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
At other places, Simplify
When I want to Throw it All Out the Window
August 10, 2016 at 6:00 am 2
Simplifying doesn't buy peace. Ashley Hales ( If you’re anything like me you pendulum swing between extremes. One day, I’m browsing Pottery Barn and CB2 catalogs and am determined to save my pennies for all the sparkly things in the West Elm store or for *the* best pair of leather boots on sale at Nordstrom (because, people, when you snag a sale, then you can justify the crazy prices because, I mean: SALE! Right?). The next day I decide that the best plan of action is to just throw out all of our things (including all the plastic junky toys that my children are suddenly enamored with) and pare down to a capsule wardrobe. Burn ALL THE THINGS! Finally get a chore chart that we can stick with! Get a meal plan and a new calendar and a white board and a family motto! Donate all the clothes that we don’t wear! (Or even just really, put your own dishes in the dishwasher. That would be a good start.) I keep reaching for outward systems to fix my internal chaos. I read books and blogs about minimalism. And then I see the pretty house, the new throw pillows, the cute belt, and my eyes get wide-eyed for something I think I’m missing. I know that stuff won’t fix my own holes of neediness. I know that a new outfit, or pair of shoes, or decorating scheme, or bigger house only digs my own sense of unbelonging deeper. There is always never enough when we operate out of scarcity. Likewise, I know (somewhere theoretically) that defining myself by lack — by how much I save, or how much I don’t buy, or how wise and resourceful I am — does not satisfy either. One time I tried to do that Marie Kondo method. (The idea is that if something doesn’t spark joy when you hold it in your hands you toss it.) I donated 8 trash bags full of clothes, accessories, and shoes. And then I was left with a few things, not all of which sparked joy — because, I needed to actually wear clothes, man. // I'm over at The Mudroom writing about the elusive search for the simple life. Do you have a hard time letting go of stuff? Please tell me I'm not alone in my crazy swing from one extreme to the other. I'd love for you to go to The Mudroom to read the whole thing.
At other places
Tasting Beauty in the Suburbs
May 10, 2016 at 6:00 am 0
I trust that even a short walk will show me God - Ashley Hales I live right in the middle of a master-planned community. It's not the place I thought I'd live. I imagined buildings with so much history, of stones that dripped with stories, and of mountains that left me in awe. Yet, here I am, several miles from the ocean and also miles from the home I was born to. This homecoming and carving out of place is something I'm still learning. Movement has crept into my blood and I'm learning what it looks like to begin to imagine staying put. But no matter if we live in country, city or suburb, we all have internal journeys. We're always moving. We're always telling ourselves new stories about who we are and where we are placed. Place has become the framework for my own story, illustrated by the subway sign in my living room with all the street names from all over the world I've lived on as a married woman. Sometimes our journeys need airplanes and sometimes they are quiet, 30-minute walks in our neighborhood so we can clear our heads and figure out what it means to be rooted -- wherever we are. This is the story of one such walk and how I'm often aching for the Kingdom of God and my body prays it out: // As I crest the hill, I strain for a faraway glance of the sea. But it is foggy and the chances of seeing a button-sized spot of blue is slim on the best of days, given our distance from the Pacific. So my suburban walking paths will have to do. Sometimes solitary walks are full of noticing and other times, my earbuds give my mind and spirit a bird's eye view of the mundane so that it is again clothed in holy mystery. Today, I’m listening to Frank Wilczek, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, who is talking about physics, space, and mathematical equations, but he’s using the language of beauty. I’m hooked when he starts talking about asking beautiful equations. He says if there is a creator, than he is an artist. I stop and sit on the edge of some loose gravel. This isn’t some tie-it-up-with-a-bow Christian rhetoric about God-as-Artist, this is a man who understands the operation of the universe in ways I can’t quite fathom, who says the universe is like cosmic jello. He’s making the complex accessible. He’s chasing beauty too. He gets at the heart of all my longings in one short sentence: “Having tasted beauty at the heart of the universe, we hunger for more.” I can’t help but turn to the language of scripture --- to all the injunctions to “taste and see” that the Lord is good, of story after story of Jesus feeding people, feasting with sinners, turning water into wine. I can’t get over the image of glory is a wedding banquet when we will finally be one with Beauty. But here and now, we are only left with hunger. We are left with noise. ...   Go on and read the rest over at The Mudroom. I'd love to know: what are you chasing?  // I'm sending out my monthly-ish newsletter soon. (I'd say monthly, but I'm not very organized, and that's so much pressure to get out good words every month. So it's monthly-ish, when I squeeze in a letter to my dear ones across the internet. I'll do my best though, because I love my readers). You get sneak peeks on book writing and all the good things I soak up that I want to pass on to you. So: sign up for your own little dose of beauty and attention in a world of noise. We all need it.