My AMAZING Summer Bookgroup is going through the 12 marks of a New Monasticism, not necessarily in order, so now, week two, we did Mark 1: “Relocation to the abandoned places of empire.”
I must report that we brought up good and deep issues about defining “abandoned places.” Deserts are abandoned. The Gulf beaches are getting abandoned. Detroit is getting to be a certain sort of abandoned (and I can’t wait to see this place for myself in 2 weeks!) But a lot of Christians like to assume that most of the developing world is abandoned, and that slums are abandoned, to which I say that they may be a desert in that they are dry of wealth & power & white people, but these are inhabited deserts. Relocating yourself into someone else’s community and culture is a radically different kind of endeavor. If the GTU has taught us anything it’s that cultural sensitivity is paramount!
Leaving that brilliant conversation aside, I want to reflect a bit on relocation itself. Yes I’ve blogged on this before – but it just won’t go away! I just said goodbye to many of my classmates who graduated on schedule, a year (ish...) before I will. This is partly because I really like studying the Bible and partly because I just hate leaving.
Curses on the rule of Greek grammar that takes an innocent participle, apparently “as you are going, therefore, make disciples...” and quite legitimately re-translates Matthew 28:19 “GO!” We Christians like to repeat this command a lot, way more than the “give all you own to the poor” command, because, hey, going lots of places is adventurous, thrilling, kinda sexy, and usually entails all the right kinds of personal challenges which one can overcome & grow & become a Better Person, and tell good stories about it later.
I know this because I do it all the time. If you don’t count this one month of travel, by the time I leave for Uganda next summer I may have stayed in one place for 18 months, which is basically a world record. I’m always on the go. I march around the globe with a certain U2 song stuck in my head, looking for God or something, and since I stiiiiiii-ill haven’t found (sing along!) that sense of radical completeness and wholeness that God will give me someday (but maybe not in this life) I keep going, moving, looking for another divine Call.
But recently something shifted in me. It started last spring break when midway through a roadtrip I realized I wanted to be staycationing instead, and the same sense gnaws at me this very moment, on Amtrak, headed for weeks of journeying which makes my friends “tired just thinking about it!” I wonder if I wouldn’t rather be staying put for once. Last weekend I went to an amazing Sea Chantey Sing on a tall ship in SF, and after singing my first chantey was greeted by “where are you from? Welcome home!” and my heart leapt up a little but it also hesitated... remembering all the other times I’ve heard “Welcome home!” in the places I sent myself, from Binghamton to Glenkirk, Prague, Uganda, Lostine (whoops... Lostine... there goes my heart again)... and never yet have I actually Stayed.
Partly I blame the Bible. There is quite frankly a lot of it that functions to disturb, uproot, and dis-locate us. Take it seriously, and you have to question everything. It messes your life up; it sends you wandering.
It’s hard to belong to a kingdom not of this world, and be at home in a place not made by hands.
But in my new quest for stability and grounding, I can take in some Bible to strengthen that too. Ecclesiastes 3 says that there is a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together. I can gather to myself the stones of silence, simplicity, prayer, stones for community, for long relationships, for simplicity and love and mutual interdependencies. Lots of stones for the psalms, especially ps27 & 84. A pile of stones stacks up if you look at the stories behind the Bible texts, especially at scholarly descriptions of the symbiosis in the early Christian communities, between traveling apostles and stable house-church bases. Two groups would feed and support one other, both materially and spiritually. Not all good Christians would hit the road.
Piling up these stones, maybe they’ll actually build me a house. I hope it’s not too large a structure, and pray dearly that I don’t make it a fortress to hide in or a temple to idolize. Just a little resting place where I can center, balance, receive, and be nourished. I’m asking God for temporary reprieve from that dissatisfied relocating. Asking instead to help me stay one place, and truly be in one place, and make the most of it.