When I left the church in which I was raised, I sat down with the pastor and told him why I was leaving. I did not lay out my laundry list of comeuppances, but simply said that we were headed in two totally different directions. He was kind enough to share from his own life how he he left the congregation in which he grew up because he felt stifled, only to eventually return after College. But, before we prayed and committed each other to prayer, he said something that surprised and angered me, “Don’t be shocked if you end up back home.”
I was a Junior in High School at the time. I had what I think was my calling experience a few months before this conversation. Several in the church (including the pastor) were exceptionally supportive of this, believing that it was an authentic call from God. The people who had known me since the age of four, were present at my baptism and who had supported me for my entire life believed I was called to the ministry! He even began to talk excitedly with me about seminaries and bible colleges.
A few weeks later, I had another experience. This time it was befuddling and rapturous, as I experienced what the Mystics call ecstasy. This all happened when I was alone but things like this simply did not happen in the tradition in which I was raised; therefore, I didn’t have a context or an understanding of it. So, I talked about it with those who had been so supportive of me. Needless to say, their reaction immediately cooled. Over the period of the next few months, some even passive-aggressively helped me to find the the door and make good use of it. I eventually did.
Don’t be shocked if you end up back home! I immediately hated it, as those words began to follow me like the lengthy shadows of evening, haunting my every step with lies of manufactured peace and illusions of safety. Would I be the long-lost prodigal, who after experimenting with the wiles of Christian Spirituality and Mysticism, return home with his tail between his legs a few years later? The pastor would proclaim triumphantly on my return, “Kill the fatted calf!”, yet whisper in my ear the entire time, “I told you so!”
What is home, anyway? If I am not careful, I think of home as a place, just as the pastor meant it. Home is that balcony-ed sanctuary, those familiar hymns in 6/8 time or the thin, gilt-edged pages practically dripping with yellow highlighter marks. Or that home is a potluck lunch in a cavernous fellowship hall, bible studies throughout the week and summer VBS with games in the parking lot. He seemed so sure at our little meeting that I would be back to that home and as much as I get passing nostalgia for all these things, I can never return to this home.
But home is much more than just a place. If I’m not careful, those comfortable, safe ideas about the Divine become home. Those doctrinal ghettos born out of this generation, where I can lift up my Bible and say “This is my Bible, I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have.” Home, if I’m not careful, is a place of exclusion of the spiritual-haves and the spiritual-have-nots. Home is a place of great fear of the outsider and the-outsider-within-ourselves. As well-intentioned as it is, home can be a place of comfortable ignorance and spiritual complacency.
As much as I yearn for such a faith as I once had, for straightforward, self-evident belief that was good enough for Paul and Silas, I know that I cannot return to that home of belief, either. It is not just because I know bigger words now or now have a broader concept of history. No, I cannot return to this home, because I have lived enough to know that that this kind of faith is of little use to you when you’re in the sty, eating pig’s pods. I cannot return to this home, because if I’ve learned anything in these eight years since that conversation with the Pastor, it is that Our Lord is a Mystery who is meant to be followed, not an idea for whom to build a house. He is outside my comfortable home of easy beliefs, calling me out into the streets. I must follow Him.
I am homeless with my Lord, as you are, too (even if you don’t realize it!). I am trying to set my heart on the pilgrim’s way, replete with vain attempts to forsake all things, all ideas and all others for God. I try to follow the God who calls me in spite of myself. I am looking for “the City of God that already riseth fair” on the horizon. I am trying not to coerce the Divine work in my life into something I can understand. I am trying to busy my hands for those in the streets – who know they have no homes to call their own – working to show that in breaking of the Kingdom of God into our own day and age.
When the wandering days of this doubtful wayfarer are finally over, I hope to come to that true home. As Isaac Watts put it in one of my favorite hymns, “There would I find a settled rest, / While others go and come; / No more a stranger, nor a guest, / But like a child at home.” And, much like a carefree child, I will run to that banquet. I will look like a bride adorned for her husband. I will smile and probably sing all the old songs on my way. Hell, I might even skip.
When I pull my chair at that table, Providence will have me sitting next to that pastor who doubted the work of God in my life. We’ll both look at each other, equally shocked at the proximity to each other’s presence there. I did end up back home, but not to the home of his or my making. We ended up at that home that was prepared for us from before time. And, perhaps, we will remember the things we did and said. We will remember them and then, we will share a good and hearty laugh.We will laugh for a long time.
And, I am still a Christian because of that laugh of the world-to-come, the laugh of the world without end.
I have faith in that laugh.
(Note: This was originally posted on the group blog, Slaying the Jabberwock in September of 2010. Led by my friend, MW, it was a group of former-Evangelicals who detailed why they were still Christians but no longer Evangelicals. This was my contribution to the conversation.)