January 04, 2015

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

To Grandmother’s House We went! It seemed like a good idea at the time. Driving to Miami allowed us to bring our new puppy, Sybil the Great, visit my partner’s family in D.C. on the way down, then visit my mother and brother in North Carolina and then get to Pedro’s South of the Border in time for a full Southern cooked freak out. Things went ok on the way down, even though Warren’s back was hurting a lot from some heavy lifting he had done regarding a Mexican stone chess set for the kids during the exchange of Christmakuh gifts the day before we left. The three solid days of torrential rain didn’t really dampen our spirits either. Road trip! Open time and space. When the bumper fell off the car on Christmas Eve, right outside of Vero Beach, we did lose a bit of our sense of humor, only to find it returned by a wise pick up truck driver who came to our aid with some heavy-duty masking tape. We got out of the car on Christmas Eve and into what people in North Miami call an apartment and realized that Warren couldn’t move. The next nine days he lay down, only getting up for the occasional Percocet, obtained at the Emergency Care Center, which like so many things in Miami, is as modest as our apartment was. We realized he couldn’t drive home and would have to fly – and I realized that unless we were abandoning the car over a silly bumper, I was driving it home, with the dog and the masking taped bumper. The car is another story and I won’t bore you with it, till later.

I learned a lot about home these last four days driving the 1285 miles. It did rain the whole way back, again, but less torrentially than on the inbound. Sybil and I continued the practice that our merry threesome had on the way down. We stopped for what we called “Whiz Bangs,” and got to know how many different creamers there are for coffee in the South. Cherry Fizz is one I’d never had before. What I learned about home is here: cell phones can tell you exactly how many miles you are “out,” at any given push of the button. I was as at home at 345 miles to go as I was at 1125 to go. In other words, home is not a place. And by the way, home is a place. We long for home. The longing can be acute, like there is a magnet inside your chest drawing you somewhere.

I know most people spend their holidays hiking on more sacred pilgrimages than frequent whizbangs and coffee flavors. I know many people eat fancy foods instead of white bread sandwiches which do only cost $3.29. Some even hike the Camino de Santiago de Compostela or the Pacific Crest Trail. Home and pilgrimages are delightful sacred sounding boards, so let me get to what I know about the sacred, home and the pilgrimage to it.

Many of us traveled “home” over the holidays, even if we decided to “stay home.” Why? Because there is no place like home. But if your family is like many today, you can have a son with three family units to visit, another son with four, a ninety year old mother who lives half the year with one of your siblings and the other half with another, and more. Divorce and distance are common guests at the holiday table. Home may be like no other – and it can find us on the road at the holidays. We experience our multiple placements, our mobility, our family messes acutely during the time so unfairly simplified by slogans like “to grandmother’s house we go.”
What I learned about home is something I have always known. When I am home, I want to go for a ride. When I am away, I want to get home.

Environmental wisdom understands the value of both local place and global place. We understand exile as well as place, diaspora as well as settled. Sometimes we nickname this wisdom the “glocal.” We know we need roots and that we are often rootless.

Oddly, baptism is a place where we can find both the local and the global integrated. We are baptized into particular, local water. The water may even be polluted, as Steve Thorngate says in a recent Christian Century article. He and his wife walk along the Chicago River, a marvel of muck as well as a marvel of technology. Once dirty, it is now (sort of) clean. Thorngate also reminds us that he was baptized in his pastor’s swimming pool. He brings us to a theology of baptism that is glocal, saying that he is drawn, magnetically, to whatever water is closest by. Speaking of the theologian Martin Luther, he reminds us of Luther’s great flood prayer, “Through the baptism of your dear son, you sanctified and set apart the Jordan and all waters as blessed.” Indeed we may get a glimpse of Jesus the man at Bethany, becoming particular, and Jesus the God, as he began his adult wandering.

Get ready for some big words. Theologian Gordon Lathrop says that baptism is locative and particular as well as liberating and global. Lathrop notes that the local is often insular and enjoys the purity of one kind of home. He also notes that baptism is also subversive, turns us towards the world’s great uncleanness. The insular often goes towards purity, the global towards mestizo. And mess. The Jordan is both the Chicago River and a pastor’s clear and chlorinated, individually owned, swimming pool.

Baptism joins us to a particular community and a universal one at the same time. We belong not only to God but also to our place of origin. We belong not only to God but also to the whole earth.

Downton Abbey may help. In Downton the lead character is "the house". The story also unites upstairs and downstairs, in a way similar to the way baptism unites local and global, servants and masters. Environmental wisdom is a kind of advanced placement. It locates us in both our home place and our exiled place.

Anyone who looks deeply enough at their own life will find that this earth of a house and house of an earth is the lead character in their lives too. It matters where we come from. It matters how we treat the whole. You can’t just parachute in to your glocal home. Nor can you just call it in. Finally, whether you want to or not, like it or not, you live in the big house, not the little house, with all the others.

Voters increasingly want electeds with deep local roots, people who were born and raised with their constituency, even if the constituency wasn’t born in the district itself. You can imagine how amused I was, since I am from Kingston, at the Sara Botton quote. She has “cred” because she comes from a place she now visits. People want their elected to have what they often don’t have: local knowledge. There is an infatuation with place these days, one that could make the environmental movement and many others very insular and unwise. People don’t like people who “call it in” or “parachute” to power. They want a bird who has found its branch, a barnacle who has found its boat. And what I know is that birds have many branches, barnacles have many boats. The local is too small. The global is too large. We fly and attach in the middle passage.

Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali writer and first non-European to win the Nobel Prize, said that “Emancipation from the bondage of the soil is no freedom for the tree.”

Aesop also told a great truth in his tale, “Country Mouse and City Mouse.” Both wanted to be where the other was. Environmental wisdom joins folk wisdom in being expansive enough to understand that home is both local and global. One is too small, the other is too large. We do live stranded by our baptism and also secured by its wisdom.

A silly joke may help. We often think of home as the place where somebody understands what we are saying. One wag says that “When I first came to Britain in 1987, I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich. They gave me two sandwiches, one ham, one cheese.” Exile can be small and it can be large.

In the Agape people, we come home to a local meal which has international implications. Even the Pope enjoys this meal. Even the cardinals with spiritual Altzheimers enjoy this meal. And so we wonder as we wander, where is home? It is here. It is on I 95. It is when the tree is lit and the presents are still wrapped and all is calm and bright. It is when we get the balance between too small and too large just right and for that we have to stay in constant spiritual and personal training. And it is also when the litter of wrapping paper messes up the Chicago River and we go back to our journey towards home.

It is a place that can capture you, as in make you too small. And it is a place that can open and free you, and then, you have to be careful not to get too large. By the way, Warren’s back is better.

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