Theology of Home

On January 21st I spoke to the Women’s Council of Realtors in Canton, GA. This is an excerpt from the talk I gave there. This talk is deeply indebted to the work published in Beyond Homelessness by Bouma-Prediger and Walsh.

…Home, in any meaningful way, must have to do with place and not just location. A place where one can be oriented and re-oriented in a world of confusion, where one can find, maintain and remember their identity-who they are; where one can feel secure. A home, in this sense, is something more than a significant economic investment, it is an investment into how you want your life to be shaped.

The ways in which homes are designed and communities are built are not neutral. No doubt you are well aware of the life-shaping power of environment and neighborhoods and architecture. If we think about Scripture we know that God is very concerned with the details of His house. The direction things are to face, the symbolism that is to be used, the material put into the structures. How Israel shapes its environment is not just a reflection of who they are, it is shaping who they are to be. In our world of dislocation and disconnection I am glad to see that houses are again being built with front porches and neighborhoods with sidewalks. The design encourages us to be neighbors with the people in the neighborhood. The era that saw porchless houses and electric garage door openers, with all its convenience, became a drain on community. Houses that are built in such a way that the main family ritual, by design, is watching the television, where the dinner table is allocated to dust collector if there is one at all, where we can’t wait for the latest U-verse technology to come to our city so that we can watch even more TV and do it more efficiently; we are designing ourselves away from relationships. Design and technology can be anathema to community and home.

What a home does is it provides a boundary from where life can begin to unfold. I don’t mean boundaries that keep things out, but rather boundaries that mark the identity of someplace where one can find their orientation. This is why memory is so important to the idea of home. Real memories, ones that celebrate the joys of the past as well as the sorrows, have the ability to construct home by stoking the longing for belonging. Without memory, imagining future homecoming is impossible. The biblical story is constantly telling us to remember…to remember who we are, where we come from and where we are going. It is the consummate story of home, homemaking and homecoming. But the story is also full of the forgetfulness of God’s people who seem to always lose their way and home. Church on Sunday is, among other things, a place to constantly have our memories jogged. This is a real problem with a society that’s most obvious feature is displacing and dislocating persons and families. A displaced society tends to have boundaries that keep people out, rather than invite them in. A displaced society can’t help but be a forgetful people…

Community is necessary for home. If neighbors never meet on the sidewalk then the neighborhood will lack a sense of home. If there is no protection of the local landscape, no local coffee shops, grocery stores or restaurants then the neighborhood will lack a sense of home. Housing that only provides security from the elements but does not engender social, emotional and psychological security will lack a sense of home. Home includes gardens and parks and little league and churches. It is where families are raised, children are valued, the elderly are honored, and the vulnerable are attended to. Home is where you have some sense of investment in your communal identity and destiny…

And this is why homelessness is much more complex than housing and shelter. And this is why addressing homelessness are more challenging than the world would have us believe.

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