November 23, 2018
The Greatest to the Least of Us Long for This
Two recent books by Touchstone senior editors feature the word home in their titles:
Anthony Esolen's Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World and Russell Moore's The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home. You will not be surprised that I highly recommend both books, which I have read from covers to covers.
They are full of wisdom, wit, and Gospel-inspired insight. I expect nothing less from Esolen and Moore and am truly grateful to have them as friends and colleagues in the Touchstone mission. They educate me.
Moore's chapter on "Family Tensions, Family Traumas," has a section particularly appropriate for Christians thinking about family dinners around the holidays:
Working often with families formed through adoption, I regularly hear from grown children who were adopted talking about the difficulties that come along with sorting through the identity questions. One . . . said to me, "You just can't imagine what it is to sit across a table from people who are a mystery to you, to think to yourself, 'I am nothing like you! How did I end up in this family!'"
I said that, to some degree, what she was experiencing was due to adoption, but a great deal more of it is far more universal that than. "I actually know what that's like," I said, "It's called Thanksgiving."
Moore notes the various tensions and frictions that often exist in families. Hostility to our faith, for example, or various feuds.
Often the divisiveness that happens within extended families is about conflicting spiritual worldviews, but occasionally the divisiveness is not about an unbelieving family persecuting a Christian, but rather because a Christian decides to go ahead and, at the family table, sort the wheat from the weeds right now, rather than, as Jesus told us, waiting for Judgment Day.
Humility is called for.
. . . As Christians, we cannot be those who, like the professional polarizers in our culture around us, value having the last word. Jesus, not once, sought to prove he was right . . . .
Satan wants to destroy you through . . . pride. He doesn't care if that pride comes through looking around the family table and figuring out how much more money you make than your second cousin-in-law or whether it comes by looking around the table and saying, "Thank you Lord that I am not like these publicans." The result is the same . . . . If your response is to puff up as you compare yourself with others, there's a Satanist at your family gathering, and you're it.
Esolen's book is of a different sort, not so much practical spiritual instruction on family life, but a literary and spiritual meditation on our hunger for "home" and the present cultural destruction or distraction from this longing, replaced by mirages of "progress" that take us nowhere. He reminds us that we are pilgrims, but pilgrims going home. "No pilgrim, I say, no progress."
Many people come from broken homes, or have lost their homes through war, natural disaster, or other forces. The nostalgia that I feel for my childhood home—or homes, if I count my grandparents' home to which I was first brought home from the hospital—cannot be satisfied since those homes and their neighborhoods no longer exist. I cannot go home.
The home to which I first came as an infant served as my grandmother's home for 50 years. It was the bright and boisterous setting of Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas Eve parties, and New Year's Day gatherings. Nostalgia turns my mind and heart back to those times in that place.
My grandmother passed away in that same living room in 1979, the day after she, in her hospital bed there, held and welcomed our infant son in her arms with an instant smile, calling his name over and over. She knew she was going home, a home that beckons all to an eternal homecoming.
The child feels the deeper meaning of home more than adults who have become distracted. No child can rest easy if he discovers himself alone, an autonomous individual. He wants his mother, father, his family, and knows his identity by them. He knows his place. So, too the Christian, who, becoming a true and new child, seeks and longs for the kingdom, where Christ has gone to prepare a place for him. His response? Pure thanksgiving, now and ever after, and present longing until the Day comes.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James
James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.