Reflections on Feeling “at Home”

February 4, 2013

On Christmas day, I awoke early, cleaned up, finished packing, ate a simple breakfast, and headed to the airport at 6:30 am to catch my flight to Boston. En route to the U.S., roughly a 5-hour flight to Atlanta, we were served lunch. I’m in the Delta system as a frequent flyer with a standing gluten-free meal request. As the staff brought around the meal, I discovered they had not been given any gluten-free meals. So, my lunch was the 2 packets of instant (wheat-free) oatmeal I had put in my carry-on. As I headed toward my connecting flight it was 3 pm, and I was starving. I looked at every eatery on my way across the airport, but didn’t find anything until I was almost at my gate … Wolfgang Puck, with a bunch of great salads. I quickly looked through everything, asked a couple of questions about pricing, and then handed the woman at the register the things I wanted to buy. She rattled off the amount due, and then politely said, “And mister, you’re in the U.S. now. You need to speak English.”

I had a discussion recently with a friend who shared that his sister-in-law is from Colombia, but is a U.S. citizen now. She recently returned to visit relatives in Colombia after being away for many years, and noted how different everything seemed. It was no longer her country. She didn’t quite fit in any more. Likewise, she has a Latin accent and so in the U.S. she will always be a kind-of foreigner … a Latin now living in the U.S. In some ways, she will never quite be fully at home in either place, the U.S. or Colombia.

Reflecting on my experience in Boston during the holidays, I noted that it was nice to be home, and yet it didn’t feel like home in the way it felt when I left. In some ways, things were strange. In other ways, I didn’t quite feel like I fit in. You may recall my reflecting on the issue of feeling at home in other posts. Living in Latin America, no matter how hard I try to go native (not to imply that that’s a goal), I will always be a gringo. No matter how hard I try, my command of the language will never be the equivalent of a Colombian. I will always have my height, hazel eyes, reasonably fair skin, and European features.

In my earlier post, I reflected on the fact that through my mission experiences (not just here in Colombia), I’ve learned to feel at home in Christ. I have found comfort and solace spiritually settling in to my sense of home in Christ. As I continue to reflect on that thought, I realize that I have been finding a home in Christ for most of my life … and I suspect that I’m not unique in that.

In many ways, we may have all experienced some sense of not fitting in, not feeling at home. Think about it for a minute. In dysfunctional environments, what do we do to survive? We know we don’t fit in the dysfunction, and yet we also know we don’t quite fit in elsewhere. In fact, we usually spend a great deal of time trying to find some place where we do “fit” … where we do feel “at home.” We join clubs, we spend time at a friend’s home, we take up a hobby, we become star athletes, we become top scholars … and the list goes on.

I have experienced a sense of loneliness in crowds. You might say, “How could someone be lonely in a crowd?” I’m not quite sure why or how it works, I just know it happens. I’m sure others have had moments where they discovered they didn’t quite fit in, too. I have friends, for example, who are in an inter-racial marriage. They don’t quite fit in the inner city, and they don’t quite fit in the suburbs. I have other friends in same-sex marriages raising children. In some ways, they are like every other family on the block … a couple of parents doing their best to raise their children … and in other ways their experience is very different from their neighbors. For example, they worry about their children being made to feel “less than” at school because they have gay parents, and so forth.

When I was ordained to the Diaconate, I was working full-time at Boston College. I remember reflecting on the fact that I was clergy, and yet a university administrator. I wasn’t quite “just” an administrator, nor was I “just” a deacon. Though I dressed like everyone else, my colleagues looked at me a little differently than they did their other colleagues. On more than one occasion, someone came to my office seeking pastoral counseling for themselves or on behalf of someone else; I suspect that’s not the norm for typical university administrators.

In my first church assignment, I noted that while I was ordained and had a clerical role in a parish, I also worked full-time and was more like the folks in the pews than my priest colleagues. I was clergy, and yet not quite like other clergy. I was an academic administrator, and yet not quite like other administrators.

Part of the reason priests seek out other priest colleagues for conversation, reflection, sharing of experiences, etc., is because they aren’t quite members of the communities in which they work. They need to maintain professional boundaries that limit their ability to assimilate into a community. The fact that they aren’t fully a part of a spiritual community is reflected in the fact that clergy do not vote in vestry and annual meetings. They’re an important part of the community, and yet not quite fully a part of the community.

Whether or not you fully agree with all of my comments on who does and doesn’t fit in where, I think my point is still relevant. I think all of us, knowingly or unknowingly, seek and find ways to feel at home in wherever life leads us. My experience of displacement, or not feeling at home, is simply accentuated by the fact that I’m straddling two very different environments, the U.S. and Colombia. But, I suspect that upon reflection, a number of us would note that they, too, have experienced similar displacement. I also suspect that many of us would agree that part of our spirituality is a sense of “home” found in our Christian experience, and our relationship with Christ.

As you mull over my thoughts, you might also consider the following:

Ephesians 3:14-17 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.

*Note: I’ve used the term displacement here, but in no way mean for its use to compare with, or to take away from, those individuals who have been displaced in the full sense of the word. There are millions around the globe who we refer to as “displaced” in that they have been forced to leave their native home due to war, injustice, and/or natural disaster … what is sometimes referred to as “forced migration.”

2 Responses to “Reflections on Feeling “at Home””

  1. Dianne Smith Says:

    A perceptive reflection, as always, Ted… I also wonder if accumulating “things” is another way some of us try to find home throughout our lives. Maybe we think we won’t notice the essential loneliness if we surround ourselves with more (and more) familiar items instead of with God?

    I remember speaking with a friend (we’re both Benedictine oblates) who challenged my interest in mission, reminding me of our Benedictine commitment to “stability.” She is a good woman, a hard worker and a devout Episcopalian who owns a lovely home in the Midwest, with all the accoutrements.

    I was baffled by her question. After a childhood of moving every two years as a Westinghouse brat — plus the usual amount of family dysfunction — I had long ago recognized, with genuine joy, that my only home was in God. (Not necessarily in church, mind you, but definitely in God!)

    As warmly as I felt welcomed in Maseno (and two years “out,” still receive weekly phone calls from Kenyan co-workers), I never presumed I’d be anything but “the other” there. I am still “the other” on the Vineyard, for that matter. I may have lived here for 42 years, but I’m just a washashore from off-island.

    We are all so blessed to be at home in the arms of God… especially if we happen to notice it! Thanks for the reminder, Ted. God’s peace.


  2. Lucretia Jevne Says:

    Having spent several years wondering the world, I have realized that that period is a literal version of my faith journey. I have often reflected on where home is, and came, at one point, to the conclusion that my true home is at the Altar in both literal and figurative senses, and not in geography.
    I have had similiar experiences when returning to the US after 20 years in Germany. My mother said I sounded like some German person and even after 15 years I still transpose sentances or come up with a German word before the English.

    Home is many different things for different people – in the end it is where the heart of God and my heart conjoin, even if it is only for a moment. (see Transfiguration story)


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