Last week I left LA on two different trips: the first to Washington DC and the second to Wisconsin. The first was a combination of business and pleasure, the second, although a trip home, was mostly work. The primary purpose was to help my mom move out of her house. Lots of boxes, loading and unloading, backing up the moving truck, and more boxes.
I’ve caught myself saying, or at least thinking, that home is the people I’m around. Home is friends gathered around a table. I talk about Wisconsin as “home” – but I’ve also come to see Los Angeles as home. Our house on Kenmore is home. My wife is home. Our housemates are also home. On accident, a few times, I’ve called my office desk home.
It’s easy to say that home is wherever you are with the people you love. But, especially these days, the people we love are also spread out all over the place. So, I wonder if home is thinner than it used to be.
I have a thing for place. It’s really important. There is an element of stability, I’ve found, that cannot exist with a nomadic lifestyle. Rootedness allows for growth, and rootedness happens when you are not always uprooting yourself.
This past weekend, I had to say goodbye to a place – to one of the houses I grew up in, and the land it sits on. I wasn’t born on the land, but I’ve spent a lot of time there. For 25 years I roamed that property in two different houses. The trees. The clouds. The fields. The apple orchard. The grassy hills. The dark rural night sky. And the stars and the countless conversations that formed and shaped me while sitting outside with friends gazing upwwards.
A place is important. Being present and finding home in a place is, I think, a central piece of what it means to be a relational human creature.
But I also realize that the Christian tradition holds up place and land in an odd tension.
Throughout the Hebrew Bible, land is a gift – the gift, the promise, a grace offered to an undeserving people. In the Hebrew language, the word for ground (adamah) is nearly identical to the name of the first human (adam). Agrarian-Poet/Theologian Wendell Berry writes about this interconnectedness we have with the land – “you cannot save the land apart from the people, to save either you must save both.”
And yet “my father was a wandering Aramean.” Abraham was called out of Ur, the place that he called home. Jesus was a prophet without honor in his hometown. A God on the move – on mission – calls forth a missionary people who are “aliens and strangers” to this place we live.
There’s an innate tension present when talking about land. I’m not mourning, angry, or confused about saying goodbye to the land I grew up on, but it’s an odd experience – closing the door, walking off the porch, and driving away for the last time. There’s a tension there that is difficult to resolve.
So, goodbye house. Goodbye land. Home will always be a little bit different from now on.