Kristi and I are in Michigan for a visit with her family. We feel at home here. Kristi certainly does. In the basement is a room with pink carpet, according to her request in seventh grade – or mauve, to be precise. By now, the children feel at home, at least more than their first day of our visit.
For the first day, as long as Kristi and I were in range, Carson and Madalyn were fine. But panic struck when we put them down in the evening and left the room, much like panic struck when we would put them down on the nights following their homecoming from Ethiopia. These were not fussy cries, but cries of true sadness, even heartbreak. When their faces are soaked with tears, they aren’t just whining. They were in an unfamiliar place. They were in the dark and their parents just disappeared.
We like to be home. We like to be where we belong.
In his book, The Geography of Nowhere, James Kunstler explores “the rise and decline of America’s man-made landscape.” The introduction of the automobile and the rapid expansion of technology, have changed the way we work, the way we live, and the way we live, or don’t live, together. He writes, “The process of destruction that is the subject of this book is so poorly understood that there are few words even to describe it. Suburbia. Sprawl. Overdevelopment. Conurbation. Megalopolis…To me, it is a landscape of scary places, the geography of nowhere, that has simply ceased to be a credible human habitat. This book is an attempt to discover how and why it happened, and what we might do about it.”
Interesting. It’s not just for efficiency that homes are not built with little kitchens in each bedroom. Some space is meant to be shared. We like being together. Early American towns were built with people and community in view, and not just the sale and distribution of property. Kunstler provides a fascinating historical summary of how towns, in different places across time, have been built and the meaning of those spaces for the community.
I just picked up Knustler’s book, and I’ll enjoy learning about “the rise and decline of America’s man-made landscape,” but not because I am terribly concerned to do something about it, or fuss too much that it is what it is. Rather, Kunstler’s project is sure to reveal something true about what it means to be a human being. In what frustration he finds in the present situation, the Christian can look to Christ, his church the new creation for a resolution, whether Kunstler points us there or not.
They say that a good way to get the gist of a book is to read the conclusion first. Well, for Kunstler’s book I went right to the last paragraph, and there I found a gem.
All of that is a long introduction for Kunstler’s last paragraph, which is exactly the nugget that I hoped to find:
There is a reason that human beings long for a sense of permanence. This longing is not limited to children, for it touches the profoundest aspects of our existence: that life is short, fraught with uncertainty, and sometimes tragic. We know not where we come from, still less where we are going, and to keep from going crazy while we are here, we want to feel that we truly belong to a specific part of the world (275).
Life is short, it is fraught with uncertainty, and it is often tragic. I’m grateful to God that we can know where we come from. I’m grateful that through the gospel we can know where we are going and be happy about it. And I’m thankful that because of our union to one another as the church, we don’t have to go crazy while we are here. In the church, which is an outpost of the new creation in this world, we know exactly where we are, even if we do live in a geography of nowhere.