Monday, August 1, 2011

I'm just a-passin' through?

As someone who's moved a lot in recent years, I felt compelled to read this article, U-Haul Theology: Redeeming the Pain of Moving, first published in my denomination's magazine a couple of years ago. I have some thoughts about it, sharpened by conversation with my husband, which I'll try to work through here.

If you don't want to read it, here's my summary of the article's main points:
  • Unlike previous generations, we are a mobile culture. Many of us can expect to move multiple times in our lives.
  • Moving hurts. The reason why can be traced back to the Fall, in Genesis 3, when man was driven from the Garden. "[M]ankind was not created to move. [...] The pain of moving is part of the pilgrimage of the Fall." It's exile, with all the loss of roots, relationship, and identity that comes with that.
  • There is hope in that the Son of God underwent the ultimate exile, from His Father, so that we could one day come home and be at rest.
  • We must not be world-haters. We must learn contentment wherever we are called to live, even if we hate that place, by investing in our community and loving our neighbors in that place. Choose to make yourself at home there, even in exile. See also Jeremiah 29:4-11.
  • The secret to doing this is the doctrine of the Incarnation. "In the ultimate cross-cultural move, God the Son chose to become absolutely one with those He came to reach." The Incarnation becomes our model for moving, because Christ left His home in order to identify with us utterly. When we live out this truth, the pain of our moving is not eliminated, but redeemed.
My thoughts:

I liked this article. For me, the clearest, most comforting and also most convicting part was the "exile" analogy. The time I felt most "exiled" in my life was when we lived in Berkeley. We didn't fit into the culture there, and I don't just mean politically. It was easy to grumble and wallow in my discontent, rather than to grow where God had seen fit to plant me. Compared to Berkeley, moving to St. Louis has felt like coming home. But I still appreciate the point that there must be a concerted effort to make a home wherever we are. God carries us into exile, but putting down roots in a strange land takes work.

I have some questions, too. For one, the premise of the article raised some flags. How true is it that we are, as a society, becoming more mobile? It might be true; I haven't looked at statistics. But just because it's become more common among younger people in certain industries, and among professional students like me (hence, among particular social classes) doesn't necessarily point to a large-scale societal issue. Kevin agreed with me that the author's perspective could suggest a "professional class myopia" accompanied by the projection of our angsts onto a cosmic scale.

Second, I am not sure I agree that moving proceeds from the Fall, at least not so directly as the author suggests. Banishment from the Garden was the result of human rebellion against God, but does it follow that all relocation is a product of the Fall? As Kevin put it, "human population would have outgrown the Garden at some point." The reality of broken relationships due to moving is deeply painful, but it isn't always due to sin...I wonder if it's sometimes just the reality of being creatures. We cannot be constantly present to one another because we are not God.

My biggest concern is that the author's use of the Incarnation as an analogy could risk trivializing it. The Incarnation, God becoming incarnate in the man Jesus Christ, was an utterly singular event in history. It was not a "cross-cultural" event. God and man are not different cultures, just as the inner life of the triune God is not analogous to human relationships. So, I don't think it is appropriate to look at the Incarnation as such as our model for moving.

I do agree, however, that Christ humbling Himself for our sake should put our own "humbling" in perspective -- especially when we find ourselves in an environment we think beneath us, or that just doesn't quite fit somehow. And, in the end, we should seek to identify with those among whom God plants us -- not because we have cultivated a love for their culture (though that may be good), but because, like us, they are sinners in desperate need of the Savior.

Finally, I'd just add that not moving can be good, too. Perhaps, as a culture (or as a society, a professional class, whatever) we most need to hear the message "whoever does not hate his father and mother..." But I think it can also be counter-cultural to choose not to pull up stakes; moreover, sometimes staying put, where you've always lived and where your grandparents lived before you, can be the biggest act of taking up your cross. (Not that I would feel this way about moving back to Pittsburgh!)

Again, I think this is a valuable, much-needed article, and my response is a just a little thought-exercise of sifting through theological implications that occurred to me. I'd certainly welcome others' thoughts as well.


  1. I listened to a Focus on the Family recently, and it talked about women and relocating. They said that it is harder generally on women because they feel very alone. It is hard to make all new groups of friends each time you move. I have spent only two months living somewhere other than Pittsburgh, and I was still with family. I can, however, imagine that feeling. I think maybe that is why I hesitate to move. I get sad feeling when I consider moving to Washington County! LOL! I did help me also to think of a friend who is new to the area. I like to remember that her family isn't here, and hopefully I can help her to feel welcome.

    I wish I knew what day I heard that program, but I'm sure you could find it on their website. Love you.

  2. Thanks, Becki, I should definitely check that out. Actually, I've often envied friends who've been able to stay in the same area all their lives. I miss Pittsburgh every day!

    Parts of Washington County are gorgeous! I think that would be a nice place to live...

  3. I have often wondered if it's true when people say that moving far away from our roots is a modern problem. It seems to me like our country was founded by people who moved far away from home and, unlike us today, knew they would probably never even see their families of origin again. Westward expansion was similar. Homesteaders went days and even weeks without seeing anyone outside their immediate family. It seems as if there has always been a go-it-yourself, move away for success kind of attitude in the United States.

    "I do agree, however, that Christ humbling Himself for our sake should put our own 'humbling' in perspective -- especially when we find ourselves in an environment we think beneath us, or that just doesn't quite fit somehow."

    I really like this, Sarah. It's difficult not to fight against our own humbling, but when we compare it to Christ we realize that ours is nothing. And we know that He understands what we are going through.


  4. @Jenn -- that's a very interesting point! I hadn't thought about migration from a more extended historical perspective like that, but I want to give it some more thought. I think you're onto something.

    Thanks again for commenting! I love knowing what resonates with my family as they're reading this stuff. :)