Monday, June 5, 2017

Where Do I Find My Home?

            I recently listened to Joe Sealy’s beautiful Jazz piece, “Africville Suite.” Sealy wrote it to commemorate how, in the early 1960s, the City of Halifax bulldozed the little village of Africville, home to his grandparents. Africville was a Black community some of whose citizens could trace their origins to British Empire loyalists fleeing the American Revolution. The government followed that up by breaking promises of aid and restitution for the displaced. Fifty years later, the City of Halifax finally apologized and offered some compensation. Sealy’s “River of Dreams,” in particular, is an anthem to the way his ancestors kept hope alive despite homelessness.
Sealy's album cover for Africville Suite.

            The tragic story of Africville got me to wondering, though. If houses can be torn down, and whole communities razed, and families and friends scattered to the four winds, where then, is home? And what is home, really?

            If you asked me ten or fifteen years ago, I’d have said my house was home. That house would have been a two-story red-brick Victorian on Seminole Road, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Irene and I raised our kids there. We have really good memories—the best—of living in our Seminole house. I even got Irene a painting of that house as a Christmas present this year. Eventually, though, the kids grew up and left. As emptynesters the house didn’t resonate with us in the same way it used to. Without the kids, it didn’t feel like home anymore. We moved on.

            Some say home is where the heart is. These days my heart longs for New Haven, in Connecticut or San Francisco, where my kids live now. But my heart only longs for them sometimes. Three or four days of kids is usually a cure. You see, after I visit them, as I did this past week, I realize that a happy visit is a cure for a lonely heart. We helped launch our kids, and we’re good with that, though we miss them sometimes. Besides, I don’t really want to live in the USA right now, anyway. So, maybe home isn’t always where the heart is.

            Perhaps home is where your head is at? The wisest place to make a home? The trouble with that is that we change our minds, or can’t make them up, or realize that there is more than one good answer to a question like, “where would I like to retire?” Maybe on a boat. Maybe near the kids. Maybe where we can afford housing. Maybe a combination of all the above.

            Maybe home is wherever mom—or dad, or both—is. I know that when I go visit my mom at Holland Christian Homes in Brampton, where she has a private apartment, something deep inside of me really relaxes and connects. My mother is always glad to see me. She always treats me like it’s my birthday. Still, I haven’t lived in my mother’s house since I was seventeen. I have never even stayed a single night at her Brampton apartment. So home definitely isn’t where my mom is.

            Could it be that home is where my stuff is? Probably not. When we moved to Manila just over ten years ago, we brought two favorite paintings along with us—to help us feel at home in a strange land. And, to be honest, those paintings did our hearts good. On the other hand, while we lived in the Philippines, most of our stuff was actually stored in an old chicken barn at Irene’s parents’ farm. So no, I’d say that home is not necessarily where our stuff is.

            I also toyed with the idea that home is a spiritual place. For example, maybe the church is our home. The civic leaders of Halifax, in the sixties, knew how important church was to the residents of Africville. Joe Sealy said that the church was the heart of Africville. That’s why the city sent in the bulldozers at night, unexpectedly, to destroy it. Getting rid of the church was supposed to squash Afriville in one fell symbolic swoop. But ultimately, home can’t be church, either. After all, not everyone goes to church, but that can’t mean they don’t have homes. So, whatever else a home is, it must ultimately be a secular place—one of God’s good creations for all his children, whether they are Jews or Muslims and Jain or nothing much at all.
Africville's church in the 1960s.

            So what’s a home? Theolonius Monk, the famous jazz musician and composer, once said something like, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Maybe coming up with a definition of home is like writing about music or dancing about architecture, both. It is hard to say what home really is.

Home is not where the heart is, home is probably not a house or a state of mind or the place you keep your stuff. And our church probably isn’t our home either.

Which got me to thinking about what Jesus might have said, about home. Ironically, scripture rarely mentions Jesus’s home. He lived an itinerant life, and he once said of himself, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

So, no traditional home for Jesus. But scripture often mentions that Jesus taught his disciples while walking down the road, with them and other friends. That road was Jesus’ “River of Hope,” and he followed it wherever it led, so long as it led him to all sorts of different people.  Lepers. The woman caught in adultery. Fishermen. A Samaritan woman. Tax collectors. Everyone Jesus met on his road through life was his neighbor.

Which suggests that if we asked Jesus where he was most at home I’m pretty sure Jesus would have said something like this.

“Home? Really? Home is wherever we have a neighbor to love.”


  1. I like Fred Buechner's musings on this in The Longing for Home: The meaning of home is twofold: the home we remember and the home we dream. As a word, it not only recalls the place that we grew up in and that had much to do with the people we eventually became, but also points ahead to the home that, in faith, we believe God's grace call us to build. (OK, I had to cheat with that last bit - the original says "in faith, we believe awaits us at life's end"!)

  2. I read that, years ago. He's a fine writer.


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