Glad Sad Lonely
If I died today, I’m not sure where my body would be buried.
When I bought a house on Studer Rd. in Little Rock, I said to my friends, “You can bury me in the front yard because I don’t plan to go anywhere.” When I moved to Nashville fifteen years ago and bought a house in Hidden Valley I said to my friends, “You can bury me in the back yard (I liked the back yard of this house better than the front) because I don’t plan to go anywhere!” I live in Alaska now and I have NOT and will NOT make that statement again.
Six years ago, Chip Dodd said to me, “Jeff, you’ve been looking for home your whole life.” When I told Al Henson I felt “homeless” he said, “You’ve tried your best to make something here on Earth feel like home, but Jesus is your home.”
There is much I’d like to blog about this topic. In fact, my heart and mind are boiling with thoughts as I write this. But today, I want to introduce you to my new favorite author: M. Craig Barnes.
Before our big move to Alaska, I gave away 1/3 of my pastoral library – hundreds of books piled to the ceiling of the entire back of my 1994 red Toyota 4Runner. If I had to cull my books again (and I likely will), there are only a few I’d not want to part with. Included in that number would be my collection of Craig Barnes.
The following is the first couple paragraphs from Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls.
"The sun was shining hard on my father’s coffin as it lay perched above the hole in the ground where he would finally stay put.
We were standing in one of those stark cemeteries that don’t have any trees. The grave markers were tarnished little plaques that lie low on their backs just below the grass line, so it wouldn’t be hard for the guys who mow the brown lawn. Dad had spent most of his life in the shadows, so I knew he would hate this place and be eager to join those hiding under the ground, protected from the revealing light.
He spent the first part of his life trying to be at home in the respectable places. Not only was he the head of our home, but he was the head of our home church, serving as the pastor. But failing at all of that, he left when I was a teenager. For almost thirty years I never knew where he was as he abandoned all who loved him. He abandoned every notion of home to roam about as a tourist through life. He died alone on Thanksgiving 2000. At the time he was living in a raggedy Airstream camping trailer parked at the “Mobile Home Village” somewhere in the middle of Florida. We buried him a few miles down the road.
If it were up to him, and for the first time it wasn’t, he wouldn’t have shown up for his funeral. But there he was. So dead, and yet finally so present. It was the one last pathetic irony in the life of a father known mostly through absence.
I was never sure about where home was for my dad, but I knew this wasn’t it. Burying him 'a few miles down the road' may have been the perfect symbol of his meandering life, but it was still a lonely one. We imagine that our loved ones will one day be placed under a large oak tree on a grassy knoll not far from the family homestead. That way even their graves will tether us to the home where our souls are always nurtured and our identities renewed. But my father is now resting near the highway somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
Standing beside that barren grave, watching the dry wind toy with a piece of litter along the road, I wondered if this was the identity to which I was tethered. I had never thought about home much before that afternoon, but since then it’s been my great passion. What is home? Where is mine? And how do we conduct lives that amount to something more than getting a few miles down the road to nowhere special?"