A Post to my Congregation on January 12, 2022

by Glenn on January 12, 2022

I love it when people come up with words that make sense of my experience of the world. This is a real gift, I think. It’s a delight when you read or listen to someone and find yourself saying, “I had never thought about it like that before” or “I never had the words to explain myself” or “That’s exactly right.”

I had that experience last week. I listened to a favorite podcast—Econtalk. On a recent episode the Jewish-American moderator Russ Roberts and his Irish-American guest, the journalist Megan McArdle, sat down for a conversation. Which sounds like a joke. But it wasn’t.

The subject was “the idea of home and the role of national identity.” It was a discussion of a book, Where We Are, written by the late British conservative, Roger Scruton, who explored the meaning of the Brexit vote for the British people. Not sure I will read the book, but this conversation around the book was rich.

Early in the discussion the guest, Megan McArdle, said a couple of things that were really interesting. First, she believes that “we are always in the end kind of bound by extremely particular attachments to a particular place, a particular home, a particular people, and a particular kind of way of life.”

Second, she mentioned that there are two kinds of people—the “Somewheres” and the “Anywheres.” These are “the people who live in one place and stay there versus the people who are constantly mobile and can go anywhere.” She suggested the Anywhere sort of people had the hardest time with the Coronavirus because they had to become Someplace sort of people.

I resonated with these two terms because it describes my experience here in Aims. I don’t ever remember living around so many Someplace sort of people.

And we definitely live someplace. It’s a place where many drive around with a chainsaw in the back of their vehicle—“rig” or “truck” I imagine is what they would call it—because you never know when you’ll need it to clear the way home.

It’s a place where, when it’s windy, it’s not just possible but quite likely that the power is going off. (It was windy last Friday when I was going to send this. The power came on and off three times before it finally died. The nice thing about the power finally going off is that you’re no longer worried about the power going off.)

It’s a place in the forest, among the trees. It’s quiet. And peaceful. Particularly in these dark, winter months. The loudest sound outside this morning is the creek behind the church building, which is so full that it sounds a bit like the wind today.

And it’s a place where many have lived all their lives with no interest in living anywhere else.

And yet our identity is not simply this place we live. As we’re beginning to learn in our series on the Seven Churches of Revelation, every congregation lives someplace—there are real circumstances that come with living in a particular place—but ultimately, the identity of every congregation is not found exclusively in a place but in Jesus, who is among the churches and holds the churches in his hand.

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There was a second part of the podcast that I resonated with. The host, Russ Roberts, spoke of national identity. He mentioned how the United States has a problem right now related to how we think of ourselves as a nation. Here’s how he framed the issue: “our conception of who we are as a nation is a half-full and half-empty–or at best half-full, half-empty–that there’s this proud part of us. And, then there’s this ashamed part. And, many people have decided to only choose one.”

I loved this part of the podcast because it put into words feelings I’ve had for the last eighteen months or so. How am I to think about this country in which we live? I’ve noticed there are people who want to tell a grand story about who we are as a country and leave out uncomfortable things like slavery and its effects. And then there are people who want to tell a story about how bad this country is.

These stories feel exclusive. And to add nuance or a corrective to either narrative is to invite trouble.

The guest, McArdle believes both tendencies are wrong. She says that “it is unhealthy if a nation is unwilling to admit the bad things that it has done . . . But, is there something really disturbing about the sight of a nation that has decided to only focus on the bad things it did?”

This rang true for me as I think about our country. I believe it is true of us as people as well.

As believers we can’t be solely proud of who we are because God isn’t finished with us, yet. Humility recognizes that we are works in progress and there are areas to grow. We are not all that we can be in Jesus. “Look how far we’ve come” is always balanced by “Look how far we have to go.”

On the other hand, we can’t simply live in shame. Among the sad things in life is watching someone whose only idea of themself is shame. This denies the very thing Jesus came to do—“he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

This morning we find ourselves someplace. May we experience joy in that place.

And we are in the process of becoming. May we forget “what is behind” and strain “for what is ahead,” pressing on “toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13–14)