What Counts as Home?

I’ve been pondering the way we tend to use the word home— rather loosely as it turns out. I’ve also been wondering— what counts as home? We have cliches of course—- ‘home is where the heart is’ ‘there’s no place like home’ and so on. It seems to be a place where most of us long to be, but why? I call High Point N.C. my hometown, because that’s where I was born and grew up (through high school). But it’s not really my home any more. It appears that the normal use of the term home connotes something entirely transient, temporary. I have now lived in Lexington Kentucky since 1995, but when people ask me who I am, I say ‘I’m a Tar Heel’, which of course refers to my being from N.C. But I haven’t lived there since 1983– it’s not my home at present and who knows if I will ever live there again. It’s possible, but uncertain. In the meantime, am I homeless?

Some people mistakenly have materialistic visions of ‘home’– namely it’s the house in which they reside in. What happens if one moves? Does home move, or are you just moving house? I’ve learned over the years that St. Paul was deadly serious when he said ‘the form of this world is passing away’ and that includes all houses. But home should surely connote something more permanent. We just did an ‘extreme home makeover’ for three months, but it should have been called ‘an extreme house makeover’. A house in itself is not a home.

Home conjures up images of being ‘at home’ ‘in sanctuary’ ‘safe and secure’ and the like. I suspect this is why so many people are resistant to the notion of putting in ‘home security devices’– that in itself suggests that home is not safe, not secure, not a home….

In some ways for me, coming back to Durham periodically after the first residence here 1977-79 feels like home, at least a spiritual home. I was passing through Durham Cathedral yesterday on the way to the Dean and Chapter library and it occurred to me that some people feel at home in church, and some really really do not. What is true in my case is that wherever I can go that makes me feel closer to God, that seems more like home. The British often say they feel closer to God in a garden than elsewhere. Maybe that’s why so many of them love gardening— it makes them feel at peace, at home.

There is a sense of course in which only God is our home. What was it that St. Augustine said— ‘we are restless until we find our rest in thee’. Maybe God meant it to be that way. Maybe he didn’t want us to get too comfortable in just one spot on earth, lest we forget he is the ultimate source of comfort— the Comforter. Maybe the image of God in each one of us is a homing signal… calling us back home to God.

We have lots of hymns that talk about heaven as our ‘eternal home’ but it isn’t. Jesus talks about a mansion with many rooms, but he doesn’t call heaven home, and understandably not. He was planning on coming back to earth to bring in the new heaven on earth, and dwell here with his people forever. So heaven is not our permanent home. It’s just an ultra clean bus station on the way to home. Maybe that’s one reason the saints under the altar in heaven are cranky, saying ‘how long o Lord’. They want to go home, which is down here, not up there, when all is said and done.

I was doing my grandfather’s funeral many years ago. It was one of the first funerals I ever spoke at. And it was hard. I loved my grandfather. I only ever knew one of them because my father’s father died long before I was born. I had not made it in time to go to the viewing, as I lived out of state. The funeral was closed casket. But I was doing the interment service and something stirred in me. I wanted to see him one more time. I had the funeral director open the casket and I went over and kissed him on the forehead and said ‘goodbye pop’…. but then I thought, I should have said ‘I’ll see you at home’.

Home, if we have to give it a place name, is the Kingdom of God come finally and fully on earth. We only have previews of coming attractions, presentiments of home here. Even when we get to heaven, we are not yet home, though we are in sanctuary and safe. Home in the end is not just a place where we dwell in splendid isolation with God. It is a place where we also dwell together with God’s family— our brothers and sisters in Christ, our forever family. It’s not an accident that the prophet Isaiah talks about it this way….

“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2). It couldn’t be truly home, truly peace, truly sanctuary unless God finally put an end to all our warring madness.

And then it dawned on me why we don’t get home until we get past all the carnage. What was it the great commandment said ‘love God with all your heart…. and your neighbor as self’? We are going to a place where both those things finally happen, once and for all. And then finally we will be home.

In the meantime, we can look homeward angel, we can long for home… but we can’t really be there just yet. Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed this longing best in his poem Heaven Haven…

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

In the meantime, we must be content to sing Homeward Bound, along with Simon and Garfunkel….


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