Thursday, November 3, 2011

What Makes Home, Home?

I'm a part of a book group right now that's reading a book called Falling Upward, by Richard Rohr. Roar's premise is that in the first half of life we create the containers of who we are, our sense of self, our identities. In the second half of life (if we have done the first half well), we begin to find the meaningful contents that the container is meant to hold.

The question our facilitator asked last week was, "What is home?" People shared about their own homes growing up - the weather and landscape and geography. Is that home? The physical descriptions? Maybe in part. I come from the fairly small town of Woodland, Wa...well actually we grew up in the rural territory 15 miles East of Woodland known by those who live there (and only those) as Ariel. So physically speaking that is kind of home to me. The Cedars and Douglas Fir, the relentless green. Black Berries Briers and Ivy crawling over everything. I can't seem to get it out of my system. When I lived in Alaska, and Central Washington, and Idaho, I couldn't seem to get that relentless green out of my system. It is beauty and comfort and it just feels right. It is a measuring rod and a point of reference. I might find other landscapes beautiful, occasionally even more beautiful, but almost always with the caveat, "in their own way." Like, the desert is beautiful... in it's own way.

Is that home? A reference point. A place to leave and return to. A place that shapes us, nurtures us. A place that you can't get out of your system, even if you want to. For me, home wasn't always a happy place, but as a kid, I did what all kids do, I survived. I edited my own little world, to create a safe place. One escape that I loved was TV. From ages 4-6 I folded my clothes and put them under my pillow every night before I went to bed so that I could get up at 6am, get ready in 5 minutes and watch as many morning cartoons as I could. We only got about 3 channels, and one of the channels had morning cartoons from 6am-8am. This was before Cartoon Network and Disney Channel. Oh, how I would have filled my days with hours of blissful cartoon watching... But Alas, when Perry Mason, or The News or whatever came on, I knew that I would need to find another activity. Another safe little world for me was found in nature. My brother Jesse and I would spend hours of unsupervised time, exploring creeks, climbing trees, playing in the cow pasture. One such time ending with a cow pie fight that I got the worst of. In the Summer, we would look for snakes and lizards all afternoon and evening, lifting up boards and tires and shaking the tall grass in the field behind our house. It was usually a catch a release program, but sometimes we would keep them and "train" them. I still believe that we really did train a few. The red-racers and rubber boas were especially amiable (not sure if those are the scientific names).

What is home? Is it something that is predictable, stable, permanent. I know that for many, when their parents move, they feel really angry and bitter. Like, How dare you. I don't care that I've moved out and live in another state! You can't just move. Because there is something comforting to know that home is there for us whenever we want it. And if we can't, we feel dis-placed and un-settled. Holidays capture this sense of home, perhaps better than anything. The rituals (we live in a ritual-starved culture!) bring us comfort and a sense of security. When my wife and I got married this was one of the big stresses on our marriage - Whose traditions do we continue? Where do we celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter?

I think that many, especially from my generation, suffer from a kind of perpetual home-sickness. Having never really established a sense of home, we struggle to ever establish a sense of identity. We are like lost children in the desert (which is kind of beautiful, in its own kind of way). We seek to define ourselves with this desperate and exhausting pursuit of proving ourselves to the world through our branding, our Facebook stati, our jobs, our cars, our homes, our education, our gadgets. Endless striving, trying to prove our worth, and never quite feeling "at home" in our own skin. We are so ready to leave home, make our own way, discover ourselves, but we don't even have a sense of what home is. And we struggle to know how to then create that sense of place for our children.

Where does this home-sickness come from? A think a big part of this, is that we never established a sense of home. As much as young people often want to reject rituals, traditions, permanence, and structures they are probably really healthy and necessary. They may feel stifling or restrictive, at the time, but later (just like my parents warned me) I'll thank them. However, another part of home-sickness is natural and necessary. we learn from almost every great story, every myth - that the hero must ultimately leave home - The Odyssey, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Fievel Goes West, Finding Nemo, The Predator, Home Alone 2... In every story the Hero must leave home and go on his quest. Must leave home, go on a quest, and return home or establish a new home, a new community. This tension between the home/community and the leaving/quest/adventure is something I think many (young) people feel. We leave, we explore, we have our adventure, but all the while feeling an inescapable pull back to the familiar, the nostalgic...Home. Where you feel safe and accepted, in your element and wholly yourself.

I hope to create a sense of home for my sons (even though we have moved a lot). A place of ritual, rules, structure, nurture, predictability, safety. I want to raise them in a church tradition that can give them the language and container to help them make sense of this world. And I know that someday they will resent and rebel and reject much of what we have created for them. They will want to leave, to go on their own Odyssey to discover what they are made of. And that is good.

I guess this realization gives me more sympathy for God, who is always getting accused of one or the other extreme: Either a God who just wants us to be happy and have whatever we want and doesn't really care what we do or don't do. Or a God who is a ridged, moralist, rule stickler who doesn't want us to have any fun. But maybe God actually gets it. Maybe God gets that we need rules and structure and law and order in order to establish a sense of place, home, identity. And maybe God gets that we will eat the apple, leave the garden, struggle, return, suffer, love, hate, suffer more, succeed, fail, hope, despair, desire, on and on...and this is good. Maybe this is how we find our way. Maybe This is just how it goes on this big, messy, beautiful world that we call Home.


  1. "And I know that someday they will resent and rebel and reject much of what we have created for them." Love the wisdom in this.

  2. I've thought on this, home, at length in regards to being in China for this year. Is it possible for me to be at home here? Am I 'discovering myself' on this quest of sorts? Is this home, in any way? Thanks for your reflections, Brad.

  3. This was quite beautiful. I appreciate much of what you said, particularly being in that place of leaving structure, rules, and traditions from my family and now trying to create my own.

    The tie-in to our relationship with God hit me well.

    Two books I thought of while reading your post that really have nothing to do with the overall point of your post but are interesting reads...

    The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv and The Wisdom of Stability by Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove. The latter I haven't read but it's been highly recommended to me.

    Anyway. Insightful post filled with wisdom, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. This subject has been weighing on my mind a lot lately, this and trying to figure out who I am. Thanks for the insight on this Brad!

  5. Thanks for your responses everyone. Chinaboy, I'm guessing that's J... I'm sure your year in China will bring you some discovery. Samantha thanks for the book suggestions. Justin. I miss you buddy. Maybe we can get together over the holidays.