The conversation with a couple of colleagues turned to the topic of where we will live after retirement. One of them said, “When we sell our house we’re going to buy one of those condos downtown.” Another said, “I’m still waiting for someone to develop homes on the old golf course east of town. That’s where we’d love to live.” Remarkably, that conversation happened on a February day when the temperature was about 12 degrees and another layer of snow was falling on top of the forehead-deep drifts already lining our streets. These guys could have dreamed of Maui or Fiji or Zanzibar, but they wanted to live out their days less than five miles from where they live now.
Our conversation made me think that birds aren’t the only creatures that nest. And it echoed “There’s No Place Like Home,” a lovely essay by Garrison Keillor published in the most recent National Geographic. The essay is classic Keillor, combining humor and pathos with wisdom and delightful writing as he considers why he has been content to live for most of his life in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area of Minnesota.
Keillor doesn’t mention it in his essay, but he tried moving far away from the Twin Cities at one point to Denmark, the home of his second wife. Midlife can do that to a person; my wife and I had a similar experience moving overseas. What we discovered - and I’m confident Keillor discovered too - is that we couldn’t make it over there because there weren’t any “PLUs” around - People Like Us. Regardless of how open to the world and new experiences we thought we were, life in a foreign country was … well, it was foreign.
Home is forgiveness and understanding.
We just do better with the familiar. Although I share Keillor’s lament about parts of town that are “all road tangle and malls,” where you could be on the outskirts of Dallas or Tacoma, those sorts of developments succeed because they appeal to the familiar. Every city in America has the same street in it, the street where the Applebee’s and Lowe’s and Best Buy and Burger King is. You can get on a plane anywhere in America, fly for three hours, get off and walk into a restaurant where you already know what you are going to order because you always order that same meal there.
Home, then, must be something more than just the familiar. Keillor gets at this deeper meaning in his final paragraph: “I was not a good person … People around here know all this about me, and yet they still smile and say hello, and so every day I feel forgiven. Ask me if it’s a good place to live, and I don’t know - that’s real estate talk - but forgiveness and understanding, that’s a beautiful combination.”
Home is forgiveness and understanding. Does that not also reflect our hope for the church? We crave authenticity and acceptance, yet we often are less than authentic because we desire acceptance. Community happens in that place where we don’t need to filter ourselves, where we can be our authentic selves and still experience love. That happens in countless ways in the church - in small groups and Bible studies and in the choir and on mission trips and during worship. Every moment of community is a glimpse of heaven. Forgiveness is at the heart of it, as is love, and none of it is our own doing but rather a good gift from God. Home is where the lost become found, where we love because He first loved us and where we forgive because we are forgiven. Thanks be to God, there is no place like home.