Living in Exile
It’s been a few weeks since my last post. This was not intentional in many respects, but a result of a change in job, moving to a new city, to a new state, and for my family, we’re now in search of a new church or faith community, new schools for our children, and we’re seeking to navigate new roads and zip codes.
While I remain connected to a couple organizations dedicated to fighting poverty through healthy relationships, I am now also in higher education and at a major, public research University. This past semester, I also had the opportunity to teach a course as an adjunct and am living at this intersection between the vital importance of ideas and the vital importance of human flourishing. And, as you can imagine, moving brings with it a whole host of emotions and reflections.
Part of the ongoing reflection is that a lot of this life resembles a life in exile that we find in the Biblical books of Jeremiah or Lamentations or some of the Psalms or even Nehemiah. We are all moving toward something and we are all residents of a certain zip code, but not quite home and we have not quite arrived to the place where human flourishing and truth are held dear. What I strangely enjoy about the exilic portraits in the Bible is that the whole range of human emotion shows up. There is great rejoicing and hope when we read Jeremiah 29 because we know there’s a plan for us all and that it’s a good plan. There is also great sadness in Jeremiah and his laments resonate, but there’s also a deep sadness that we’re asked to enter and consider.
Between moving toward a better life and experiencing deep sadness, we often find ourselves in strange places. I am now back in my home state of Illinois. I grew up a few short hours from where I currently live and in many respects my surroundings, the people, the language, it’s all familiar. Yet, I left this state 25 years ago as a single man and I now live in this state having been married 16 years now and with two elementary age children. The state itself has fallen on economic hardship and there’s a deep sadness in some of the farm communities and in some of the institutions that once flourished. How did this state get the worst economic rating of any state in the union? Why are past governors currently serving prison terms? And some questions remain.
But, for me, this idea of living in exile extends beyond a home state. In my work, I interact with people from all over the world. I have talked with friends and colleagues from Egypt in recent weeks about their country’s military coup and I have connected with friends from Israel living with the occasional rocket going off. I have talked with Brazilian friends who endure economic disparity and anticipate the world watching them in the upcoming FIFA World Cup and Olympiad, while friends in downtown Chicago endure school closings and violence. So many of us find ourselves in strange lands and circumstances because we are, in a sense, in exile or we are on another exodus from a fallen world to a restored, redeemed, and re-created world. David Byrne of the music group the Talking Heads was right, “today you may find yourself asking, how did I get here?” And how you answer the next question, namely, where are you headed, will reveal whether or not you’ll remain in exile or you’ll join the new exodus that is seeking to push back the effects of the fall.
A Bonus Reflection
Jerram Barrs, a former professor of mine and author of a new book on Christianity and the Arts, discusses the final book of Harry Potter in this piece and in this there is a reminder that our hearts will follow what we treasure.