Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Homemaking God

“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.”

but then

“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?


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Wearing the Right Shoes for the Journey

510tVOHvy0LWhat a great read – Sensible Shoes: A Story About the Spiritual Journey by Sharon Garlough Brown.  In this novel I met  four women who attend a course at a local retreat center – a three month spiritual exploration of spiritual disciplines.  As you might expect, they all come for different reasons and from different backgrounds.  Woven into their lives over these months are new spiritual practices that the guide of this sacred journey, Katherine, shares and encourages them to experience as a way to draw closer to God.

  • Walking a labyrinth
  • Practicing lectio divina
  • Praying imaginatively
  • Working through the examen
  • Entering spiritual direction
  • Creating a rule of life

None of these women find it easy to slip into these new practices.  In fact they each fight some of disciplines as they encounter pain and discomfort.  Slowly they begin the process of clearing away brambles and roadblocks – both sin and circumstances – as they gain a greater awareness of God and walk along the transformed paths before them.  Over the months this group of women form an unlikely community that encourages one another through the pain of meeting hidden sins and the joy of removing years of masks.

I was drawn to enter the lives of these women – a pastor, mother, graduate student,  widow – caring for them as they address their grief and guilt together.  Though I have read about and practice many of these disciplines,  it was compelling to see these disciplines not in the abstract, but in the mess of life. Over the years I have wanted to practice being more attentive to God through these tools, but they have so easily become one more thing to check off my daily or weekly task list.  Seeing them in action in community provided a new perspective in relation to my own spiritual practices and writing.

With regard to spiritual practices I want to dive back into some of these disciplines, but this time with others.  If I’m honest, my lone wolf MO really doesn’t work very often.  It leads to one-sided views of the world and a smaller self as I attempt to perfectly practice these disciplines.  I want to ‘get it’ and go on.  As I entered this narrative, I entered the lives of women who were also trying to go it alone, and failing.  Hannah and Charissa, who are so eager to be perfect and hide behind masks of spirituality, reflected part of myself back to me.  Yet, they didn’t stay stuck.  New people in their lives and time away from their normal ways of working helped God to break through – Charissa with her scholarly perfection and Hannah with her productive ministry.

Oh, to be in a group that encourages and challenges me in a new way.  A group that helps be fall into the arms of the Beloved – Jesus Christ.  It wouldn’t be bad, either, if a single, male professor came on the scene to sweep me away – or for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to be the next step.  But also the simple practices of sharing coffee and spending time with others is something for which I yearn.  I would love to step into or even gather a group like this. But I’m not sure how to get it started this when I myself am fearful of breaking down.  This is when ideas from pilgrimages meet the road of practice.  In these places and times when we are between known places and times (liminality), relationships take on new and deeper meaning (communitas).

Also, this book opens up some new ways of thinking about my writing – especially this book on literary pilgrimage.  Narrative already surrounds the draft of an exploration into the writings and places of three authors.  But the practices of pilgrimage and spiritual disciplines are not always clear or present in the work.  As I was reading Sensible Shoes, I wondered what about this writing on journey, place, literature, and faith can become more personal, can draw people into a practice, can reflect on Christ?  The pieces are there, but it’s time to open up more.  Now doubt it will require some blood-letting on my part.  I’ve been trying to be so safe.  But, maybe that’s the problem.

Fears, like the fears each of the women in this novel face, and that I again see that I face, keep us away from the life God has in store. Yet, into this fear God speaks his words of comfort to not be afraid and that he is with us.  Garlough Brown’s adventure, along which she invites readers to journey, provides a view into how God speaks into our lives, especially in their brokenness.  Now it’s time to put on the sensible shoes of life, listening to God more closely and walking along his way.

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The Way of Literature

“Language does change our world.  It does make possible what we think and how we think it.  This is one vital reason to read and study literature, rather than merely to apply its strategies.” Marjorie Garber, The Use and Abuse of Literature

Much hand-wringing has been going on for years about the future of humanities, including literature, in the academy.  As a person on the outside looking in, I sense this frustration and would love to enter the fray, not because of the academic intrigue, but because the essence of literature may be a way to break through some of the staid thinking on college campuses. Instead of the ubiquitous bullet points and business models that can obscure the soul of the university, literature, with the complexity inherent in both narrative and poetic forms, can bring a new perspective to a student’s understanding of education.  Or, in other words, literature can bring a renewed process of critical thinking outside of the usual methods that employ models – since models don’t always pick up the nuances of life.

Marjorie Garber in her book The Use and Abuse of Literature ventures into the why of studying literature and examines reasons that it should return to the center of the academy instead of remaining on the margins (so says the jacket cover).  Her arguments focus on literature as a tool not to define meaning or settle a question, but in showing a way through questions and research.

“Literary interpretation, like literature, does not seek answers or closure.  A multiplicity of persuasive and well-argued “meanings” does not mean the death or loss of meaning, but rather the living presence of the literary work in culture, society, and the individual creative imagination.  To say that closure is impossible is to acknowledge the richness and fecundity of both the reading and the writing process.

The use of literature begins here.” (283)

Even though Garber speaks of the possibilities of literature, she also is attuned to the ways it as been abused.  Like so many things in our world of efficiency worship, literature has been reduced so that it’s often ineffective and useless.  In studying it we tear it apart, remove it from general education requirements, or ride on the wave of popular movies to draw students to classes.  In this process literature is debased, seen as something less than it is, and rightly marginalized.

However, even as universities seem to be moving toward efficient and practical means to prepare students to be productive elements of an economic system, there is also a growing desire to address some of the larger questions of life within a student’s career.   What is the importance of learning?  What are the meta narratives that drive our lives?  Why do I need to earn money (or why do I need the stuff I will buy with the money)?  What are the questions in society’s margins?   The tools of literature can provide a path into these questions.  Though it may be risky.

Maybe this is what draws me and others to literature – its attempt to ask and respond to the large questions of life, and not reducing them to a bulleted list.  A plot does not a story – or literature – make.  There is so much more within the language, the meaning, the reading.   Literary study looks at the way of meaning, how do the words, the images, the style, the structure draw readers through a way, not only at the what and they why.

Still, it is easy to want to derive a meaning for a given piece of literature and be done with it.  To show an answer.  To distill it into something that one can easily hold.   But if I look back at my experiences, it was the process of reading and encountering the work that made the difference.  Not knowing the ending of the book, but being part of the narrative.

Literature’s essence is in the experience of reader and words of an author coming together at a specific place and time.  Just like we can’t often neatly break down our lives, we can’t neatly break down a narrative without losing something in the process.   Even though students may want to compartmentalize their lives and find the most efficient way to land a job through a linear path of college course, the complexity of narrative analysis can help them see and interact with the other questions that frame decisions about a future career.

I’m eager to see how literature, and other fields in humanities, can change the world as they seek not to fit into the scientific and business models, but to engage them in conversation and more fully explore the narratives alive on college campuses todays.

[Just an aside – exploring the way things mean, at least expressed in this manner, is something that is so vital in biblical criticism as well.  Meaning is not merely a set of beliefs to hold – it’s a way of living.  God  brings us along this way – the Way – through the narrative set out in scripture and in our lives.]

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