To Make and Be at Home

Do you know where you are going
to be buried or who will be buried
alongside you? Great numbers
of people no longer know how to answer
this question. This is striking because
for millennia the place and community
of one’s burial could simply be taken for
granted. One had a sense for home, knew
where one belonged, even if one was not
necessarily at peace with one’s home or
community.

Steven Bouma-Prediger
and Brian J. Walsh
have written an outstanding
book that looks at the
many dimensions of home,
what a home is, how one
practices the art of homemaking,
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and why home
matters. They consider and
describe with considerable
detail how our generation
has come to the places of
homelessness we are now
in. Their book, drawing on
fields of study as diverse
as philosophy, theology,
economics, history, urban
planning, sociology, biblical
studies, anthropology, and literature,
represents interdisciplinary writing at its
best. Readers will find here a wealth of
information and analysis presented in a
clear and engaging matter. Beyond Homelessness
is a feast for those who want to
understand in a Christian manner the
rudiments and the responsibilities of one
of humanity’s most fundamental requirements:
the need to make and be at home
in the world.

Beyond Homelessness begins with a
description of the many forms of homelessness
and displacement that characterize
our time. Bouma-Prediger and
Walsh help us see that homelessness
is about much more than the bag lady
under the bridge moving from shelter to
shelter. Homelessness manifests itself in
the loneliness, separation, and alienation
of refugees and immigrants and migrant
workers. It is worked out in the feeling of anomie that haunts postmodern nomads
who are deeply suspicious of all homes
as authoritarian and oppressive structures.
It is evident in the boredom that
threatens to turn people into perpetual
tourists who are always on the lookout
for places that are new, and in the burgeoning
“home improvement” market
that is clearly about the style of a house
but perhaps not the substance of a genuine
home. Most broadly it is witnessed in
ecological homelessness, the inability to
know and live responsibly within the natural
habitats that give us inspiration and
life. More than ever before, people live in what the anthropologist Marc Augé calls
“non-places”–in malls, airports, hotels,
on the freeway, and in cyberspace. These
are non-relational “places.” They do not
invite commitment or celebration. Nor do
they communicate belonging or care.

The feeling and condition of homelessness
that many people find themselves
in doesn’t just happen by accident.
There are structural features of our economy
and society, forces like globalization,
urbanization, and housing legislation, as
well as government policies and business
priorities that make it likely that people
will be unable to settle down or settle
into a community or place. Bouma-Prediger
and Walsh show that scripture has
ample resources to help us diagnose the
sources of homelessness and injustice
that keep people in a condition of homelessness.
They help us see the sin that
lurks behind the domicide and displacement
that characterizes our time.

Bouma-Prediger and Walsh argue
that homelessness is not our best and
true condition. God calls humanity to
be members of creation who are at home
with each other and at rest in God. What
home looks like, and what homemaking
requires, is a vast topic, and Beyond
Homelessness does an excellent job drawing
out the contours and charting appropriate
trajectories. Home is a matter
of building places of trust, community,
and memory. It is a place of permanence,
dwelling, story, rest, hospitality, orientation,
affiliation, and belonging. Though
it is possible to make an idol of a home,
or turn homes into fortresses or places
of escape from the world’s joy and need,
Bouma-Prediger and Walsh show that authentic
homemaking always keeps God’s
vision of shalom in mind. There can be
no true homemaking in a context of creation’s
destruction or a community’s disintegration.

To flesh out their vision Bouma-Prediger
and Walsh make effective use of
scripture. In particular they end each
chapter with a “biblical interlude,” an
imaginative retelling of a scriptural passage
that develops a dimension of what
home means and requires. Combined
with other exegesis, we begin to see that
the home-place of shalom is the place of
peace and justice, but also healing, safety,
rest, and compassion.

The condition of our natural habitats
and diverse communities suggests that
we are in desperate need of the analyses
and recommendations Beyond Homelessness
makes. Too many of us lack
the imagination and the hope necessary
to undergo the work of turning the exhausted
and degraded places we are in
into life-giving and life-inspiring homes.
Bouma-Prediger and Walsh show themselves
in this book to be essential guides
in the ways of true homemaking. Beyond
Homelssness deserves a wide reading and
an even wider implementation.

Norman Wirzba is research professor of theology, ecology,
and rural life at Duke Divinity School in Durham,
North Carolina.