Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving for Our Four Homes

What Is Ours

I have one daughter, now an adult living in Brea, CA with two young children of her own.  One of my great pleasures is watching her being fully embedded in the timeless art of being a nurturing mother—providing physical care yes, but more passing through the generations love and guidance, while taking joy and satisfaction in her 7 year old son Brett and her 2 year old daughter Bridget.

The year Katie was 9, I was intern minister in Syracuse NY.  We lived in a government subsidized housing complex of town house packed together in a little complex.  The complex was atumble with kids.  I remember most of all the sound of plastic tires—Big Wheels—racing over the asphalt pavement at all hours of the day.

Katie had a lot of playmates in that confined and family-packed place, including several girls her age.  Some were nice and some weren’t.  One girl, her name was Becky I remember, lorded it over Katie throughout the year we lived there.  Becky took every opportunity to tell Katie that whatever she had or did was better than what Katie had or did.

This irked Katie to no end.  However, Katie, even at 9, was able to process Becky’s ways.  Once Becky blurted out, “I like my Mommy, better than your Mommy.” 

Now think of all the possible responses -- different ways of tearing down Becky’s mother and lifting Katie’s own Mom.  But Katie gave a response that is among the wisest responses possible, which I’ve processed among the best insight/advice I’ve ever heard.

Katie said simply, “Of course you like your Mommy better.  She’s your Mommy.”

Now think about that inborn wisdom – that whatever is ours we like the best, whether it’s our political party, or our sports team, or our school, or our whatever…  (Notice that we claim so many things as ours.)

Just because something is ours and we like it the best, doesn’t mean it’s categorically the best, but from within our own experience we tend to like it better than anything, anywhere, else.

This Thanksgiving service we’re going to talk about Home.  Actually I want to talk about our several Homes, because we have many different kinds of Homes, beyond the home in which each of us lives, nurturing and sheltering us.

Church Home

Our church’s first minister William Channing Gannett was famous for writing an essay in the 1890’s in which he described ordinary graces that made a house a home -- what he called the House Beautiful.

This building designed by William Channing Gannett is unique.  From its beginning it was called a Church-Home.  It combines the elements of a Church and a Home in one building.  The room with the fireplace represents The Family, with a hearth (or fireplace) around which a 19th century family might have gathered.  There is a fireplace in the Auditorium to show that the family’s hearth flows into the Auditorium, where our congregation’s services have taken place since 1889, when the building was dedicated with a special hymn written for the occasion by Rev. Gannett– “Here Be No One a Stranger.”  The words were heartfelt then and I believe are still heartfelt now. For nearly 125 years, this congregation has intentionally opened its doors for whosoever seeks a religious home of reason and freedom of belief and conscience.  Not only Welcome, but Welcome Home is our greeting to all visitors.

Whenever I think about the intentional meanings of our Church Home, I remember a famous poem by Robert Frost in which a husband and wife, Warren and Mary, have a conversation about the meaning of home.  

First Warren speaks, then Mary:

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in."

"I should have called it
Something you somehow haven't to deserve."

Our City Home

Our family home and our Church Home are in Chicagoland, meaning that we live in the orbit of the city of Chicago.  Chicago is world class, meaning that it has a host of features that only a city of vast resources and concentration of culture can offer.  Think of all the things that Chicago offers: colleges and universities, a symphony orchestra and a civic opera, theaters, museums (the Field Museum, the Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Oriental Institute  are among the finest of their sorts in the world), two important zoos, beaches, boulevards, and parks, an Arboretum and Botanic Garden, professional sports teams – football, baseball, soccer, hockey, basketball, no end of restaurants, research hospitals, airports, public transportation, including the El and Metra….

I remember when I first came here in 1983, when Ellie, Katie, and I were part of a springtime, Saturday throng of people flowing and eddying  along the upper part of Michigan Avenue known as the Miracle Mile with its tony stores—a canyon of glittering prosperity towered by great buildings, including one of the tallest skyscrapers of the world.  The surviving Water Tower in the midst reminded me of the momentous history of the city that had risen from the ashes to erect architecture that led the world in the 20th century.  How I felt a surge of pride in my newly chosen home.  I was glad to be here, in this place—my recently adopted home.  It became more and more my home.

I became familiar with Chicago history (and has a rich history) and acquired what I call lore–stories, anecdotes, images.  I haunted neighborhoods and had firsthand experiences that filled my days.

Many years ago, I acquired a poster from the 1933 World’s Fair – The Century of Progress.  Whenever I look at it, all that I know to be Chicago is imagined—the idea of our city, the city that is our home.  Sweet home Chicago!

Our Heartland Home

Our world class city of Chicago is here because of Nature.  A frequent word we use in talking about the region in which we live is Heartland. Heartland evokes a variety of responses:  Heart evokes love. Heart evokes center—and we are in the middle of the country, indeed continent.  Heart evokes the muscle that keeps the body alive. 

For me, Heartland reminds me of the great living organism—the Nature—of our country, indeed continent.  I have been influenced by two great books:  Nature’s Metropolis by William Cronon and Sacred Sands by my colleague Ron Engels.

Nature’s Metropolis explains Chicago’s pre-eminence by virtue of being the likely center where the resources of the Midwest were concentrated and processed, not only to build a city, but to build a country.  The past and present greatness of Chicago is a matter of location, originally the course of the Great Lakes and river systems, later enhanced by canals, railroads, and highways.  And the Nature around Chicago is incredibly abundant.

My greatest revelation of our Heartland’s Nature came via Ron Engel’s study of the significance of region known as the Dunes, what he aptly called Sacred Sands, at the bottom of Lake Michigan, sweeping from South Chicago around the lake into Northwest Indiana to and beyond Michigan City.  In this incredibly varied ecosystem all of the nature of North America converges. 

Ron Engel used terms like Axis Mundi (world center/pivot) and God’s Navel to try to describe in mythic language the sacredness of this part of our Heartland Home.

The Ancient Greeks spoke of the spirit of a place—their phrase was genius loci.  For me the spirit of where we live is the spirit of a great, abundant, varied, and beautiful continent.  We live in the ecological center of it, and it is the reason for Chicago’s existence and greatness.

For me the physical representation of the resident spirit of Chicago is an ancient Greek grain goddess.  Ceres stands in Art Deco serenity, atop the Board of Trade building, 40 stories above La Salle Street, the central street of the financial district.
Gladness for Our Several Homes

Let’s be thankful for the several homes I’ve spoken about:

·               --our individuals homes where we make meaning and find deep sanctuary;
·               --our Church Home where we meet  kindred spirits and create community;
·              -- our city home, Chicago that is world class;
·               --and our Heartland home where the Nature of a continent converges. 

How fortunate and blessed we are. 

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