January 22, 2021

Sabbatical Journal Week 2: The Road Home and Back Again

Home is an interesting concept.

I have a “home” in western Kentucky, but I feel like a stranger there. I enjoyed visiting this week, but I really am like a man from another time and place.

I have a “home” in eastern Kentucky, but it’s very fragile. A few bumps in the road and difficulties, and I’m feeling “homeless.”

I have a home with my family, but with the kids gone, it’s a changed place, too. With recent changes in the spiritual directions Denise and I are traveling, it feels different as well.

My tradition says “heaven is my home.” I still have a long ways to go before that statement will make much sense to me.

I believe my home is the journey, and the God who leads me in it. In that way, my sabbatical journey is metaphorical of my life. I’m traveling, and when I get comfortable, it’s time to move again.

I spent this week visiting my old haunts, conversing with friends, eating familiar food, getting good work done in libraries, enjoying a beautiful retreat center and seeing relatives. A typical week home.

I was restless, as I always seem to be when I’m supposed to be restful.

My home town is wealthy, and the Christian community there is wealthy as well. Church facilities are palatial (unless you have lost the ability to know what “palatial” means.) Churches compete with one another for the consumer disciples who want the programs, music and style that make Christianity fit within this culture. There’s little “counter-cultural” in the Christianity in my home town. The Kingdom looks like the culture, not the table of beggars that will be at the party at the end of the world.

I made a big contribution to all of this. At the time, it just seemed like what I was supposed to do. As I drive through the poor sections of town now, I’m ashamed that I didn’t bring my youth groups down there. Not even once. Not for any reason. The other world, the world Jesus inhabited and loved, was right there all along. But I was socialized into not seeing it. I was afraid of my whiteness and my deadness to the reality of poverty and economic sin.

That’s the way it is with suburban Christianity. It blinds you by dazzling you. It blinds you with “science,” as in its own selective reasoning. You know the world of the last, lost, least, little and dead is out there, but you’re part of something so good, so cool, so big, so “nice,”…..you just don’t think about it. You can go to the parts of town made for you and your money and your kind of people, and you never see the other world. You can thank God for his blessings and go on. I do, all the time.

Pete Gall talks about a woman he once helped when he was working in the hood, and he didn’t see her again for months. Then one day he was on his way to a big church board meeting, and there was an accident in the road. When he drove past the accident, he could see that a pedestrian had been hit and killed. It was the woman he’d helped.

She’d had three small children.

But he had to get to the board meeting. Yeah, we all pass by on the other side. And “the other side” in my life is the comfort zone where my deepest assumptions about all of this aren’t really challenged at any level that would mess up my place in the world which I’ve chosen.

I wonder, what does God do to move us out of those comfort zones and to the other side of the road? How does he turn our head? And how have I learned to tune him out as well?

Next week I’m off to another “home” for me. St. Meinrad Archabbey in Southern Indiana. I’ll check in from there. Peace.


  1. Michael,
    Great post. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Blinded by bedazzlement is the predominant condition of the American churches for the most part. Your story at the end reminded me of a song by Chris Rice that asks, “How did I find myself in a better place?”. I have tried to make changes in my life, but old habits die hard. Does sponsoring a hungry child or a pastor through GFA qualify as going to the other side of the road? Or do we just do these things to feel like we have done something about it.?

  2. As to your feeling of being without a home, I was reading a story once about someone who said that the foxes have holes and the birds have nests but he didn’t have any place to sleep. The people in his “hometown” also tried to kill him.

  3. I know that guy. He’s very fond of me.

  4. I seem to recall C. S. Lewis saying that his Anglican church could use missionaries sent to the Anglican church.

    Sadly, the same is true for much of Christianity, especially the North American Protestant Evangelical flavor.

  5. You wrote what I thought was a great review of my book a couple of days ago. Fair in critique, insightful in what got traction for you. Thank you for that.

    This, though, this granting to me of some “mental real estate” as you look at your own world, is a true gift. Thank you for carrying my story with you as you explore your own. I believe that in the end all we really have to offer one another are our prayers and our testimonies, and when a brother “receives” either one, something profound and lasting has been accomplished. Thank you for that.

    I’ve been to St. Meinrad’s several times myself – and have a couple of favorite benches beneath the clusters of trees there. I’ll think of you, and pray for you, there as I clean up the yard after last night’s storms here in Indianapolis.

    One verse that has reoriented some of my thoughts and misgivings about the whole urban/suburban thing, and the ministry that goes on in each place, has been the passage in James 2 that talks about not giving up the good seat to the rich man with the fine robes and rings on his thumbs when he comes to church. For me the big question is, why — in a world where there was very little economic or political gain to be had from associating with the Christians — would the rich man come to church in the first place?

    All I can come up with is that he’d learned that the comforts of his wealth could do nothing to remove the effects of the Fall. He hurt, and he wanted comfort. He needed the Cross. When we give up the good seats to the rich men, or when we level our harsh criticism at the addictions of the suburbs, what we tend to communicate is a challenge of “who are you to complain?” And when we do that, we become an extra obstacle — a fallen, human social barrier — between an isolated person of means, and the Cross that beckons us all.

    There is a segregation that exists between urban and suburban ministries, and I think a great deal of the gulf between them has to do with the disrespect shown to the rich man. I think there is just as wrong about the way we don’t preserve the path to the Cross for the affluent as there is wrong with the way we tend to treat the poor as projects or problems to be solved.

    I hear you when you talk about how you didn’t cross the bridge between the suburbs and the “urbs” with your youth, and I’m sure there are all sorts of conflicting motivations behind that. But I would bet that even without that cross-cultural experience — and maybe exactly because that cross-cultural experience didn’t happen — the path to the Cross was kept open for the souls in your care.

    There are multiple cultures in the Body. And I don’t know that it’s accurate to say that Jesus was “counter-cultural” in his living. The term itself puts the culture at the center, and makes Jesus, and Christianity, a reactionary thing (which leaves it always “chasing cool,” and you can’t ever catch up with cool, or relevant). What I think I see, instead, is a proclamation of a different culture, one not defined over and against any other culture, but one that stands independently, and rests upon the mutually submitted, delighting, perichoretic relationship of the Trinity.

    I think there is adventure enough in discovering that culture to keep us busy — and very, very alive. Busy enough, I pray, to make the successes and regrets we feel about the way we dance through the other cultures seem increasingly dull. At least that is what has been happening in me about my time in Denver.

    Anyway, I will be praying for you today.

    And if you want to add a little extra drive time to your week, let me know — I know a great Ethiopian place not too far from my house.


  6. Fr. Mike Creson says

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. So often we find ourselves in a comfortable ministry away from the 4L’s&D folks. If we can see the poverty of soul even in the affluent then there lies our big challenge. A change in the way they view the Kingdom can rock their world.

  7. I am from your hometown in Western Kentucky. I know the things you are talking about very well. It might interest you to know that there are at least a few of us here in Owensboro who see these things. We are trying to make a difference. It is slow and very hard to go against the grain here. But we are finding that change is occurring.

  8. Haley Ballast says

    Thank you iMonk and Mr. Gall for two very thought-provoking posts. I’m off to my affluent, suburban, palatial church full of rich people like me who desperately need Jesus…

  9. some say it is better to travel than to arrive

  10. I’m not sure what God does to move out of our comfort zones. I don’t think he forces us out. Then again, as you mentioned before, how do we deal with/incorporate/appropriate the “bad” things that happen to us? Instead of blaming God for our loss, maybe we should see in these things divine providence.

    Gall’s story is a case in point. That fact that it bears re-telling indicates how God moves us out of our comfort zone. In retrospect, or its recounting, it seems obvious that the Church board meeting was not important at all. Scripture is full of stories like that, such as the parable Gall’s story invokes. If listening to Jesus doesn’t move us, if having an experience like Gall’s doesn’t move us, its because we have hearts made of stone and forgetful minds. Liturgy is repetitve because, in the words of a former liturgy prof., we’re all amnesiacs.

  11. oh, enjoy St. Meinrad. We made a brief visit there several years ago and it was amazing.

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