I’ve been stung. Poisoned. Nothing flora or fauna. By a book. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s got me thinking again about our notions of ‘home.’
Tuesday, December 26th. Boxing Day. It’s strange, just saying those words can produce such intense homesickness. A progressive, Canadian family living in a regressive, Trumpian America. Similarly, Nathan and Orleanda Price and their children, Rachael, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May – in equal measure, a family displaced; a little collective of courage and fear, lived in a world of nothing but frontier. Their only certainties were the uncertainties of daily survival in a world that cared little either way.
Their meager, not even daily, meals of eggs or mash, perhaps some chicken if someone took pity on them, removed any vestiges of the stolen or manufactured expectations as whites in a black world. They were equals among those who typically served their every whim, seen or unseen; an unexpected balance that would save them from their own extinction. Hmm, something to heed here I think.
Were they there because of some high calling of the gospel? Was it their great Christian frontier where, in their own stumbling way, they could add to the Roll Called Up Yonder? Or, was it something deeper, more primal? Were they there to befriend the enemy? To make peace with the devil? With their devils? With their gods? With God?
The complexities of their call beckon me to consider my own. Like the Prices, I am a man equally displaced, despite possessing a shared border and the lack of intermediary ocean. I have asked the question, precariously and ad nauseam, where do I fit? We all do at some point.
With no small shame, I spent an entire childhood fearing and hating this place, giant land of giants. America, the baffling. In my estimation, she never lived up to her own press. But she sure loved to talk about herself, unendingly, all with a suspicious eye on the unprepared listener’s awaited response of teary-eyed gratitude. Anything less was travesty or treason. For what exactly? Was I the lucky recipient of her gracious light or should I hide with the others in her long shadow cast over a pathetic world who, apparently, needs her?
Now, some seventeen years later – a generation, a lifetime, and I am faced with questions the answers to which would have been clearer back then. Frankly, I don’t know that I ever really knew the answers. Hell, I don’t think I remember the questions. And, even if I did, to have answers at all render such questions glib and facile.
Instead, I’m left trying to decide whether my “answers” are to be found in the questions themselves. Perhaps I am meant to find better questions? Like that one. Perhaps the answers to any question is the the readiness to ask anything at all? How thoroughly cliché. How unsatisfying.
Like the Prices’ life in Kilanga, Congo, do we follow whatever calling, intuition, demons, indigestion, lead us to believe in anything beyond ourselves? How pure is anyone’s rationale in the final analysis? At times even the animals seem well beyond us. No complaining. No seeking, and therefore, no disappointments. Just Live. Survive. Reproduce. Die. Repeat.
Simpler, but rather bleak, don’t you think?
The Price’s, like everyone, made decisions birthed of the complex hubris of their psyches. The geography of soul can be most difficult to navigate at the best of times. They discovered this in as many ways as there are opportunities to offset obstacles. Their choices reflect the long, disjointed road that seems to lead nowhere. But, in the end, leads right back to who they are, who they became. Who they never were.
After the ignominious cross, Jesus even dwelt among the dead in Hades, not to gloat over their bad choices, but to boast of their good fortunes. To give a two-thumbs-up where one might not have expected as much. If it were a movie, it was that moment when the dungeon door flew open and a rescuer reaches out a hand, “come with me if you want to live.” Or something like that.
They were as much ‘home’ as all the lucky buggers still topside and playing cards. Their long, grey waiting room had more than old magazines to keep them company. It had their own journals in which had been written, “all is well, my good grace always wins over bad living.” What’s more inviting than that? Perhaps if we remain small enough, with hearts like sponge, minds like children, and souls in tattered need, Love will meet us even in our worst places?
The mystics, who swim here, would shit to hear me speak in such ways. I think I hear them whispering under their breath, “This is good. We ask these same questions every day. But, isn’t life that much richer for asking them in the first place? The gospel has shown us that everywhere is equally our home. We just don’t know it yet.”
In times past, my life here in the land of win-at-all-costs would have felt much more Poisonwood than promise. But, in the growing light of age and calmer spiritual water it is no longer an exile. It is merely my environment in which I internalize my experience. That alone is so much more than those among whom the Prices lived knew, where surviving and thriving meant the same thing.
Now, whenever I’m tempted to bemoan my sad disenfranchisement, I consider the ramifications of the gospel of freedom. The Price. We’re all in God’s living room, which is everywhere seen and unseen.
Price in Africa. Me, here.
The price of home.