Homeward Bound

“Go. The world awaits.”

This has become the dominant narrative for Christian leaders trying to inspire young people. Just flip through the advertisements in a magazine like RELEVANT, whose primary audience is 18-29 year old Christians.

Since this is a dominant narrative in the broader culture, it’s also a great way to sell your product, be that a college education, a social good enterprise, or simply a story.

“Go. The world awaits.”

My fear is that this narrative can do three unhelpful things as it relates to the Gospel as I see it:

First, it provides justification for abandoning those closest to you for the possibility of something great. Loving the “nameless needy” is much easier than loving my 5 year old who insists on not wearing a pull-up but then still pees the bed at least 3 times a week. Being generous and loving to a stranger in a 3rd world country is, for me at least, much easier emotionally and spiritually, than engaging in a healthy conflict with my neighbor when he tells me that my kid’s chalk-art makes the neighborhood look trashy. But the Gospel is about incarnation, that is, diving deeply into the present time and present place. Jesus wasn’t a world-traveler and to be frank, he didn’t go change the world. He was a Jew who lived in a small village and taught the people who were there. No products, no grand vision that required him to abandon the insignificant location he found himself in.

This leads to my second concern, that by not rooting ourselves in a particular location for a long period of time, we can easily escape the hard internal work we need to be doing on ourselves. That is to say, it’s easy to be distracted by the flashing lights of new external environments to the point that I neglect my internal development. In a new context, there are plenty of things to keep me busy: get to know people, places, cultural trends, etc. In the midst of this excitement, personal spiritual disciplines are harder to focus and develop.

And finally, this narrative that the greatest things in our lives happen “out there,” is what Zizek (after Lacan) would call an “objet petite a,” it’s like searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If it’s always “out there” then it’s never, by definition, “right here.” There is always a place that better fits you and your dreams than where you are. And that seems related to number one above, but also seems irrational as a story that we live our lives by. It leads to us finally “giving up” and “settling” somewhere because the story that great things happen “out there” is, by definition, a story that can only stop but never be resolved.

These thoughts began last summer as my friend Caleb told me that he asked his parents for forgiveness. He went to them to apologize for buying into the idea that the Gospel inherently involved “going,” with no option of “staying.” He apologized for leaving his hometown simply because “that’s what you do if you want to make an impact.”

So this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t move or that there aren’t locations that are better fits for us and how we pursue a Kingdom life. It’s just the beginning of a conversation. About staying home to do great things for God. About committing to our hometowns to find ourselves. About learning what it means to be connected to places like Jesus seemed to be.

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6 responses to “Homeward Bound

  1. Love this. One of my concerns about some churches I have attended is the focus on overseas missions above community involvement. I think there’s something wrong with sending people overseas but locking the church doors at home, raising money for far away but putting none into the local community, reaching someone halfway around the world but not giving a second glance to the stranger you pass by. I also think its wrong to ask for more tithes when the pastor lives better than the people of the congregation who can barely get by week to week, but that’s an entirely different can of worms.

    The guise of spiritual direction and the use of God seems especially devious to me where Christian businesses/colleges are involved, because it can be easy to manipulate people when you tell them God is behind it, and what these places really want is your money. It’s no different than any other company that promises something they can’t really deliver on (happiness, etc) except it’s even more deplorable because of the God card. It seems weightier to say no to these things.

  2. This is FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC.

    So well thought-out and well-said. My old pastor gave a sermon once on Jonah, using it to remind us that God often calls people to PLACE, not position. God has a heart for people, communities, locations and cities. It was one of the most convicting messages I’d ever heard, especially with the vagabond narrative that kept me from staying anywhere for more than two years =)

    I think the Gospel can mean going OR staying, but no matter what, I think it always means making home. Somehow. Someway. It means that as members of the Family, we cultivate home, stability, relationships, deep knowing and deep loving. It means we all pull our chairs around the Table together. It means my greatest work is not about ME, but about US.

    Seriously. This is fantastic.

  3. Ironically, I think some of the draw to “going” somewhere is actually a draw towards community. Rarely does anyone “go” anywhere alone. Usually, there is a team – a really close-knit sort of intentional community team that goes somewhere together to make a difference. It is that it is so hard to find teammates “where you are” because the “really passionate people” who are ready to sacrifice things to have “real community” are going elsewhere -so to have community,you go with them…and you hope to find people in somewhat communal cultures to build more community with you.

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