The Journey Home
The Journey Home – February 19, 2017 – First Unitarian of Brooklyn
Kevin Jagoe, Ministerial Intern
I have been looking for Home for most of my life.
I grew up in a small town in the Midwest where I was raised by my mother and grandmother. I occasionally saw my father and I had extended family of all sorts. I always had a home, as in a building where I slept and where the people who cared for me lived. We didn’t have much money, but we had enough to usually pay the bills, I didn’t go to bed hungry either. All of the material pieces of home were there. The relationship and emotional pieces of home were there too. However, I never felt like I fit into the story I was born into.
I remember being in elementary school and knowing I was different. Part of that difference was that I was in a nominally Christian family and didn’t believe in what I was told at church. I thought religiously I’d been dropped into the wrong family. Then there was the fact that I was gay. I didn’t know the words atheist or gay at that age. I knew that when people made negative remarks about people “like that” that I was in the group.
I was the brainy kid, the effeminate kid, the precocious kid. I was the weird kid that seemed to baffle everyone, including my family.
I also had an active imagination and inner life. This was fueled by books and toys and the world around me. But then I could refine that external world into what I wished for. It seemed that I was always on an adventure somewhere else. I remember making up stories about crews on space ships, bands of explorers in far-off lands, and all sorts of animals living in castles that could only exist in fairy tales.
A theme of so many of these stories was the search for something or the building of something together. I always had places for my characters to live together. Inside the spaceship, in the treetops at night while adventuring, and comfy places inside the stone walls of those castles. They were always creating and journeying towards something I didn’t really name at the time. That something could be called “Home.”
I had pieces of home, but was looking for a deeper sense of it. Perhaps I was searching for an inner sense being at home in who I was. Something that is connected to safety, comfort, joy, trust, belonging, and community. So many of the things that are found in religious community and family when they are at their best.
What I want us to think about this morning is what is a Home? What makes up Home for you? I’ve lived in houses, apartments, dorm rooms, attics, three-season porches all sorts of spaces. When I think about Home, I do picture the first house I remember as that child sorting out who he was without the right words. As I’ve thought more and more about Home, I also picture people. It is comprised of geographies, languages, certain phrases, smells, tastes, and feelings. Home is a sensory experience and an emotion. Home is relationships and memories. A place where both gladness and sorrow can occur.1
Home is not a singular place where I receive mail. Rather, home is where those people who hold my heart are. My sense of homecoming is tied to those who have loved me into being who I am today. Paradoxically the more people I care about, the more Home I experience in the world. Like a series of roots that ground me. So perhaps the expression home is where the heart is could be rearticulated to Home is where my hearts are.
A New Yorker article last year explored a finalist for the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year: Hygge (Hue-gah). Hygge (Hue-gah), is a Danish word that doesn’t quite translate into English but is often compared to the word “cozy.” It is also related to the Norwegian word Hugga (Ho-gah) which means “to comfort.” This became the word “hug” in English. While Hygge (Hue-gah) has been brought to Americans attention, it is often used to describe pleasure derived from comforts like warm socks and yummy foods on cold nights.2 I think that is part of it, however it is more than being cozy and comfortable, it is a deeper sense of belonging. Instead of coziness, hygge (hue-gah) could be an embodied sense of Home.
Alain de Botton in the Architecture of Happiness wrote:
“We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a vulnerability. We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances. We need our rooms to align us to desirable versions of ourselves and to keep alive the important, evanescent sides of us.”
How do we find or create or get closer to Home? I’d like to propose the idea that Home is a theological concept. You can have a Theology of Home. Capital ‘H’ Home can be expansive and imaginative at the same time you experience it daily in your life.
I want to explore the idea first of what IS theology. Beyond being one of those words that minister types throw around. A theology is something that helps frame the experiences of our lives and focuses them in a direction towards something. The questions that theology answers are:
- Who are we?
- What’s wrong with things as they are now?
- What saves or redeems us?
- And where are we going?
When I think about this frame around the idea of Home. I see the question of “who are we?” as one that points to the idea that at our core we are nesters. We create homes and crave homes all the time.
Our relationships to one another become the deeper source of home once our basic needs are met. The communities we create, the memories shared and passed on to others, all add to our feeling of being at Home, of Belonging. From our reading this morning “We live not by things, but by the meanings of things.” I would add to this that we live by meanings and emotions. Ultimately we are seeking Home and creating it through memories and experiences, not lumber or lamps.
The second question theology begs of us is: “what is wrong in the world?” I see two ways that we go wrong when talking about Home, one is that we focus solely on the material pieces of home. The objects inside buildings or the status the right address might bring. We miss the mark when a home becomes a status object. The other is that we participate in systems that deny home to any person. This can be literal homelessness or lack of safety or security. A home is more than the sum of its parts, it exists in the relationships between people and fills the spaces between the objects we gather there.
The next big question theology poses: “what is saving in the world?” Or how do we move towards the bigger ideals of Home and away from the places our stuff lives. We get closer to Home when we risk relationship and try reaching out yet again. This might sound simple, but so many forces in our society push us apart. We learn not to trust, not to risk, and not to love in a variety of ways. The way we change that is by practicing vulnerability.
We gain a deeper sense of what it means to be human when we are vulnerable enough or take the risk to be in relationship with people. When we share who we are and take the time to listen to others.
Connections and reliance on other people are radical acts. When we have relationships, a sense of Home, we have resiliency in a world that can change in a moment. Strength is not found in Individuality, it is found in Community. Earlier in the month, I said “Rebellions are built on Hope.” So too, are Homes.
The final question theology helps us answer is what is the ultimate destination of this Journey Home? Why create a Home at all if we only get to live there for a limited period of time? Or if we only experience it occasionally. When we think about the larger idea of Home, that home is a circle of trust and place that calls us toward our best selves, the destination becomes, the experience of Home itself. Finding ways to create it over and over again, a moment here and there throughout our lives is the true goal.
What makes this goal a religious one is that it extends beyond ourselves. We cannot do it for ourselves without others. And to be part of another person’s sense of home makes our own journey there that much shorter. So then, what makes up a Theology of Home?
- Our personal creation of relationships.
- Our rejection of materialism and recognition of the mutuality we have with others in creating Homes.
- Our willingness to transform strangers into beloved guests.
- And the continual extension of Home in larger and deeper ways.
The point of grounding ourselves in a theology of Home or Belonging or God. Finding that centering concept in our lives that helps us grow and change is what helps us be resilient throughout our lives. We store away pieces of that sense of knowing where we are in the world and what we stand for not for the times that make sense, but for the times that do not. We create communities that will hold us up when we need it.
The entire religious enterprise can be, and should be, about creating a sense of Home-fullness. When we talk about the idea of Sanctuary or Community or Covenant or Hygge (Hue-gah) we are really talking about a religious impulse to increase belonging, meaning, and safety. The goal of this place is to help people connect to something more than, something beyond themselves.
Yes, I hope that includes participating in social justice causes, and treating people more like neighbors or friends than strangers. And I hope that this place is both healing and inspiring. I even hope that church is fun! But I ultimately hope that the experience of church leads to more experiences of feeling at home in the world.
That is how we overcome hate and divisiveness. It is the feeling of home that makes everything else we do matter. By creating safety we can make the way for comfort. By creating comfort we can make the way for joy. By creating space for joy we can make the way for trust. When we get to a place of trust we can get closer to Home. The Beloved Community takes shape when we all arrive Home.
- From the placard in the sanctuary of First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, NY:
John White Chadwick, 1864-1904
A tireless seeker for truth. A revealer of the best in literature. A joyful interpreter of the immanence of God in nature and soul. A prophet of the faith of evolution. A fearless preach of freedom, fellowship, character and service as the essentials in religion. A poet of the life that is and that is to be. A tender friend in the gladness and sorrow of our homes.
- The Year of Hygge, the Danish Obsession with Getting Cozy by Anna Altman. Dec. 18, 2016. The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-year-of-hygge-the-danish-obsession-with-getting-cozy