session seven: household words
by Elizabeth de Barros
Please welcome dear friend and sister in Christ, Diana Lovegrove, blogger at Waiting For Our Blessed Hope and contributor for today’s session on Household Words. Diana lives in England with her wonderful husband, adorable 7-year-old son, and naughty Jack Russell terrier. She loves nothing better than gentle family cycle rides at the weekend through the English countryside, but she also recently appreciated the opportunity to drive a racing car at speeds of 130 mph. Tea is her drink of choice, and the guitar her instrument to praise her God.
“Home is place, geography, and psyche…It’s a place of safety.”
Kingsolver opens Household Words with a modern telling of the parable of The Good Samaritan. Except in this true account, it appears there was no Good Samaritan. Kingsolver is endearingly honest about her own inability to act, as she sits frozen in her car in a queue at traffic lights, and witnesses a homeless woman being assaulted by a homeless man on the sidewalk. As the traffic lights change, she drives away alongside many others, taking her guilt over her failure to intervene with her. I probably would have done the same.
Kingsolver considers homelessness to be an “aberration” of a civilised society. She is right. Homelessness is a sign of the curse we are living under, ever since Adam and Eve were banished from their God-given home in the Garden of Eden for their sin, and Cain, their son, was told he would be a “restless wanderer on the earth.” Homelessness is what living apart from God looks like, and I’m not talking about those without a permanent roof over their heads. What Kingsolver doesn’t realise is that those who have comfortable homes to live in are just as homeless as the man or woman on the street packing cardboard inside their clothes to help to keep them warm at night.
Whether or not we agree with Kingsolver’s political views of how to help the homeless, I am grateful that she has a compassionate heart, recognises that the home she has to live in is due to providence (although she doesn’t call it such when she recounts the conversation with her wheelchair-bound friend: “Barbara, the main difference between you and me is one bad fall off a rock.”), is aware of the sinful attitude of pride in all of us (“…smart like me, hardworking like me…they’d have a house like me.”), and has the urge to do something to help her neighbour in need.
I am arrested by her definition of home:
“Home is place, geography, and psyche; it’s a matter of survival and safety, a condition of attachment and self-definition. It’s where you learn from your parents and repeat to your children all the stories of what it means to belong to the place and people of your ken. It’s a place of safety.”
A BIBLICAL LENS:
I read Kingsolver’s definition of home and I am silently awed…common grace pours from her heart. I read it and I want to share with her how this is all so true, and how God fulfils all of this! How He calls us to Himself and adopts us as His children through the blood of Christ, so that where we were once estranged from Him and restless wanderers, now we can enjoy the embrace of our Father. I want to tell her that really understanding what it means to be adopted as His child and welcomed into His family sends a thrill through my heart every time I contemplate it. Attachment to Him, being defined by Him…there is no greater security in life. How He assures our survival and safety: “But not a hair of your head will perish.” How we regularly gather with other believers, our family members, children through to grandparents, to celebrate and remember all the goodness He has given us in Christ. I want to show her the limitations of Robert Frost’s quote:
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”
My Home is a gift. “They” do not have to take me in at all, given the extent of my sin. BUT…because of the sheer grace of God, because of Christ’s sacrifice, because I can now call God “Abba, Father!” I don’t even have to go there alone, hoping my knock at the door will be answered:
“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
And then I want to look Barbara Kingsolver right in the eyes. I want to tell her how the story with which she opened this essay walked right into my heart. How it wasn’t merely her vulnerability and honesty in telling the story and her subsequent soul-searching which stirred my heart. I want to tell her how I personally identify with her guilt of not intervening when witnessing the abuse of a homeless person. How I was aware that my own sister was at risk of being abused by a “care worker” in the “care home” she was living in — a home in no meaningful sense of the word, but which epitomises the curse we are living under — not a home of safety, but a place to be survived. How I desperately wanted to inform the authorities, but for complicated reasons (which make no sense to me now, this side of the events) felt I couldn’t…so did nothing. How I have had to sit in court in recent days and listen as my sister described before judge and jury the harrowing extent of the abuse she suffered as a result of my saying nothing. Yes, I know something of that guilt.
How to deal with it?
I want to grab hold of her hand here and tell Kingsolver there is a much better way than how she dealt with her guilt, of rehearsing a different scene of the abused woman in her mind so that, “If I meet her again, I hope I can be ready.” There is another way to deal with guilt, a way that leads to forgiveness, to life, to hope, to HOME!
When we have failed to love our neighbour as ourselves, we need to cry out to the One who did, who left His own Home to come to this earth where He had nowhere to lay His head. We need to cry out to Jesus, who took all our failures to love our neighbour in need on His own shoulders, died and rose again, that not only could we be forgiven and have our hearts sprinkled by His blood to cleanse us from a guilty conscience, but that He would give us His love for our neighbour, and a new Home.
It is no coincidence that she concludes her essay by referencing this Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension. It’s the presence of justice.” Here, God has revealed His very heart to her of what Home really is:
“Justice will dwell in the desert
and righteousness live in the fertile field.
The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.
My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest.”
Next Thursday: The One-Eyed Monster, and Why I Don’t Let Him In