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Faith + Vulnerability
When our Suburban Homes are Large, our Hearts are Small, and Refugees Forgotten
January 31, 2017 at 7:17 am 1
This post originally appeared in November 2015 at Erika Shirk's website.    Welcome home, gather round all ye refugees, come in. Oh refugee, I did not cast you out In death and broken ground, Salvation springs My body and my blood, the healing that you need Come and receive” Sandra McCracken, “All Ye Refugees” // I’m sitting quite comfortably in this warm home of mine. It’s newish to me. The pangs of moving 1000 miles away from the longest place we’d ever lived since we became a family still, always, linger. And yet here I am, doing all those routine things: walking my children to school, going grocery shopping, shouting too much at my boys’ soccer games. In the throes of transition, I feel like I’m living in two universes, where home is both here and somewhere else. Home feels a bit like putting down my phone or glasses and being unable to find them. I don’t know quite where I belong without either. I wander around trying to find something I have no definite memory of letting go. I’m watching the United States map change colors: each state colored to oppose or welcome the new plan for the US to help resettle refugees. Twenty-six governors vow to tighten their borders like cinching in their belt. It’s too dangerous, they say. It’s not our place. It’s a Trojan horse, letting them in like that. Them. I realize of course that immigrant policies, national politics and international crises are things much more complex than I am making them here. But I do know this: problems only magnify when we start to see us as somehow wholly different from them. And must we surround our nation, our homes, with watertight walls? Are we so very scared that we cannot let them in because they might hurt us? But, we must ask, who are they? They are the poor, the needy, the fatherless and the widow. They are at the very heart of the gospel. Jesus gathered a rag-tag group of fishermen, he did not run from women of disrepute, he did not turn in disgust from our disease, or dishonor or shame. He saw the widow, the child, the orphan and the leper. And he had compassion. His heart saw that we were like sheep without a shepherd. We are the homeless, the refugee. It is Jesus who comes from a far-off country and made his home with us. It’s a fact that’s at the heart of the Bible. Giles Frazer writes for The Guardian that “For the moral imagination of the Hebrew scriptures was determined by a battered refugee people, fleeing political oppression in north Africa, and seeking a new life for themselves safe from violence and poverty. Time and again, the books of the Hebrew scriptures remind its readers not to forget that they too were once in this situation and their ethics must be structured around practical help driven by fellow-feeling.” The Bible is clear: our homes cannot be castles. Our homes – whether our nation, our physical dwelling place, our economic policies or any other number place of belonging – cannot be simply about us. For our homes were never meant to serve ourselves. We count square footage and upgrades to garner our worth in the same way we count our kids’ soccer goals and progress reports. We invite others in to our homes to “entertain” rather than show true hospitality. We make our homes all about us. It’s important for our spaces to reflect us and it’s not a bad thing necessarily to upgrade your kitchen. But when our homes stop being a place to welcome the wanderer, I wonder where we think we’ll find home exactly, where we’ll find belonging. Or if we’re just burying ourselves in the trappings of home but never quite belonging. When we wall up our homes and hearts and build castle walls of impenetrable self-centeredness, what use is Jesus exactly when he says he goes and prepares a place for us? That home that Jesus says he’s making for us feels a whole lot less valuable than the granite countertops in front of us. What use is a Jesus who we wall out with economic belt-cinching and say that he (like the refugees) isn’t quite safe to let in and really change our categories? For yes (like Lewis says), Jesus isn’t safe, but he is good. Will our homes be safe? Because as Jesus makes his home in us, he uproots cobwebs of shame and doubt and all the ways we wall others out. He turns over tables and plants a seed of his upside-down kingdom right in our hearts. And you better believe that Jesus making a home is more than a pretty little image, an abstraction that makes us feel good. Because Jesus never does a background check to see if we check out first before building us a home. Because no one measures up. We’re all homeless wanderers, set adrift on the hem of someone else’s mercy. We’re all refugees, wandering around since Eden, trying to make and find our true home. IMG_0926 And Jesus sees us; his eyes warm with empathy, in our squalid, homeless state. He sees us, as devastated internally as the refugees sleeping on concrete are externally. We have no roof over our head either. There is nowhere we quite fit. We, too, are longing for home. This Jesus runs to meet us. He says “My son has come home!” He places rings on our fingers and the clothes of the family and throws a feast. But sometimes that Jesus just feels a bit too unsafe to have under our roof. So home escapes us, like my lost glasses, and we keep searching for the missing thing that promises to make things okay, to feel like we have things ordered, so we can really see. The refugee crisis is complex. Yes, it’s a risk to welcome people, from refugees in a far-off country to even welcoming your neighbor truly into your life. But both are necessary. How could we do anything less? How can we stay walled up and impervious to our own refugee status? How can we ignore that Jesus built his tent right in the midst of our finitude? How can we forget that his body and blood house us, that our experience of the Eucharist welcomes and clothes us, gives us sustenance? How can we turn our backs on those that cry out for home? How can we not do something? Refugees aren’t safe and neither is Jesus. Both are messy and turn our world upside-down. But isn’t that right where we find home, in the mess right in the middle?
Feel free to engage in the comments, send me an email, or I'd love to grab a cup of coffee if you're local (or on Voxer if you're not). If you disagree or have questions or concerns, let's talk. Let's learn civility and kindness here.  Resources: World Relief International Justice Mission International Rescue Commission US Office of Refugee Resettlement
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At other places
The Ministry of Spongy Wallpaper and Cramped Hospitality (for Jen Pollock Michel)
December 9, 2016 at 7:47 am 0
When you're a writer with a herd of children and unattached to a university, nonprofit, or other place where writers, thinkers, and artists gather, you can feel all kinds of lonely. I started reading Jen Pollock Michel's Teach Us To Want last year and reached out to her because I so resonated with her story -- a wife, a mom, a writer, and a Christian trying to put all the pieces of a vocation together. After several months of voxer conversations, she's become a dear friend. I'm honored to be at her spot of Internet today writing about home (one of my favorite topics) and the subject of her forthcoming book, Keeping Place. (Pre-order it here!)  
Yet it was there in those cramped quarters where we learned not only to be a married couple, but how hospitality blossoms like the gospel.
 

Edinburgh. Image via Unsplash.

 

The Ministry of Spongy Wallpaper and Cramped Hospitality

1/5 Leith Walk BMT, Edinburgh, UK We wore our wool coats in the middle of a southern California summer, waved goodbye to our mothers, and boarded a plane to Scotland a year after we said our “I do’s.” We touched down in northern Scotland a day later, bleary-eyed and discombobulated watching a foreign countryside fly past on the wrong side of the road. When we made it south to Edinburgh a fortnight later, we were struck we didn’t know what “BMT” stood for — the ending to our first address as expat postgraduate students in Britain. It was the basement and when we’d creaked open that peeling paint of the blue main door and walked down the stairs, we realized why our rent was so cheap. We’d imagined all sorts of exotic sounding appellations for BMT with no idea that it meant a “basement” flat with one tiny window to let in the light. We didn’t know enough to be sorely disappointed. We hadn’t yet puffed ourselves up with multiple children and proper jobs to feel we were entitled to a better habitation. It was sufficient. It was what we could afford. We could walk the several miles to university and back. We could make it work. There was enough love and tea to go around. And plenty of books.  
But it wasn't always so lovely... Read the rest here.   
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Space + Place
Home
December 9, 2014 at 12:33 am 3
Home. Such a full and throbbing word. As I sit in silence with the Christmas tree lights lit, I wonder what my children will take with them of this place. Will they remember the climbing wall in their bedroom and the light saber battles across the kitchen? Will they remember the creaking wood floor and the circles they ran between rooms? The little geographies of their days. Will they remember piling on couches to read together and gathering around the table and sharing their stories? Or will it all be a blur? A pile of feelings about a place, but without the specifics. Will they enwrap themselves in their inevitable hurts and failures, carrying them close to them, or will they lay them at my feet one day as they consider how I've messed up? And will I have the grace to say, "Tell me more"? Will home ultimately be healing?  Home | Circling the Story We have such meandering paths to home -- circuitous routes where we leave, resist, long for, and perhaps return home. I think we all long to enact those hero journeys where we re-emerge at the end, victorious yet chastened and changed. The hero of our own story. But it's a rather simple plot line. The problem with coming home is that through the process of leaving and returning, you can never really return, never get back to a moment of unconditional acceptance, without feeling the lurking presence of anxiety or shame. Those two things that tell us, perhaps more than any other, that we're grown up. We can't return to a state of blessed self-forgetfulness, to unadorned childhood. But we continue to itch for home. We fill up our the loss that invariably comes with knowing with socially sanctioned forms of distance -- with busyness and our phones and food and sex and soccer schedules. Because it doesn't ask anything of us, distance feels safe and home feels like a fairy tale. A good story, even delightful perhaps, but not true. Home | Circling the Story Yet, we keep circling, trying to land, trying to come home. We push and pull between wanting home and being fearful of what it might ask of us. There is though, a deep-seating longing to be a part of internal and external spaces that say, "No matter what, you're okay, I love you." Home perhaps is more than just a space or place, though it is anchored firmly in our tactile experience. A blanket, the smell of baking bread, the touch of a friend, the kiss of a spouse, the hot mug of tea shared weekly. Home, ultimately, is about belonging. It's about vulnerability without shame.  And I think we wonder, in this day and age, if there's any space or anyone that will embrace our shame and give us a hug anyway. So we test out the waters, we travel, we move on from people and places because we long for transformation. And transformation is always just beyond our reach, always "out there." So we think if we just moved, or tried something new, or read more about it, then, then we'd...what? Be safe? Be loved? Be important? Be successful? Be free? But home, it sneaks up on you. A place, you realize, suddenly becomes dear to you, or has been dear to you without you realizing it. And almost in the realization, its preciousness is gone. It's tinged with melancholy as it is thought about and analyzed or quite consciously created. I suppose this is part of what it means to grow up, to age; we reach back to a "golden age" that never existed or we place our hopes on future adventures, never experiencing the moment in front of us. Home is always "out there." Home | Circling the Story We're all longing for home. We're all longing for safety. We're all longing to come home to a place where we are cared for and held dear. And we're longing to not have to hide in order to be embraced, but to lay down our burdens, to own up to our shame and fear. And to take a deep breath and to be welcomed in.
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