Tuesday, June 29, 2010

when home is a pain: church being in exile?

“I yearn for home” is a line by Pádraig Ó Tuama from the Ikon Dubh album. Hearing it today is a reminder of pain, of the profound disorientation that’s taken place in my understanding of home, caused by the move from New Zealand to Australia. Home used to be a place of comfort, of acceptance, of belonging, found among my previous Opawa church community with creative, intelligent, relational companions, found seated at our South Island holiday home, with those broad vistas to lake and mountains.

But by coming to Australia, the Taylor family has been forced away from home. We believe it’s the call of God, asking us to leave home.  So now the concept of home is simply a pain, a reminder both of isolation and distance, and of obedience. And part of me fights against ever wanting to call this Australian land home!

I think, intuitively this is actually really helpful. You see, isn’t there a danger of home being domesticated around what is familiar and comfortable. I was struck by this when reading Luke 19:1-10 recently, and realising that Jesus does mission not in his home, but in the home of Zacchues. Incarnational mission in this text was not about being comfortable, but about being in someone else’s home, seated at another’s table. It’s meant to be uncomfortable and alien.

Pádraig Ó Tuama has another song, Maranatha, in which he sings “I found my home in Babylon.” Like all good poetry, it’s fascinatlng, subversive, shifting, shoving home in yet another direction. Take the word “Babylon.” In the Old Testament, Babylon is:

  • the Babylon of punishment to which Israel are sent
  • the Babylon of “stay there, eating and drinking ie Incarnational dwelling, in Jeremiah 29.
  • the Babylon of comfort, where life was easy and pleasurable, compared to the hard work of returning from exile to rebuild Jerusalem.

So “Babylon”, and the notion of God’s pilgrim people as being in exile changes! It can stand for punishment, for radical Incarnational mission, or for consumerist pleasure which avoids the hard work of reconstruction.

Same with home. Reflecting on my experiences of the last few months, home

  • can be the place where you are fully known and welcome
  • can a place you are called from, and have to leave in radical obedience
  • can be the place you feel a stranger, accented, out of place, an unwelcome intrusion
  • can be the place in which another, your stranger, finds radical discipleship

I’m not sure why I’m writing this. Perhaps proving that blogging really is indulgent sentamentalising therapy. Or perhaps because I’m speaking in Tasmania in August and the theme “your place…..or mine?” has really got me thinking about home and mission. Or perhaps because one of the learnings/gifts of being displaced from New Zealand to Australia is the opening up of new angles and vistas. Or perhaps  because there is a lot of talk about the church in the West needing to be the church in exile. But Israel in exile covered hundreds of years. “One of the dangers … is the difficulty of advocating any static model that represents the exilic model for Christian communal life in all contexts.” (Biblical Theology of Exile, 194). All of which suggests that theological concepts of “home” and “exile” are complex.

Does that turn something easy (love of God and love of neighbour) into something hard? Or does it honour the richness of human life experience and the diversity of mission resources found in the Christian Scriptures? And make Christianity able to connect with the millions of displaced – who “yearn for home” and need to find authentic faith in the shifting sands of Babylon.

Posted by steve at 05:26 PM


  1. Hi Steve, this is interesting (or indulgent sentamentalising therapy). I left “home” at 18 (Chch) to go find myself (Kapiti), or actually, to build a life that was separate and ‘other’ which at that age was important to me, in terms of identity.

    Later, when I had kids, like 16 years later, i returned, because family was important and I wanted my kids to know their grandparents and aunts and uncles. Like Dylan says, “we can’t know who we are until we look back and seen where we been” (or something like that). And so, maybe its true, that “home is where the heart is,” which for most of us is where family is.

    Except, that half my family up and moved to Perth and left us behind. Geography is great, but it can also hurt. After all, God promised his people some specific dirt, so I can’t help believe it is important. “God planted a garden in the East and put the man there.” Sin pushed him out. Dislocation, foreign-ness, ‘other.’ Cain said, “I cannot bear it….I will be away from the place of your Presence.”

    I feel like a sojourner in life, because I’m at odds with the culture of life all around me, living, breathing at odds with the very source of its breath, and that grates with my spiritual insides. I weep by the rivers of Babylon. I’m never truly “home.”

    Geography is important to me, but less so. I see now that the Kingdom exists – my real home – in how I am, towards others, in their geography, my ability to let go of my stuff, and be in theirs. Sacrifice, forgiveness, turning others cheeks, all those cliches.

    The cool thing, is a piece of geography has broken off from heaven and walks with me everywhere I go, or am. Jesus, his hand in mine. That’s all the geography I need. But I still weep by the rivers of Babylon. That’s ok, so does my God. In Jerusalem and Babylon.

    Comment by john stringer — June 29, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

  2. I wonder if the yearning for home is as important as ‘home’ … and in the light of John’s comment here, the yearning for the home that is the realm of God, because it is here and not yet here, so we are home, and we are yearning for home, we have peace because we are home, and we are uncomfortable, disturbed and searching because we are not yet home …
    your struggles in exile are providing some remarkable opportunities for reflection – on life and God – thanks for sharing with us Steve

    Comment by sarah — June 29, 2010 @ 6:34 pm

  3. do you subscribe to The Transit Lounge? they’ve had a series of articles on ‘home’ recently … http://www.thetransitlounge.com.au/

    Comment by sarah — June 30, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

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