I haven’t lived in the place where I was born and raised in a long time. But sometimes a quality of “home” embedded in my consciousness is suddenly awakened — a visceral sense of rootedness in a place, among a people. Deep memories of “home” are conjured by nothing more than the sound of the screen door opening in the house of my childhood. Warm feelings of “home” are suddenly awakened, simply by hearing a southern accent spoken in the middle of Boston. I often find myself missing every place I’ve ever been — a longing for the quality of “homeness” I found in and among the place and people I’ve left, even as I come to experience a quality of “homeness” in new and different places, among people I’ve never before known.
The biblical text is full of comings and goings from home, longings and strivings for homecoming, even of dreams and a hope-against-hope for a home unknown and yet-to-come.
To Abraham: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1).
To Lot: “Get up, take your wife and your two daughters. … Flee for your life; do not look back” (Gen. 19:15, 17).
To post-exilic Israel: “Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you” (Isa. 43:5).
And Jesus: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt. 8:20), and “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” (Lk. 4:24), and again, “in my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. … I go to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2).
A sense of “home” — a visceral, affective connection to a place, a people, a religious practice, a cultural milieu — seems endemic to our humanity, embedded in our collective consciousness, our psyche, our soul. Leaving and returning home is an integral part of the “Hero’s Journey” in nearly all of the world’s mythology.
It’s no wonder that many of our current struggles over rights, protections, and inclusivity center on the politics of “home” — struggles over who gets to be at home where and under what circumstances.
Last week in North Carolina, it took just $42,000 and a mere 12 hours to determine that LGBTQ North Carolinians’ sense of “home” in their local cities and municipalities is now precarious at best. The legislation they passed voided the city of Charlotte’s local ordinance protecting the rights of transgender people to use the restroom that accords with their gender identity and it nullifies local ordinances all over the Tar Heel State that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. And it’s not just about bathrooms; an LGBTQ person can be fired from their job in North Carolina, simply for being LGBTQ and with no legal recourse whatsoever. All of this amid a larger cultural climate in which LGBTQ youth regularly lose their literal home — expelled from their families, cut off from community — at a rate far, far higher than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. While LGBTQ teens make up less than 10 percent of all youth, they account for 40 percent of homeless youth.
Who gets to be “at home” in North Carolina with all of the security and warm inclusivity that “home” implies? Who gets to be “at home” in their home when religious rhetoric on LGBTQ lives continues to influence division between LGBTQ youth and their families of origin?
This week, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on members of the United Nations to “act with solidarity, in the name of our shared humanity, by pledging new and additional pathways for the admission of Syrian refugees” and through countering the growing “fear-mongering” surrounding these refugees. Tens of thousands are now stranded in a liminal space between their homeland and their homes-yet-to-come without basic rights and protections and provisions for the livability of life.
When borders suddenly close and restrictions on migration tighten and hospitality turns to hostility and political rhetoric grows increasingly aggressive, who gets to retain a sense of “at-homeness” amid the rancorous politics of “home?” Who will we force to live in liminality and the in-betweeness of, “Get up, take your wife and your children. … Flee for your life; do not look back,” and, “I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you?”
Even now, two leading candidates for the highest office in the United State regularly engage in Islamophobic rhetoric about American Muslims, even calling for increased police patrols, surveilling supposed “Muslim neighborhoods” in our country. Can Muslims on our blocks, in our cities in the U.S. deeply feel the visceral rootedness of “home” in their own houses and apartments and neighborhoods and mosques amid the growing promotion of fear of living side-by-side, at home together?
These current U.N. political struggles may seem too disjoined to have any common connection, but they all pose the fundamental question: “Who gets to be at home where and under what circumstances?” They ask those of us whose consciousness and moral imagination is shaped by sacred texts that traffic in images of homes departed, homecomings, and longings for homes-yet-to-come to seriously consider what it means to be “at home” in the world, and how we can all engage in ethical activity helping others experience the “at-homeness” we all search and long and hope for in the coreness of our being. “Who gets to be at home where and under what circumstances?” — this is the politics of “home.”