Where Do You Belong?
By Charles Rush
October 30, 2005
I Corinthians 12: 4-13
e sermon this morning is entitled 'Where Do You Belong?' I had a personal bemusing generational encounter with that question earlier this week when I went to Madison Square Garden to see Eric Clapton reunited with Cream. Subconsciously, I think part of the reason that I went, in addition to the fact that he is still excellent, is that I was in the same place, looking at the same stage 30 years ago and I wondered about the change. Since then, there have been 10,950 morning rush hours and evening commutes through Penn Station and all of us who are old enough have watched this daily evolution through the end of the Viet Nam war, to Republican wage and price controls, through the nuclear standoff, and the Regan revolution, through the end of Cold War, through the dot.com surge when only losers worried about earnings, into the age of terror, right up to the present ambiguous moment.
The day began
with a portent on the pages of the New York Times, which featured a full page
ad with all four of the Rolling Stones jauntily endorsing a new Minivan by
I get into the
Garden and look out over a sea of graying Europeans men that still look faintly
like hippies with short hair. It just hit me that these are the same people
that are going to be selling down the equities in their retirement pensions
10-12 years ahead of me keeping my meager retirement account earning meager
returns. No question, they are a market force.
Down go the
lights, up comes the band, and behind them the same psychedelic color show that
we used to make with colored cellophane on overhead projectors for the school
sock hop in Middle School, only now it is all run from a lap top projected with
stunning precision on 40 plasma screen panels.
color show and driving blues guitar, I was remembering the whole world of
peace, love, soul, Jimi Hendrix and mind altering
substances- not only that it made sense at one time but seemed like it would
never come to an end- and I'm not only glad that it eventually did, but now
appears so impossible that it would have continued… And
oddly, at the same time, grateful that I grew up in that funky communitarian
era. Our children are so much more orderly and focused to be sure, and also so discretely involved in the reality that
they create for themselves individually in the video games, ipods,
and DVD's on their lap tops. The music, no question, was great, but you
couldn't listen to it today- not on the radio-… No one has an attention span
long enough for it anymore.
Even though I
don't live in world any more, it was strangely, bemusingly
comfortable, like being at home in your robe. Bemusing
especially now that we are older. 30 years later, still no one has
learned how to dance… They just wiggle, why is that? And no one smokes any
more, so when the concert set was done and it was time for the encore, everyone
reached in their pocket, but no lighter. So they held up their cell phones with
We are the
Rolling Stones getting into our Mercedes Minivans and it is time to take the
train home… Home… Belonging… Social dislocation fundamental spiritual
realities, especially in adulthood and later in life…
In the play Trip to Bountiful a country woman from South Texas is forced by circumstances to live
with her son and his wife in the big city of Houston when it was up and coming as an oil
center. Her son readily abandoned the farm and the insular way of life in the
country and started up the management path. He married a Houston girl who was preoccupied with shopping,
bridge, entertaining, talking with her friends over lunch and smoking in the
manner of glamour that defined the big screen mid-century. Her mother-in-law
was always coughing when she smoked and this got on her nerves. Her
mother-in-law rolled her eyes when they had evening cocktails and this got on
her nerves. Her mother-in-law sang hymns when she washed the dishes and this
got on her nerves. Practially everything that Mama
Watts did got on her nerves and she let Mama Watts know it about 5 times an
hour, every hour, every day and night.
Mama Watts was
in a city that she didn't understand. Mama Watts was in a management culture
that she didn't understand. Mama Watts was just an imposition and a nuisance
and she didn't know how to be any different. Mama Watts just couldn't be any
different and she was being stunted, stifled, and she just longed to be free.
So she saves
up the little money that she gets. She keeps it in her bra, as was the custom
of women of her age and bearing. She saves it up because she wants to be free.
She confides to a neighbor one day, "If I could just get my hands in some
soil again… If I could just smell that salt air of the South Texas coast." And she comes up with a plan. She is
going to run away back to her home town in Bountiful, Texas.
She saves and
waits, waits and saves, and the day comes when everyone is gone and she has
just enough for a ticket and she bolts for the bus station, gets in line, asks
for her ticket, the guys behind the counter scratch their heads, make a couple
calls, and inform her that there is no Bountiful, Texas. She is confused,
stunned, but she agrees to get a ticket to the nearest town.
setback, she finally gets out to this rural cross roads
in South, Texas so still you can feel the humidity sitting on your
chest and shoulders, no sound but Cicada's. And when she gets there, she is met
by a County Sherrif. She explains her situation and he
tells her that no one lives in Bountiful anymore. It all dried up and the
farms are abandoned. And then he tells her that he was sent to take her back to
Houston. Whereupon she
collapses. The sheriff catches her. She is moaning, "I just want to
go to my home one more time." "Okay, Okay" he says and he agrees
to drive her out to her abandoned farm like a Texas gentleman.
On the way
out, she is asking him about this farm and that and whatever became of the Thurgood family. He answers all of her questions. They are
identifying birds together. Finally, they come to her farm and they walk up
silently together. She goes in walks around while he waits outside on the front
step of the porch. She comes out and they are listening to the quiet sounds of
the farm together. She says to him, "You know it's funny, but ever since
we've gotten here, I've half been expecting my Momma and Daddy to come out on
the porch and welcome me home."
We all want to
go home…. We want to be apart of something that we belong to fundamentally,
something that won't erode, a refuge from the calamities of the world, a place
where we can gather ourselves together.
Home is not
just past, though it is certainly that too. And it is not just a place, though
it very definitely has concrete shape and smell. It is slowly evolving through
our lives and in a very real sense, it is pulling us
from the future as much as pushing us from the past.
future pull is the part that is so anxiety producing. We are never certain
where we stand in that world. It starts with that very first try out for the
soccer team and the worry that you won't be fast enough, that you won't have
enough skills. You can watch it in the halls of every Middle School with kids
trying to fit in and find their place in the gang, wondering which crowd they
actually belong in? You can see it in every High School kid sitting, staring at
the phone, working up the nerve to actually ask 'her' to the big dance, going
over and over in his mind if he is cool enough, if she will find him appealing
enough. You see it in teenagers wondering if they should risk doing some things
that they really like- music or drama- worried that the cool people might give
them a hard time.
We are always
evolving our sense of home and belonging. The colleges we choose, our
sororities and fraternities- are we good enough to be there? Do we really
belong? Woody Allen was so spot on when he said he
would never join a country club that would have him for a member. Half of us
here could not actually get into the colleges that we went to if we had to
apply today. As I remind my fraternity brothers at our annual reunion, "it
is now official that we are not up to standard."
Where we go to
Grad school, so absolutely critical because the more education you get, the
more elite that fraternity becomes and the more your network for your career is
mapped out. Where you choose to live? That really hits home the first night you
attend "Back to School" night at Kindergarten. You are sitting there on
those wee little chairs with all of your neighbors also in the quasi-crouch
position and this is your life and these are the people you will grow up with.
Is this really you? Are you okay with who you are becoming? You get these moments when
you can see the future.
All of our
associations are part of who we are, part of who we are becoming: the political
party that we are involved in, the professional groups that we are support, the
social clubs that we join, our family vacation spots and the people that are
there. All of them are part of who we are. Where is it that you belong? When
are you home?
If Saint Paul was right, God gave us the Church to
explore that question together more fundamentally. Saint Paul taught us over and over in his
letters that Christianity is a social experiment. It is not a set of doctrines
or beliefs so much as it is a communal enterprise in character formation. We
have beliefs but they are at the service of helping us shape who we are
becoming. Christianity is about shaping the home that is pulling us from the
future; it is about developing in us a more substantial spiritual ground of
belonging and identity.
You can't do
that individually. It is a group interaction on a personal level. You can't
live love by yourself. You can't do forgiveness alone or make for
reconciliation just in your head. All of the most important spiritual qualities
that Jesus describes for us: integrity, an honest appraisal of our ourselves,
compassion, self-sacrifice for others, peace making, understanding, tolerance,
discernment and wisdom- all of them are personal, yes, but they require others
in relationship with us, to grow.
As it turns
out, in Christianity, we only become as profound as the group around us for the
most part. Saint Paul used to say of Christians that they
are "in the world" but not "of the world". He meant that
our associations are only part of our identities but that the most profound
part of us is what we are shaping spiritually in a godly direction. Our
associations mold us, to be sure, but not intentionally in a spiritually
positive direction. We need each other for that.
Has the Church
ever really lived up to that mandate? The history is spotty at best. There have
been some groups that devoted their lives to it with all seriousness and
actually withdrew into their own community and made their spiritual life
together the central focus of their brief time on this earth. But generally
speaking, at our parishes week in and week out, our communal life is pretty weak.
How about at Christ Church? I like to think that on an informal
level, there is some important sharing that is going on. I like to think that
groups of us, here and there, are connecting on that deeper level, living our
lives together, encouraging one another to become better people, supporting one
another. I see evidence of it from time to time. We could, quite obviously, do
quite frankly, is why we need you. Church is not just about teaching our kids
some moral lessons; it is not just about giving to charity; it is not just
about taking an hour every now and again to worship and pray. The truth is, this about your life, the spiritual profundity of your
home. The truth is you will only become as profound as you share your life with
those around you… in everything that entails.
that we have resistance to sharing- some of it cultural, some of it class, some
of it just plain old emotional anxiety. I understand that we regularly choose
distance and control over involvement and growth. But if this is the spiritual
point of our lives,
we are opting for a safer, less than excellent way. And in the end, it is a
less fulfilling existence. The significance of our lives can elude us.
No, your life
is not only about where you belonged in the past, it is also about who you are
becoming and the community you are creating around you for the future. Your
life is about replacing ephemeral identities with more spiritually substantial
people and that is partly about surrounding yourself with a more profound
community. I hope that is what were are about here, but if we are not getting
it done, keep on moving until you find people that will cajole you, encourage
you, hold you to account that you make the most of your life and yourself. This
is a one shot deal, don't fake it.
Pray that we
can overcome our anxiety and grow together. Pray that we might realize some of
the substance of what our living is all about. Pray that together we might find our
significance. We need you. Amen.
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