“The home is creation redeemed and transfigured, a place of grace that is inhabited by an indwelling God of unfathomable love.” Beyond Homelessness
What is it to see the Bible through the lens of home? Not some sanitized view of a 21st century suburban two-story house, but a compassionate view of God’s deep yearning for a place for his creation, his people. This is the essence of Steven Bouma-Prediger’s and Brian J. Walsh’s book, Beyond Homeless: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement.
Though the authors do speak to the most familiar definition of homelessness – not having a physical, stable shelter in which to live – they also expand what it means to be homeless. Someone who has lived in a house, or series of houses, their entire life, but without a sense of place or connection to these spaces, can be described as being without a home. Furthermore, destruction and abuse of the earth’s environment is another type of home breaking. In their discussion of this larger view of homelessness the authors explore a variety of socio-economic, ecological, and postmodern issues. Brokenness surrounds and infuses each of these perspectives and we see so many ways in which people and creation are displaced from that which God desires for us.
However, this book is not merely one more honest look at how our world is broken. No, this book also explores God’s story through the eyes of homelessness. Throughout the observations and arguments about homelessness, Bouma-Prediger and Walsh weave God’s story. Starting with God’s creation of the ultimate home – to the brokenness that arises from people tearing this home apart – to God’s seeking to bring people back to a flourishing understanding of home – and ultimately to the new home that will be created when Christ returns, we are led into a dialogue between God’s Word (that living, acting word) and the world today.
This dialogue begins with the exuberant creation of the earth – exploding Genesis 1 and 2 into a symphony of joyous creation.
“It all began with joy.
In the beginning was joy,
pure, holy, ecstatic, life-giving, celebrator joy!
. . .
In the extravagance of love,
in an unspeakable generosity.
God had created a home,
a world of homemaking,
a world of care and affection.”
“this world of blessed homemaking fell into a cursed homebreaking”
As I was drawn into this conversation I saw more intimately the connection of God’s story with this ever present social issue. More importantly, it became more than another issue to address. Assumptions and stereotypes that I held were made starkly clear to me. Homelessness is not something we can just fix with enough money, education, and buildings. Neither is it a problem limited to certain groups of people or geographic locations. A deep reality of displacement – from one another, creation, and, ultimately God – is a fundamental consequence of sin.
Caught up in the text, I also became aware of the safe, comfort of home to which I cling. A comfort that ignores the homelessness of others – and also of myself. It’s quite easy to wrap myself up in the security that a physical structure and close family provides. Furniture, insurance, IRA, family gatherings, all speak of a home, a safe place for the rest of my life. Yet, if I look deeply, its very safety provides a sense of displacement from the community around, and often even within, its walls.
Into this conversation the authors don’t bring a modern, multi-step answer to the problem. Do this and people will no longer be homeless. Instead they explore hope in juxtaposition to the brokenness. The hope that God promises. Through the practice of Jubilee, the experience of Exodus, the very act of Creation and the rest of Sabbath, we have sign posts to the home that God desires for us. These are home-looking celebrations and memories that are focused on the true meaning of home, not a mere buildings.
Furthermore, they bring us into Jesus’ mission to draw people out of homelessness. “Much depends on dinner” as Jesus enters homes to share in the meals of ‘sinners’ and feeds thousands of people by simply thanking the Father. He tells stories of feasts where the invited guests don’t arrive and others must be invited. Who comes to the meals, who is invited, who is excluded, what is served? All these questions provide a view into Jesus’ way. A way that is open to all people now. A way not popular with those in power, who already think they have homes and need to protect them. This new feast breaks into the lives of people to show that the homes they have created are only a poor substitute for what God desires.
These stories bear witness to the hope God provides and that we can then share with others. Responding to this book is difficult. There is so much to be done. Yet, the authors remind us that “artists do not create hope; rather, they bear witness to hope” (317). As sojourners on this planet we can share this hope – bringing others into the yearning for the true home and seeking to live in the shalom that God provides even now.
What does your home look like? Where are you heading – towards a narrow definition of the 21st century good, safe life – or the fullness of the the homemaking God?