Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Home

Although my family lived in two different apartments for the first two years of my life, and although we lived in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England from when I was 3 til I was 6, the earliest firm memories that I have associated with the term "home" are of our row house in Woodlawn, Maryland, about 3 blocks away from the official city, where we lived for a little before England and then afterwards until October 2002, my 10th grade year. Despite being residents of Woodlawn, though maybe the Post Office was confused about this, we always wished we lived at least in Catonsville just to the south, home of a lower crime rate, or, better yet, Howard County, the next county to the south-west of Baltimore County. Howard County contains Ellicott City and Elkridge, where my Mom lived during her High School years, and thus my gradnmother's house; as well as Columbia Presbyterian Church, in Columbia, and thus the majority of our closest friends. We tried to move away for years, but it never really came together until 2002, when we ended up in a single-family home in the southern end of Columbia, right in the very midst of some of the people we had been friends with since before even England. Despite having wanted to leave Woodlawn for years, I distinctly remember sitting alone in the tiny room I had called my own since sometime in middle school, still painted a pastel yellow from when my sister, Elizabeth, picked its color at a very young age, and, on the day of our moving out, crying.

After we moved out, we lived with our friends, the Springs, for a week, waiting for the contract on our new house to be finalized. This sticks in my mind as an incredible act of love and hospitality, allowing a second family to share their home with them for a week, and a really good example of how Christians ought to treat each other.

Then we moved to Columbia, as I said, where my family still resides to this day. This was where I first became really aware of my issues with comfort in new situations. When I first arrived at Atholton High School, as well as at my simultaneous introduction to NavYouth, a Christian youth group and High School ministry of The Navigators in Columbia, I was very quiet. Three years later, by the time of my High School Graduation, this was not nearly as true, and I was generally a much friendlier person for it. I guess it took a long time, but I had become a lot more comfortable in Columbia.

In August of 2005, I became a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), living in Patapsco Hall, among a lot of people I had never met. Though incredibly near to the familiar places of my youth, it was still assuredly a place I had never been before, and I found myself, for the most part, just as quiet and seemingly unfriendly as when I moved to Columbia. It took me a year and a half, or thereabouts, to find myself comfortable, talkative and at home at UMBC.

This summer, I am a Summer Camp Counselor at Ligonier Camp & Conference Center, in the Ligonier Valley, 40 miles east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I remember, just 5 weeks ago, moving into a cabin in a place I had never been before, among people I had never met, and being very quiet. This past Saturday, at the Staff Say-So, a time, after the kids leave, for the Staff to stand up and tell stories about the past week, I told about a revelation I had had concerning my attitude and the nature of what we do here, and a lot of other things. I had this realization while sitting on the toilet, so I made sure to tell them this, and that that place is where I get some of my best thinking done. This was the Next Level Counselor's final week here, Next Level being a semi-simultaneous camp run out of the Lodge, and later someone told me that that was how the Next Level crew would remember me, as talking about the toilet. Though I'm not sure this is true, as I hung out with them several times, I realized I wouldn't be disappointed if this turned out to be the case. My standing and telling them story in such as fashion is a pretty good indicator that I am comfortable here. But unlike UMBC, I am not sure I would call this "home".

Living as a Counselor here means that I'll only have slept in Columbia, Maryland for 12 nights this summer, if my count is accurate. Though many of my possessions still reside there, it becomes increasingly difficult to think of it as home. The dishes aren't even kept in the same places anymore, making it incredibly frustrating any time I am asked to help unstack the dishwasher. When the few other staff from Maryland ask where I'm from, I tell them that I grew up in Woodlawn, my parents live in Columbia, and I live at UMBC most of the year. Sometimes I feel like a nomad, like Abraham, other times I feel a permanent resident of a college campus. The latter is clearly not true, as my approaching graduation will no doubt reveal. American Christians have been known to affix trite bumper stickers to their cars, warning you that the rapture will severely impede traffic, or that their home is a mysterious place called "heaven". While I think the theology behind the first is wrong, the second is a lot truer. We, as Christians, are told to live as foreigners in this world, in it but not of it, something like Israel those 40 years in the Wilderness. While I suspect the more accurate term for our proper dwelling place is the New Jerusalem, while will descend from Heaven (the third one, if we go with the old and wrong understanding of celestial spheres which Paul held) onto the New Earth, this is not of much importance. Why is this place, which I suppose Jesus is preparing right now, and has been for some time it would seem, to which I have never been, my home?

One of the reasons I am able to think of UMBC as home is because it contains a sizable collection of people I know well and love, who have become something like family to me. I have only known many of them for two years, three at the most, yet it feels like much longer, and I will be grieved at the parting of our ways.

That which chiefly holds me back from calling Ligonier home is familiarity. Despite being on staff for several weeks, there are many places on Property to which I have never been, and simply so many things which I do not know. Maybe this will change by the end of the summer, and though I can walk around to many places in teh dark of night, it still carries that air of unfamiliarity which repulses the name "home".

The issue of why it becomes increasingly difficult to refer to the home of my parents as "home" is a tricky one. Are there not people whom I know well and love? There are: my family. Is it not familiar? Admittedly less and less so, as the example of my mother rearranging the kitchen cabinets demonstrates, but it is still no foreign land. I think, instead, that the difficulty arises in the amount of time I actually live there each year, a decreasing number to be sure, and the amount of time that I anticipate living there in the future. A few days after Camp but before School, Winter Break, Spring Break, and then I graduate, shortly after which I really ought to depart.

These three, then, may reveal just how I can call heaven (or the New Jerusalem, rather) my home. The place will be packed full of those whom I know and love, for we are all grafted into one vine, adopted into one family, heirs of the King, our Great and Glorious Father. It will be familiar, I believe, as God will make all things new, the world free of sin, how it ought to be. Lastly, the days we will live there are countless, and not just because it becomes difficult to count days when there is no more night, thanks to the light of the Lord God dwelling among his people.

Let me tell you, "home" is a tricky and meaningful term.

3 comments:

Alex said...

First, the previous commenter is nuts. Check out his site!

I very much relate to you; I left my parents' home at 17, and I'm not going to be in a place that's properly my home for at least another couple of years, and probably not for longer.

Yesterday, to you, I recommended Evil and the Justice of God, by N. T. Wright. In reference to these home days, maybe check out Wright's new book, Surprised by Hope? I've not read it yet, but I've heard him talk for like 6 hours. His big idea about this is, and I quote, "Heaven is a big deal, but it's not the end of the world."

I disagree, gently, with the notion that heaven is our home and that this world isn't, primarily because this idea is formulated in a gnostic way: eschewing the material in favor of the spiritual.
The new heaven and the new earth are our eternal homes, surely. We need to get, though, that it's not the case that heaven is our home because it's spiritual, and this world is not because it isn't. Rather, what makes the new heaven and the new earth our home, and you point this out well, is that then and there, things will be as they ought.

A couple of summers ago, I was a groomsman in a wedding, but it didn't feel so much like a wedding as a family reunion, which was odd, because I wasn't related to anyone there. The day after the wedding, I hung out with a bunch of Brazilians, Canadians (French and otherwise), some Hispanics, and some white people like me, the only common points were that we knew the newlyweds, and we love Jesus. At supper, four languages were spoken, and, of those, I only know English and a little Spanish. As we munched on dessert, I yo-yoed, and shared my yo-yo with an Argentinian and a Brazilian. We laughed, and understood each other, although I couldn't understand their words. I felt at home.

Arathon said...

To totally underwhelm, after Alex's awesome post, which, true to form, had me worried for a second, before I understood where he was going, and to add more commas to an already overly-commaed sentence, would you mind terribly telling me a bit about why you lived in England?

Matthew said...

the link is fixed now. thanks!