Charting a Course in a Post-COVID World

In this article adapted from a June 11, 2020, webinar, Michael gathers some ancient wisdom to shed light on current events, especially as we continue to grapple and wrestle with exactly what will happen with COVID-19.

In this article adapted from a June 11, 2020, webinar, Michael gathers some ancient wisdom to shed light on current events, especially as we continue to grapple and wrestle with exactly what will happen with COVID-19. “I can’t claim to have a crystal ball to say what the world will look like, but, given the situation we’re in now, I think there are some lessons that we can learn that will be very helpful for us as we seek to move forward,” he says.

We exist in a time of distress and, in times of distress, the people make great demands of their leaders. All too often, though, the people fail to demand the same of themselves. We turn to the leaders we want, not the leaders we need; we take from our leaders what we want, not what we need; and, in doing so, we abrogate civic responsibility and fall into a trap as ancient as the first books of the Bible.

Moses, the central figure of the whole Old Testament, is the template of leadership we need for this COVID time, the exiled Israelites under his charge the warning we must heed. What we want right now are words of hope, what we need right now is a model for leading a people when the entire basis for your culture shifts underneath you.

Moses, the central figure of the whole Old Testament, is the template of leadership we need for this COVID time, the exiled Israelites under his charge the warning we must heed.

In 2019, I was in Ukraine just before their presidential elections. I met with the leadership of the country, as it was then, and with those running for office. Over the course of sixteen meetings with candidates, leadership, and cabinet members, every single one of them referenced Moses. Their words typically ran, “Given the crisis we’re in, given the moment we’re in, what we really need now is a ‘Moses’.” What they thought they meant was someone who would come, do the seemingly impossible by parting the Red Sea and get people safely through the other side of a dire situation.

The first time someone shared that with me, I smiled and asked if they had read the Book of Exodus recently. They hadn’t. The “Moses” of popular imagination miraculously parts the sea but as a leader he is so much more. In Exodus, as Moses was seeking to lead people through a time of crisis, the people came to him and said: “It would have been better for us to be where we were rather than come to this place and die in the desert.” Moses took this very hard. When it happened for the second time, in the Book of Numbers, Moses went so far as to ask God to remove him from his leadership position, “Look, I can’t handle this. I want you to remove me.” It’s a dramatic request. He’s actually asking for his life to be removed in order to deliver him from the burden of leadership.

The Expectation Gap

The impact of the Israelites’ time in the wilderness was profound not only on the people, but also on Moses as a leader. He despaired of the people and of his task. However, it is the disillusionment of the people that should interest us the most. By any objective standard, it wasn’t true that their situation was worse than where they had come from. By any objective standard, it was better. They were living as a free people in the desert rather than as slaves trying to make bricks without straw. In making their complaint to Moses, the people were not comparing what they had previously had (slavery) with what they currently had (freedom). They were comparing what they currently had with what they expected to have, and the expectation gap had led to despair and disillusionment. And it fueled a further (dis)illusion: just as in today’s world, we blame the leader, so the Israelites blamed Moses and his style of leadership for their hardship. Their blame and despair amplified Moses’ own sense of failure.

This expectation gap is as important in this coronavirus crisis as it was in the wilderness. As we navigate COVID-19, we have wrestled between people’s expectations (how quickly it may pass, our ability to confine it, the ability to quickly come up with a solution) and reality. Leaders are confronted with a global expectation gap, which has manifested itself in the same public despair, and they’re not sure now how to navigate this particular course.

The Narcissistic Shift from Duties to Rights

The course is more precarious, especially in the Western world, because we are collectively facing mortality for the first time in this age of advancement and individuality. We view success as the ability to postpone the moment of mortality for as long as possible, rather than conditioning ourselves to live with our inevitable death and meet it well. It is a narcissistic narrative that began half a century ago, when more and more people stopped thinking about their duties and obligations and instead began to think in terms of what rights we should demand.

In short: everything revolves around us. We look increasingly toward our government to protect and preserve. We perceive they are duty-bound to protect us from things previous generations felt only God could protect us from: fear of disease, famine, crises. Where once we would turn to Him, now we look to our government as if it was God. This loads governments with a weight they cannot carry and, in the process, those in leadership are tempted to make promises they cannot deliver. When those promises break and we realize our limitations, cynicism is the result and we struggle to think through our own limitations.

Around the world, 2.4 billion Christians, 1.5 billion Muslims, and countless others, including the Jewish community, look to Moses as a leader. Interestingly, this much exalted leader is described as one of the humblest men who ever lived. As a matter of fact, as the humblest man. The former chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Johnathan Sacks, points out quite how remarkable is his humility. How remarkable it is that the distinctive quality associated with the man who led an entire group of people through a time of immense crisis and terrible loss, is not force of character, but a gentleness and humility for which he is still remembered and revered.

We need to embrace Moses’ humility and rediscover the limits of what we can do. Like Moses, we need to unashamedly turn to the one who can intervene and, at times, even change the course of history in his hand, as he could turn a stream of water.

We need to embrace Moses’ humility and rediscover the limits of what we can do.

Generate Capacity Not Dependency

We need leaders who are not just addressing our interests but are raising our sights. If we feel everything can be done for us, we are in danger of generating a global form of dependency rather than generating capacity. When we become overly dependent, even on skilled leadership, we find ourselves in great difficulty.

Let us look again to Moses. If God can intervene, why does He need Moses? Why not do everything Himself and bypass human agency? The answer is that it has always been God’s desire and fashion to use people, to guide them and to lead them. He doesn’t just bring us into being, He gives us a purpose and reason for being. Life may be difficult, but it tells us we’re actually necessary, within his economy, to bring about what He would have us bring about.

Life may be difficult, but it tells us we’re actually necessary, within his economy, to bring about what He would have us bring about.

We don’t simply need hubris and motivation at this point, we need to develop a capacity for innovation. If we are going to progress, we must innovate and re-make so we can live in a fresh and a whole new way. The encouragement I find is that we don’t have to generate this strength ourselves. One of the most remarkable promises we find in the Bible and through the life of Jesus Christ is the gift of endurance. When you have endurance to run a race, you’re not talking about being delivered out of it, you’re talking about being given strength for it.

The reason why endurance and agency speak into the issue of truth and trust is that when we overpromise and underdeliver, we see an erosion of sympathy and an erosion of loyalty to the institutions of leadership that can deliver aid and relief and shelter at this time. It is not weakness to recognize our limitations; if we are to rebuild trust within our own communities and within the global community, we need to have the strength of character and the strength of humility to admit our own limitations and the strength to endure in spite of those limitations. We are faced with the challenge of casting a vision for hope, which doesn’t generate false expectation.

Questions of Responsibility

Alongside wisdom and humility, we need to ask the question, “What is it that I’m being asked to do?” Moses is twice confronted by the people with the question: “We’re here in the desert, we’re going to starve here, why did you bring us to this point?” In Exodus 16, he deals with the objection in his stride, and he says: “Okay, here’s the solution.” and he lays out his answer. But when it happens a second time, as recorded in the Book of Numbers, Chapter 11, Moses loses heart.

Why does Moses lose heart the second time and not the first? We can find the answer in an unlikely place. Ronald Heifetz, Harvard academic, one of the leading lights in the field of management and author of the seminal 1994 book Leadership Without Easy Answers says that, “in times of global crisis, one of the greatest failures we have in leadership is diagnostic. We can’t distinguish between technical and adaptive challenges.”

When it comes technical challenges, we know the problem, we know the solution, and we know the resources required to implement the solution. The only question is around how do we implement an effective and efficient system? Technical problems respond very well to strong command and control systems. But adaptive challenges are very different. Adaptive challenges are when the issue is unknown, when we’re struggling to realize how we can deal with it. There are no known or proven solutions, and now we’re struggling to innovate and create in order to meet the new challenge. What we’re facing with COVID-19 and its impact is an adaptive challenge, not a technical one.

What we’re facing with COVID-19 and its impact is an adaptive challenge, not a technical one.

When Moses hears the same complaint brought to him for the second time, he feels such despair because he realizes this is different from the first time. The first was a technical challenge, the problem was the food. Now it’s an adaptive challenge, the problem is the people. Adaptive challenges are hard. The solutions often require our values, our culture, our practices, to change. The question is: “Who on earth is capable of bringing about that change, in our thinking, in our hearts, in our life?” Moses realizes he can’t possibly do this, and he says to God: “You’ve given me a burden too great.”

God’s response to Moses is interesting. He does two things: He distributes the burden of leadership across a wider field and He helps Moses realize and accept the limits of his own leadership. What he cannot do, God can. Jesus Christ said that he was able to give peace in this world in a way that the world doesn’t give it. The world can give peace in the form of a solution but when we’re dealing with things unseen, we are living in a hope which is yet unrealized.

A Peace the World Cannot Give

The remarkable thing Jesus promises us and says he is able to do, in a time of crisis as well as in a time of stability, is to give a form of peace and comfort and hope within the human heart, which cannot be taken away from us; something the early Christians themselves discovered 2,000 years ago.

In Romans, Chapter 8, there’s a very famous question, “Who can separate us from the love of God?” Interestingly, that question is never answered, the question actually answered is, “what may separate us from the love of God?” It answers with a list, and the first two words are striking, especially in today’s context. The first word literally means “to be constrained.” The second word means to be “hemmed in,” which is why we translate it to “stress.” If you hem in an animal, it’s going to feel distressed and act accordingly. Those two concepts speak directly and immediately to the situation we all find ourselves in. Romans tells us that even under feelings of constraint or of being hemmed in, there is a strength and a love and a peace that is able to endure and survive.

The list in Romans ends by saying that, even if the sword were to come (i.e. if our life was to be taken away), it is possible to know a peace in this world; even death itself is unable to disturb or remove. We’re in desperate need of that hope right now. We’re in desperate need of a hope that doesn’t just simply take us and inspire us to the point of our grave but raises the question, “is there anything else actually beyond it?” And that’s exactly what Jesus himself began to talk about and to promise.

This is the world that we live in, but it’s not the world that we live for. There is also a world that God promises is yet to come, and we can live in light of that, which means that even if we cease to have life in this world, there is still a life we can enjoy eternally with Him. If we know peace in this world with Him, that peace will continue thereafter. He makes it possible through the extension of His forgiveness. This is a very different narrative to the one that is building up at this moment, but it speaks into the challenges we all face.

Approaching Adaptive Challenges

We are living in a time of great adaptive challenge. We are dealing with unknown problems, to which there are no known technical solutions, and part of the solution is going to require a change of attitude, of heart, of practice. The post-COVID world will be a permanently changed one, and even when we come up with a vaccine and a cure, the memory of it will live long, and patterns of behavior are going to need to adapt.

We are not even sure at this point if a vaccine will be successful, but we’re doing the best that we can. Therefore, the question is, “How do we live in the meantime, and what happens when we’re not talking about six months or a year or two years, what happens when we’re talking about five, or ten, or for a lifetime, what is it that is able to help us through?” We have to face the adaptive challenge head on. We need, therefore, a creative, innovative response.

How do we live in the meantime, and what happens when we’re not talking about six months or a year or two years, what happens when we’re talking about five, or ten, or for a lifetime, what is it that is able to help us through?

It’s not enough to simply go back to familiar patterns, we need the strength of character to move forward. We need a strength which can endure, even when distress is great. And that is ultimately what Moses found as he found peace with God: a strength to be able to continue to lead in humility, in service; even though he continued to wrestle with the hearts of his own people, as he sought to see them set free from the things which had formerly captivated them.

We need of an immediate form of peace, which can speak into our anxiety and our loss. Jesus is uniquely qualified for this task. When we talk of losing someone, and as so many of us now deal with the consequence of death in the fallout of COVID-19, the reason we grieve is the feeling of “I will not see them again.” But there is a promise Jesus Christ makes that, if we put our trust in Him, there is the hope of a resurrection.

We need of an immediate form of peace, which can speak into our anxiety and our loss. Jesus is uniquely qualified for this task.

When we die, it’s not the end. In that sense, within the Christian faith, no one is ultimately lost. We will meet again. We grieve because there is the pain of absence and of separation, and we can’t continue the relationship we once had. But we can look forward to a time where we can find peace with the one who brought us into this world, and know that when He brings us back, we can meet those who we have loved once more. It is something that is capable of giving strength, even in times of distress, It is received and achieved, not through any great achievement of our own, but because of what He was willing to do for us when God entered into this world and gave his own life for ours, so that we may find that peace with Him.

A Discussion About Home From Two Guys Stuck at Home

May 28, 2020

What distinguishes a home from a mere physical shelter? And why do so many of us long to escape our homes? Since COVID-19 continues to keep many of us confined to the places we live, Nathan and Cameron discuss how Christianity reframes our understanding of home.

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Transcript



Please Note: Thinking Out Loud is produced to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Cameron McAllister: Hello, and welcome to Thinking Out Loud. Thinking Out Loud as a podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope. I'm your cohost, Cameron McAllister.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I'm your cohost, Nathan Rittenhouse.

Cameron McAllister: All right, Nathan. It's difficult to talk about virtually anything besides the pandemic right now, but we've actually talked about it quite a bit on this podcast. And so, what I thought, well, this is really your topic, Nathan. You had an idea and I thought it was a good idea, for us to focus on the distinction, the difference between a house and a home. Now, of course, that runs the risk initially of sounding a bit academic, but the practical breakdown happens actually for many of us right now as we are sheltering in place and finding ourselves under various levels of quarantine. We're stuck in our houses, right? And we're learning a lot about the culture of our respective homes, whether we recognized it or not.

And so this is going to be our focus on this episode. We're going to talk about what it means to have a home or to cultivate a home versus having just a house, just a shelter, just some sort of a structure that keeps the rain off your head. I thought that was a really good topic, so here we are, Nathan.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Here we go.

Cameron McAllister: Okay. Let me just start it off like this, though. It strikes me, and correct me if I'm wrong, that we, you and I, we're studies in contrast here. My life before the pandemic was pretty hectic, in the sense that I was frequently out of my home. Now, both of us travel. So let's just bracket that right now, the travel. But aside from the travel that you do as a speaker, it seems to me that you're actually at home a good deal, and you're pretty involved in your community.

For me, I'm ashamed to say it, but I know I'm not alone here. This is the first time for me that I'm really getting to know a lot of my neighbors, for instance, beyond just waving at them from the porch, but actually they'll stop and talk at the edge of my lawn. And Heather and I repeatedly are saying, "You know what? These are great people. We should be hanging out with them." So it's just a strange state of affairs, but I have a feeling that's not quite the way things are on the ground for you, Nathan.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. Well, let me back up, because this is a topic that I've been thinking about, and it didn't start with the pandemic. I think, as you say, this highlights something that's ongoing. But in the last several years, there's been a little bit of an attitude that I've picked up on in funny ways. Often times when I'm like in an airport or in that some business of travel and somebody will say, "Where are you going?" And I'll say, "Oh, I'm going home." And it's met with like, "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that." Or maybe some stronger language of them expressing disappointment as if home is the wrong direction to be going. Or if that's a disappointment.

And for me, I've been gone for a week. I want to get home and see my family. I'm like, "No, I'm desperately longing to get there, but you see that as a step in the wrong direction." And so I've felt myself in that cultural narrative tension of, is home a place we want to be? And so then is there a difference between yeah, like you said, a home and a house, but I don't know if you've ever run across anything like that. And maybe I'm just more sensitive to picking up on that, but it does seem odd to me to think that going home, for me, that's a destination of relaxation, of relationship, of a comfortable spot that I've had a means in cultivating the atmosphere there. And so it's a place of production and expansion of my interest and of relationships and the foods that I like and the community that I like. And so it's something that I desire. And so it always strikes me as interesting when it's something that somebody wants to get away from. Have you seen any parallels to that anywhere?

Cameron McAllister: Yeah. Well, I think where I see it most often is vacations. So people will want to...The vacation is kind of a wonderful means of escape from the home in many people's minds I think. And the reasons for this are complex. One seems to be though that the home is, or the house, if you will, is deeply implicated or integrated into the mad rush of daily life in the United States. So you mentioned your home is for you a place of rest and replenishment. And I think that's as it should be, ideally speaking, but I think for many of us, our homes are actually woven deeply into the warp and woof of just the rush, and they're just centers where we go to maybe refuel, eat some food and get a little bit of rest so that we can just get back on our tracks and start racing all over the place.

Nathan Rittenhouse: And it's basically just an enlarged version of the turnpike rest stop really.

Cameron McAllister: Exactly. Well, yeah. Now of course we're speaking in exaggerated terms, but yes, I think for many of us, that's an apt metaphor. So I know personally several couples who obviously, they're dealing with their share of anxiety and they're worried about many of their neighbors. And they're worried about the state of our nation. They're worried about the state of the economy. But with that said, they have really relished the slowed down pace because for them, this has been the first time that they've really been able to enjoy time with their kids and get some serious rest because they were running themselves ragged. It's not just one couple, we've seen this with lots of people, and Heather and I have felt this in our own lives as well. So that's been kind of eye-opening.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, and I've been referring to it as “pandemic guilt,” because I've talked to a lot of people who are having that, who are also feeling terrible for resting, knowing that so many other people are suffering.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah. And here's where it's, it's important to note that this is not uniform territory. I keep having to remind myself of that. That's part of the complexity of where we find ourselves as a nation and where we find ourselves as a globe. So for some of us, we're in the front lines, so whether you're involved with the medical industry, if you're a nurse, or you're a doctor, or you're administrator in a hospital, or if you're driving a delivery truck, or you're one of the so-called essential workers, we should talk about this language of essential workers at some point, Nathan. But anyway, if you're a person who's out there on the front lines, you have to be out there. Or then there are those who have lost their jobs. And so there's profound worry and anxiety there.

And then there are those who are working from home and who are kind of pacing around. So on the one hand it's really intense. It's “all systems go,” especially if you're a medical worker. On the other, it's a source of heavy anxiety. And then for others of us, it can be maybe kind of restful and maybe even find yourself a little bit bored, but this is so different that I think it just makes for the kind of unified experience of this virus is just so different. And I think that's part of what's contributing to this. Some of the sense of confusion, even.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I think so. You're right. And who's experienced whose version of it gets to count as the normative narrative for the pandemic right now that I think we'll be thinking that through for a long time. If I could just mention a book in here, a couple of months ago, I read a book called Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home by Jen Pollock Michel. And you might recognize that name. If you read Christianity Today, she's a frequent contributor there. And yeah, it's an interesting read. I'm probably, as a mid-30s male, not the stereotypical audience that she was writing to, but I thought there were some meaningful things in there. But on the theological spectrum that she places this in, it's interesting to note that displacement throughout Scripture is a sign of God's judgment and punishment. And so to not be home within the biblical narrative is a sign of a curse. And we treat it as a sign of economic blessing if I have another place to be.

And that's a sharp disparity to introduce here, but I want to start weaving in the Biblical perspective. It starts with God as a homemaker, creating a home and a haven for Adam and Eve. That is the narrative. And then because of disobedience, they get expelled from their home. You have, obviously, the land of Canaan and a promised land imagery of looking for that future coming home, the homeland imagery. And then of course there's all types of displacement and unrest and unsettlement and military agitation and the rise and fall of kingdoms. And of course, ultimately the Bible ending with the fullness of a home being prepared for God's people, Jesus, "I've gone to prepare a place for you." So these reflections on place and what it means to be home and to think about that, it's not just a, "Oh, well, there's a pandemic. We need to think about this." Actually, this is a broader theological imagination that needs to be used here to map this onto our lived experience.

But I also want to say that I don't own a house. I make my home in a house that I rent. Jen, in her book, talks about moving frequently. And so this is not saying, "Oh, you haven't lived in the same building for 25 years. You don't have a home." It's deeper than that. Obviously, being consistently residentially in a place is a benefit, but there's more to the idea of a home than just the physical structure that you're in, even though that's a big part of it. So sorry for the tangent there, but I wanted to throw some of those ideas into the conversation.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah. And so the notion of a home being...There's a sense that there's a kind of placelessness that defines modern life, broadly speaking, and take it from one guy here who...So I do own a home, but I live in the suburbs of Atlanta. And so the suburbs are kind of a poster child in some ways of the placelessness I'm talking about, there's a generic look, you go into a neighborhood and it's kind of a house of mirrors where you basically have the same design repeated over and over again. And the idea being that, the main draw for a home these days, isn't so much that you were born into a specific community, and you've grown up in this place, and you have a trade that's waiting for you, or a job that has been waiting for you for a long time, that you're born into. Homes are set up now for convenience.

I think that would be one of the driving forces for many homes. This isn't necessarily good or bad, but people want to buy a home for its location to schools or maybe its location to the airport. But that tends to again, that's placing amenities above human relationships. And then another way to look at that, you mentioned moving. And I know Wendell Berry brings this up frequently. The point is often made that our default these days is to think almost purely in economic terms. So let's say if you're offered a job that has maybe better pay and benefits, many people, it doesn't enter into their mind. Well, my relationships here on the ground, maybe it enters in, but it's a small background noise. But the relationships, my friendships here, and my proximity to those friendships, should play a serious role in the decision move, but many people will just move because, it's better opportunity.

Nathan Rittenhouse: And I've seen some interesting... But when you do it differently than that, everybody looks at you like you have two heads. I know some people who had just finished their degrees and then decided on the church that they wanted to attend and then moved there for the church and then found jobs.

Cameron McAllister: Oh man, backwards in modern terms.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. So you're like, wow, but it's an action that challenges the economic part in, actually when you're talking about Wendell Berry, he makes that distinction I think in some of his...Not implicitly, but subtly, of saying that home has shifted to a place of consumption rather than a place of production. And he would say that our houses now, we don't even produce our own entertainment. We have to have that imported from outside.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah. And that's definitely a prophetic word because it just makes you feel rough when you hear something like that. Well, some of us, at least. Homes as centers of production. So here's one interesting change that's come about through it. Just speaking personally, this has come about, I would say largely because of where we're at right now as a nation. But Heather and I are starting to, as you know, Nathan, we've talked about this, but we're starting to grow our own food now, and we're taking slow steps to get some animals, a chicken in particular, we're going to start with one, but the joke I've been making is that I'm growing a modest beard and starting to grow some food. So I'm trying to be more like Nathan Rittenhouse right now. That's what quarantine life-

Nathan Rittenhouse: And that's really created an identity crisis for me because now I feel like to balance this out I need to upgrade the comportment of my vocabulary into polysyllabic soliloquies and start reviewing pop culture movies so that we're balanced out. But we'll see how this goes in the future.

Cameron McAllister: Well, I've got a list of recommendations for you. So you just let me know when you want to start.

But it has been amazing to discover firsthand the kind of wholesome joy and fun it is to go out there and get your hands dirty, and to teach your kids as you're going along, how to cultivate the ground. A lot of people have pointed this out, but when we talk about culture and engaging culture and all this popular terminology, that's often used in Christian circles and in apologetic circles, culture making always begins with the central primal metaphor for that is gardening, really, and keeping a garden.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Even Biblically speaking.

Cameron McAllister: Absolutely. Yep. You have it right in Genesis. So it's been fun for me to get away from the movies and the television shows and plunge my fingers into the earth and start composting.

And it's also great to hit the books during daylight, during the afternoon hours, and then to go out in the evening and just start using your hands and breaking up wood, and clearing brush.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Walking in the garden in the cool of the day.

Cameron McAllister: Hey, I think I've heard that somewhere. But since you mentioned, you wanted to frame this Biblically. I think another important item in this conversation would be the fact that, so you've mentioned already that the home that you have, you are renting. And in that, I think there's a really interesting picture. So whether you own a house or whether you're renting, all of our homes here, as in this side of eternity, are impermanent. And I think we need to bring that into the conversation a little bit as well. The meaning of home has to be deeper. I think we've already hinted at this, but it's got to be deeper than just the place that gives you physical shelter. And it's got to be deeper than what you own as well. So when we talk about home in the Biblical sense, and I immediately thought of Jesus's words to his disciples that you quoted there. "Let not your hearts be troubled, for I go to prepare a place for you." So how does that frame our housekeeping, our home-making efforts?

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. Well, I think one of the things there is that there is an impermanence to it all. However, the blessing of being home is not intended to be just for the people who live there. So if you look at the parallel, so you have home as a deep Biblical issue, but the parallel one to that is hospitality. And so home is a place that you can invite other people into for sustenance, whether that be food, fellowship, consoling people, counseling people, or just enjoying life together, that creating a home as a place of invitation and hospitality. And you see that in the life that Jesus lived of Mary and Martha inviting Jesus and the disciples into the home and the people that supported him. So that hospitality element there, even if you look at, in Paul's writings, everybody needs to work with their hands.

Why? To have a good 401k, no, everybody needs to work with their hands in order that they may have something to share with anyone in need. And so the idea of stability, Biblically, is not just for an isolation of, now I've constructed my tower and I have enough pumpkins for ten years. It's, “how do I use this stability and the blessing?” That's God to Abraham, right? I'm going to bless you and make you a blessing to other people. So there's a sense in which the generosity that flows from having been given something is an action that is a replication of the character of a giving God, that we're actually participating in the divine nature when we take the stability of the goodness of the earth in our homes and share that and use it as a source of invitation to celebrate God's goodness and to invite other people into that relationship.

So there's this image of this homesteading idea of “I just need to be build a big wall and then I'm prepared for the worst.” That doesn't flow well from this Biblical theme of home and hospitality and generosity and goodness. So there's the physical element of that.

And then also we're living in a time where it's popular to talk about being on a spiritual journey, but people on spiritual journeys can only be fed by people who are in spiritual homes. And so the traveler along the way has to stop at the house for a bowl of soup. And so for me, in my spiritual journey, that's growing deeper in a place not wandering across multiple places. And a home is a place where you can infinitely explore-in depth without moving the depth and the beauty.

I saw two birds yesterday in the apple tree outside our house that I've never seen before. And that was a lot of fun. I mean, I moved nowhere and there's deeper and richer explanation and exploration going on there. So I think we want to have an outward facing look at the stability that the concept of home brings in addition to house, if that makes sense.

Cameron McAllister: So much of what you said there is so rich. So I'm essentially just going to rehash a little bit, Nathan, for our entire listeners.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Interpret me to myself, please.

Cameron McAllister: Well, no, it's really good. So the first item, worthy of note, which I think we need to explore a little bit more deeply as it plays out in our context right now, but is that hospitality is a direct outgrowth of the Biblical sense of a home. So it's not that you batten down the hatches, now you have all that you need, but it flows directly from the two great Commandments to love the Lord, your God, with all that you are, and then to love your neighbor as yourself.

And also, I love what you said about that we do in the United States, it makes sense that we love the imagery of being on a spiritual journey. I actually talk about this a fair amount in the introduction of the new book I'm working on with my dad, which is called Faith That Lasts.

But in the United States, it seems that broadly speaking, and you can trace the DNA of this back to some of our central poets like Ralph Waldo Emerson, but everybody is on a journey, but there's no destination. The point is often to be on the journey for many Americans. So in other words, it's summed up really nicely in a saying that's often framed and put on walls, which is, "It's about the journey, not the destination," or, "The journey is the destination."

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. There's your motivational poster.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah. And so one of the examples that I drew on to illustrate this comes from Andrew Delbanco and this is in his book, The Real American Dream. But there's a famous section of Disneyland in California, the original park, that has never really worked. We may have mentioned it on the show before, but it's called Tomorrow-

Nathan Rittenhouse: I think we did on the one on beauty and limitations. To rehash that, go over that quickly for us again.

Cameron McAllister: So Tomorrowland. And Tomorrowland has just never really worked. And Walt Disney himself said, "Well, it won't work because technology simply moves too fast. By the time you build it, we'll have already surpassed it." But it's my contention that I actually don't think that's quite right. You can build something hyper, hyper futuristic actually, that exceeds our technological capacities. We make movies like this all the time. The problem is that Americans don't like the idea of a destination. I think it violates our romantic sense of permanently moving forward, always progressing and never really arriving, because there's something about arrival for a lot of us in the modern world, and I think particularly in the United States, that makes us feel just restless. We don't like the idea of stopping. We don't like the idea of a destination.

And yet basically, from the standpoint of Christianity, I'm going through the book of Hebrews right now, and the word “rest” is used so many times in that book. And so often a powerful picture of the dynamics of sin and Scripture involves restlessness or fierce thirst or unquenchable thirst that just can't be satisfied. And though that seems to be the driving force of so much industry in our nation and it's kind of the engine that keeps pushing us forward, it just shows us how counter-cultural the gospel picture of the home really is.

So that idea of having a place where you can rest and be nourished so that you have, I love the word “stability.” You have the stability to help others is so vital here. And that's a very important part of what it means to have a home, the place where you get that replenishment, where you get that rest so that you are able to help others. And so that you're able to give forth what you actually have.

Nathan Rittenhouse: So I think, without sounding like I’m going in like a self-care direction, which is the other new hip thing these days, it is true though, that a tree can only bear fruit in proportion to the strength and the health of its roots. And Walter Brueggemann in his book This Land, talks about when we're geographically displaced, that you have to have rootedness to have meaning. And so that strikes against that idea of, the journey is ever going to be satisfying in and of itself.

But he says that without those roots, it's not just an intellectual journey, but it's also a question of my own identity and who I am that gets warped when I'm displaced from a place as the name suggests there. So I've actually been reading Hebrews two at the same time as you have, as it turns out. We aren't exact carbon copies of each other, but that concept of home and place and inheritance. Inheritance is a theme that continues from the Old Testament, right in and through the New Testament that I don't hear as much spoken about.

We're just scratching the surface here I think, of ideas that are going to play out differently in the life of each listener listening, but we want to poke and prod that and hopefully flesh something out here that's meaning for you to work on, as you think about, why do we say it's a stay-at-home order and not a stay-in-your-house order? There's a desire that I think we have for home and the other good news here, Cameron, is that maybe when we use the word “home,” we think maybe too much of a stereotypical nuclear American household, but that vision doesn't show up anywhere in Scripture. You have homes with single people in them, homes with multiple generations in them. You have lots of very dysfunctional homes throughout. So we're not—hear us out here.

This applies to you. And don't fall into the trap of overly narrowly defining what family or home is as you're listening to this. So anyway, as you think about this and maybe just do it as a discipline in the upcoming week as you continue to hear about stay-at-home orders, challenge yourself to think, what does it mean for me to be at home and what am I doing with this? And then also, you know what, maybe you're not at a place where you're able to offer hospitality just yet, but this would be a great time to plan and say, you know what, when our social distancing is over and our quarantine has come to an end, who can I invite into my home and into my house?

And I've found that that's been a great thing of refreshing for me. And one other little tangent here, I think. Is it in Disruptive Witness where he makes the distinction between, what is it, entertainment and hospitality?

Cameron McAllister: Yes. Entertainment and true hospitality.

Nathan Rittenhouse: And true hospitality.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah.

Nathan Rittenhouse: So when we're inviting people into our lives and the way that he says, when you're entertaining somebody, you get your home spotless and perfect, the Instagram photo version of the way that you live and that's entertainment. But to have genuine community and to invite somebody into your home for real hospitality, is you're letting them see you in the way that you really live.

Cameron McAllister: And I think this is Alan Noble, by the way.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Alan Noble. Yeah, thank you for that. So don't let the imperfections of the way that you perceive that your home should be, be a detriment to using that in a God-honoring Biblical way as you think about what it is that God might be calling you to craft and to cultivate within your home space, and then thinking about how he wants you to share that goodness of the land and the goodness of the gospel with those around you. Anyway, hopefully there's something fruitful in there for you to think about, but you've been listening to Thinking Out Loud, a podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope.

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