Homeless Christians?

My brother’s been blogging lately about the nexus between living as Christians and living in “our” broader culture. The brings to mind what Tony Jones wrote about the “Hauerwasian Mafia” a while back. Here are some of my (brief) thoughts on these matters.

Some theologies preach a metaphysical dualism. There is a material world and there is a spiritual world. The salvation Christianity teaches is OF the spiritual world and saves us FROM the material world.  Other theologies see more unity between what we would call material and what we would call spiritual.

Most theologies preach a social dualism. There is a secular (non-Christian) world of sociality and a Christian world of sociality. Some Christians say we are called to spurn the former and embrace the latter. Others say we are called to save the latter.

I’m not yet convinced of the argument that Christians ought to have nothing to do with any forms of sociality other than church. Biological family? Jesus did away with that. Ethnic or national identity? Pure idolatry.

When it comes to family, my reading of the NT is that Jesus doesn’t do away with family. Rather, he relativizes it. While one’s primary relationship is to Jesus, with this relationship becoming the pivot for all other relationships, those other relationships are not eliminated. Jesus is still able to condemn {can I say Jesus condemned something?) those who weasel out of responsibility toward honoring parents.

Ethnic or national identification surely has a weaker case in the NT, though I still think relativizing is a better description than elimination. Jesus doesn’t only love “the world” (which we take to mean “everybody”). He also loves his own people Israel, and laments over their misguided ways. Paul loves his fellows Jews as well (Rom. 9), but is also willing to USE his Roman citizenship when it seems useful. From what I see, he never seems interested in pursuing the Roman agenda (what was the average Roman’s sense of “responsible citizenship?” I don’t know).

Paul lived an itinerant lifestyle – like some other folks I know – though his tenure in each location seems shorter than ours. I don’t see him at any point saying of a place, “This is my home.” Though Jesus appears to have had a house in Capernaum, in the period of his life depicted in the Gospels, he seems even more “homeless” than Paul. What are we to make of their homelessness? Is that aspect of their lives to be part of our imitation, our following? If it is, then most Christians for most of the time since Christ have gone seriously wrong.

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8 Responses to Homeless Christians?

  1. chet thomas says:

    In his book “Just Walk Across the Room” Bill Hybel’s (Willow Creek) argues that christians shouldn’t isolate themselves from the world, but should be engaged in it. If you hide a light under a bushell…. Although I am not overly fond of the book, he makes some good points. Their is no outreach to isolationist christianity. I can think of no basis for isolating ourselves from the world. Jesus didn’t, he met people where they were. God didn’t (Thank God – no pun intended). The Church shouldn’t either. If we wait for “the world” to come through the front doors of the church, there will continue to be more empty pews.
    Yes, I think you can say Jesus condemns things, because he did. There seems to be certain segments of “Churchianity” that finds condemnation (you bunch of sinners) and not Jesus’ message of loving one another the core message of the gospels.
    I enjoy reading your thoughts. Found you off of Jeff Olive’s blog.

  2. Dan Morehead says:

    I’m not sure I’d look to Paul’s missionary journeys as a model for how to live, any more than I’d look to Matt 3.4 for diet advise. There is a way in which home is made relative in the NT, both eschatologically and through a different notion of community. Yet, there is also a way of construing a Christian ethic which is quite serious about locality.

    As one of Hauerwas’ students, I posted on Tony’s post about the Hauerwasian Mafia because I thought his writing was rather careless and/or uninformed.

    First time through this part of the blogosphere…

  3. rheyduck says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Dan. As a UM pastor, I’m living itinerantly. But before I was a pastor I was a student and before that a military kid. Moving from place to place was all I knew. As I learn of my family heritage I’ve heard that my forebears described themselves as having “itchy feet,” always ready to move on. Moving is one thing when you’re a single person – or even a couple – but much harder when you have children. What are the key resources you’ve found in Hauerwas for developing a Christian understanding of a commitment to a locality?

  4. Dan Morehead says:

    I feel ya. Your question is difficult to answer with specifics for the very reason we’re discussing: I move too frequently. 1/3 of my books are in Chicago, all of my Hauerwas books are in Scotland, and I’m here in Durham, NC….for now.

    I could say a couple things though. Aquinas, and through Aquinas, Aristotle, are rather important figures in Dr. Hauerwas’ thinking. It is from these sources that he gets his understanding of virtue as habit. His talk of and focus on ‘habits and practices’ that form us into being able tow worship God rightly inflect his thought toward a rootedness in ongoing activities, which cannot be limited to, but also cannot exclude the importance of place. Friendship, another important concept for Hauerwas, has some corresponding needs. When Hauerwas writes about L’Arche as a peace movement (I think this article was incorporated in the book he wrote with Romand Coles: Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary: Conversations Between a Radical Democrat and a Christian), he says:


    L’Arche also teaches the significance of place. You cannot be constantly going and coming as an assistant. Core members love routines and routines create and are created by familiarity and familiarity makes place “a” place. Place and routine can become boring without the celebration of beauty. Thus it is crucial for L’Arche that each person’s birthday be celebrated in recognition of the beauty that is their life. Place and routine are transformed by recognizing the beauty of each person which makes trust possible which thereby makes L’Arche possible. So Zone USA was right–there is a connection between building structures and processes that support long-term membership in L’Arche communities and the process through which a more peaceful and just world can come into being. Without L’Arche and communities like L’Arche we could not know what trust looks like.
    In like manner L’Arche USA is also right that one of its tasks is to deepen its relationship with other L’Arche communities in other parts of the world. I often call attention to the Mennonite poster with the slogan: “A Modest Proposal for Peace–Let the Christians of the World Agree They Will Not Kill One Another.” Peace is knowing other people in a manner that makes impossible any thought of their destruction in the interest of “wider loyalties.” It is hard to imagine anyone who has lived in a L’Arche community thinking that violence must be used in the name of a “good cause.” The timefulness and placedness of a L’Arche way of life is a marked alternative to the violence of the world shaped by speed and placelessness. For if Paul Virilio is right, the dominant form violence takes in modernity is speed. According to Virilio contemporary war is shaped by mechanisms of mass communication which makes war less and less about territory and more about the management of information. As a result our perceptions are mediated by logics of violence in the form of speed creating a new vision of the world in which everyone “naturally” understands themselves to be part of the war machine. Local space and time disappear to be replaced by a single, global, and virtual “real time.”


    Most of what he says about L’Arche, he would say about friendship and the church generally. Place matters. Being rooted in a locality does not guarantee that one will be formed rightly, but it does hold out the possibility of formation, of knowledge and trust in friendship, and the possibility becoming the kind of people who can witness to the God who called Israel out of Egypt and raised Jesus from the dead.

    That’s all shooting from the hip, but I think I’m gesturing in a helpful direction. Did you know that Hauerwas also attended Southwestern University?

  5. rheyduck says:

    Thanks, Dan. Yes, I know Stanley is a fellow Southwestern Alum. We both count (I believe) John Score as our first philosophy teacher (although I believe Stanly had a more positive experience than I did).

    I’ve read a fair amount of Hauerwas over the years, and of late I hear the Barthian/Yoderian influences coming across more loudly than the Aristotelian (or MacIntyrean). At least I read what looks like as a “church is the only institution with which Christians ought to concern themselves” view as related to (flowing out of?) Barth’s rejection of natural theology.

    Thanks for the L’Arche quote. I suppose part of my struggle is coming to terms with my daughter’s autism & mental retardation. I know first hand the need for routines (and my own frequent revulsion toward them – perhaps sinful perversion of my being an intP). I sorrow that she misses out on friendships because of the paucity of resources in our small town.

    It looks like I’m going to have to break down and get the Hauerwas & Coles book. It’s a real pain having all my bookcases full and still having an Amazon wishlist of 13 pages.

  6. Dan Morehead says:

    I spent a year living/working in a L’Arche community and Stanley and I talk frequently about the intersections of theology and disabilities. I’m sure your daughter is wonderful, but know also that it can be work akin to parenting multiple children and you have to deal with people who don’t have the understanding that you do. I hope you welcome help as a means of giving to others. [INTP’s…not always great on the receiving, allowing, inviting, asking for help side of things.] On Stanley, I’d disagree with your assessment. I really don’t understand why people hear his perspectives as saying “church is the only institution with which Christians ought to concern themselves.” It’s true his work is addressed to the church. But, if you think of his primary influences as Yoder, Barth, Thomas, and MacIntyre, I don’t think his thinking can work without all four being determinative. Whatever…

    Nice to converse. Stop by my blog sometime as I should be blogging more during the summer. Don’t be put off by the seemingly arrogant title, it all started as a joke.

  7. Kim says:

    I am finding this conversation especially helpful. #1, I wrestled with whether to uproot my family to apply to traditional psych PhD programs, and finally decided to go the nontraditional route … being a bit of an educational snob, I had to overcome my suspicions of a different paradigm … fortunately it is turning out amazingly well, #2, I live in an underserved, rural area and am beginning to struggle with the particular cultural/professional issues this area demands, #3, I never in a million years dreamed I’d put down roots in West Texas, and have sometimes thought of those roots as a hindrance.
    And I must insert that I personally had a positive experience with Dr. Score, although I seldom agreed with him. He thought I was funny. Maybe my arguments were just that bad. However, I also thought he was funny. Doug thinks I’m crazy. And, after his death and a time lapse of over 20 years, I find myself frequently rediscovering bits I picked up in Dr. Score’s class … Just yesterday I flashed back to “Flatland,” when one of my students did a report on Karen Horney and “womb envy.” (I can explain if somebody wants me to but I doubt anybody really does.) I think Dr. S. would also find it funny that I now consider myself a constructivist (OK, technically I’m more of a critical realist). I was first introduced to the idea of “constructs” in his class.

  8. JAy. says:

    I think that the end of your post is quite an interesting topic upon which to ponder. I agree that Jesus and Paul both seem to not have homes discussed in the NT. Paul is definitely a traveling man. Jesus may have had a house, but it is certainly not discussed directly, and he has no visible means of supporting a household either (of course neither are the point of the NT, so ommission would not ne suprising).

    But relating the lives of our Lord and the greatest evangelist of all times to ourselves makes for an interesting conundrum.

    I can look at Paul and say that, while he always seemed on the go, we may chose to look at his life with two points to differentiate him from us. First, he was organizing and supporting groups in many areas. Second, he was living in the first century (duh). My point is that (1) he is not like all of us, only some of us, and (2) he had limited means of both travel and communications, so seemingly being a constant traveller without a home was required, whether desired or not. A modern organizer has much more technology to allow him to visit and support multiple groups while still having a home to return to. Also note that Paul never wrote to churches telling them to leave their physical comfort zones and head out into the world. He wanted them instead to build communities.

    Looking at Jesus, while He did travel, his focus was relatively local by modern standards, and His travel seemed to revolve primarily around relationships. He did works as He traveled, but He seemed to always have a destination in mind, and His destination was usually not directly related to His works.

    So to apply this to our lives, I think that we have to let relationships lead us where they will, as that seems to be what drove both Paul and Jesus. While travelling, we have to be prepared and willing to do our works. But I do not see it as a call to give up our houses and become nomads. We just can’t let “home” become an idol in our lives.

    But that is only the opinion of a poorly educated (theologically speaking) regular Joe!

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