we hoped that our spiritual homelessness, marital strife and emotional disequilibrium would settle down to a more healthy, stable place.

The arrival of our third child and a house fire at our new "home" rocked the boat once again! We've grieved the loss of another church community here in Champaign even while we've experienced the joy of birthing something new (see Door of Hope, our current community). We've experienced the stabilizing mercy of God amid a community of friends who welcomed us back and have loved us well. We are maturing in our emotional health.

So, why do I still feel that I'm spiritually homeless? And, what am I to do with this "homelessness"?

During the tremors of changing jobs, zip codes, houses and churches, we've experienced more shifts than many people experienced in a lifetime a century ago. Much of the "embedded theology" of our childhood has been questioned, whether indirectly by culture or directly in our own quest to know Christ and faithfully follow him today. The civic, political, familial, ecclessiological and technological shifts in our lives have introduced questions and nuance and challenges that can threaten to detether us from our anchor in Christ. Issues related to women in the church, gender and sexual ethics, the innerancy and authority of Scripture, leadership and authority in the church, questions related to missiology, eschatology and ecclesiology, and discernment over how to relate to and respond to the growing nationalism and Trump-era politics - these tremors have effected us and shaped our sense of "home". We wonder what "tribe" we belong to.

At a moment like this, the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer bring comfort and remembrance of my true home and true identity:

"Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine
Whoever I am, Though knowest, O God, I am thine!"

There is no greater peace on earth than to know that I belong to Abba Father, that I am hidden in Christ, that I have been baptized into God's family.

Appropriate to this Advent season, I remember and cling to the truth that God has acted definitely on our behalf once in history in the advent of the Messiah and he will act definitively again when King Jesus returns. And, then, all homelessness and homesickness will evaporate in the warmth of Love come to earth.


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