Home is Where

*EXTRA, EXTRA* This is what I intended to write about for Monday. I didn’t want to put it off until Friday, so here’s a special Tuesday edition of my What Remains blog for your reading pleasure.

Complete this sentence, “Home is where…” Umm, “the heart is?” I know, I thought the same thing initially on Sunday when our rector, the Reverend Liddy Hoster at Trinity Toledo opened her sermon with that not-at-all rhetorical question, and so did she, so she made us dig a little deeper and really consider how we would complete that sentence.

I volunteered with “Home is where you are loved.” Another responded with responses like “where if you go there, they have to let you in,” quoting Robert Frost. Others responded with “where you have secrets,” “where you have no secrets,” “where there is peaceful chaos” from a mom with four children under 5, and someone who has experienced living on the streets said, “Home is where you don’t go because you can’t.” It was getting deep fast and then another response came from one of our teens, who said “Home is where I can be me.” Okay, that hit me right in the chest. I am not really sure I heard most of the rest of Liddy’s sermon (sorry, Liddy) until the very end when she told us that God’s message to us was that we were his beloved ones and that we could come home.

I had been totally absorbed by this idea of home being where you can be yourself as you really are. Home is where you can be authentic, where you can be real, where you can be flawed, where you can be doubtful, where you can be anxious, where you can come with all your issues and your dreams and your funny clothes and funky hairstyle, and be accepted, and loved, and wanted.

What if we carried that idea of home further and considered what it means to not have that kind of home. It caused me to think about homelessness in a different way – not to undermine or trivialize the experiences of people who don’t have a physical roof over their heads – but actually to deepen my understanding of it.

Consider how many of our youth who live on the streets are there because “home” wasn’t a place where they could be themselves. According to some agencies who track these numbers, a high percentage of youth living on the streets are LGBT. They ran away or were put out by parents who couldn’t accept them as they were. They were not free to be themselves. “Home is where I can be me.” In other words, they are now un-housed because they were first made homeless.

LGBT folk and others who have been deemed to be “too much,” to be beyond the confines of normalcy, respectability, and our own provincial familiarity are also suffering from the homelessness of non-acceptance in their families, on college campuses, in their local communities – and in their churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship and fellowship.

Having a place where you can be you is so vitally important to our self-esteem and to healthy growth and development. It’s mandatory for our children. Young people need space to just be whoever they happen to understand themselves to be in that season. I’m not talking about letting children run free without discipline. I am talking about nurturing children’s passions, finding creative outlets for their interests, and supporting their experiments with how they want others to see them (dress and hairstyles), so long as they are not putting themselves or others in danger. This is how we figure out how to create the adults we want to grow up into. Restricting authenticity doesn’t protect our young people, it shuts them down and turns them dangerously inward like a turtle pulling its head into its shell. Growth doesn’t happen in the confines of restrictions.

Are you homeless today? Are you without a space (physically and psychically) where you can be yourself?

Are you creating homelessness for someone else by not accepting them for who they are, inclusive of all their strengths and limitations? Are we creating institutionalized homelessness in our colleges (see this story about Hampton’s business school’s 2001 policy banning male students in their leadership MBA program from wearing their hair in cornrows and locs)?

Are you someone’s home-space, that place where they can be authentic?

Are you seeking to create a home and to push that sense of home into all the nooks and crannies of your life? Are you eliminating from your life those places you call “home” but really are not because you cannot go there, because there is no one who will let you in?

I think these are questions we all need to consider for ourselves and those around us, especially for the young people whose lives we parent, mentor, and educate.

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Read more about my thoughts on Hampton’s policy and other institutional policies in this week’s #higheredWed post.

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