In a recent piece in First Things, R. R. Reno penned some thoughts about homelessness. While homelessness has been a rather divisive issue in my community the type of homelessness Reno discusses is hugely different. He explains, “Our economic, intellectual, and political elites in America feel at home in today’s system … By contrast, ordinary people feel less and less at home” (The Public Square, First Things, June/July 2016). His insight is an attempt to explain the rise of political populists such as Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left.
While homelessness due to poverty, addiction, and lifestyle choices is a critical issue in rural communities as well as urban centers, the kind of homelessness Reno writes about is more and more evident in my world. Over half of the land in my county is owned and managed by the federal government (meaning there are no property taxes to assess, physical access is limited and timber harvests are rare- which has been historically Douglas County’s prime job source). Even the state government enacts policies that increase the sense of homelessness in rural regions. Portland, Salem, Eugene (which tend to be heavily Democratic) with their population clearly control the destiny of Oregon politically.
Homelessness as Reno described is taking hold in our community as people are more and more alienated by directives from the federal government on access to bathrooms; state mandates that seem intent on increasing the number of patients on the highly touted Oregon Health Plan; and decisions about the minimum wage increase that ignore the clear economic realities.
While the current political and economic circumstances create a sense of homelessness for many in my community- the sense that they no longer belong to the idea of America, that there is no longer any room for the kind of labor and family structures that built our community- there is another sense in which we who claim to follow Jesus Christ will always be homeless!
This earth, this current political system – with all it’s positives and even it’s negatives – is not our home. God’s people have truly never been ‘at home.’ From Abraham, who was called to leave his family and his past, through John residing on Patmos we who respond to the call to follow Jesus are never ‘at home.’ Rather, as the author of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews indicates we are at best merely passing through. When describing Abraham and Sarah the author noted:
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13–16, ESV)
May we always be ‘homeless’ until we are truly ‘at home’ in the eternal presence of God Himself!