In this episode, Miroslav Volf and Drew Collins discuss home as a source of joy and humanity; the way we organize and order our homes for hospitality; and the homelessness of God and what that means for humanity.
For many, the first thought of home is the threat of its negation: homelessness. Still others think of the stress and anxiety—sometimes even at life-threatening levels—of being at home. For some home is grounding, a place of safety and growth, it is embrace. For others, home is hostile, unsafe and risky, it is exclusionary. This episode features discussions of:
- The theological and moral significance of home
- The meaning of Jesus's homelessness
- Marie Kondo's philosophy of joy and home organization
- Dorothy Day's voluntary poverty and "personal maximalism"
- Home as a place for embrace, joy, and care
Evan Rosa: For the Life of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. For more information, visit faith.yale.edu.
Miroslav Volf: You can't be human without a home. Maybe even stronger. Before there's a human, there's a home, there's a place in which you come and you cannot grow to be who you are without having this place that we call home.
Evan Rosa: This is For the Life of the World. A podcast about seeking and living a life worthy of our humanity. I'm Evan Rosa, with the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. Today, Miroslav Wolf and Drew Collins discuss the theology of home. Now for many, the first thought of home is the threat of its negation—homelessness.
Still others think of the stress and anxiety. Sometimes even at life-threatening levels of being at home. For some, home is grounding, a place of safety and growth, its embrace. For others, home is hostile, unsafe, risky. It is exclusionary. We've discussed home before on this podcast, both the perils of home during the pandemic, as well as considering home essentially relational and rooted in attachment to each other.
Well, in this episode, Miroslav and Drew discuss home as a source of joy and humanity. The way we organize our homes around objects, how to order our homes for hospitality and finally homelessness. God's homelessness, our homelessness and what that brings out of us. Thanks for listening today.
Miroslav Volf: I think that home is one of the most fundamental experiences that we as human beings have. We tend not to think too much about the nature of home, except maybe when we go back home for Christmas and occasions of this sort. And then we think what was that thing that draws us so powerfully and maybe repels us in some ways as well.
But I can put it almost this way: you can't be human without a home. Maybe even stronger. Before there's a human, there is a home. There's a place in which you come and you cannot grow to be who you are without having this place that we call home. That is a set of relations with other people, a set of objects—this is material. Object, which is, a kind of, set of relations that are bounded in bounded space. But bounded not simply closed as prison, but also with openings for air to come in, for you to walk out, for other things to come in, and characterized by something like, I think mostly, something like attachment. I'm attached to home. And when I walk into a home, thing speak to me from home. And all of this, I think, is essential for us to grow into human beings. And that's why, when we think about what it means to human being in relation to Jesus Christ, we think, well, home is one of those fundamental determinants of who we are.
Evan Rosa: For how central home is to human life, it's incredibly fraught. It's a complex emotional and divisive thing. Indeed, because people get so very close and attached once we share a home here. Drew raises the challenge of inviting the homeless Jesus into our homes. Miroslav sees the homelessness of Jesus as charting a path for all of us, eventually toward the home of God.
Drew Collins: The home is so fraught because it is so necessary. And it is, as Miroslav said before, there is earth, for there's a person, there is a home. So it matters hugely what kinds of homes precede us what kinds of homes that we then work to establish for those who will come after us? And it also, I think, is precisely because it is so ubiquitous, that we tend to think about it in more discrete ways. Certain features of good homes, rather than the goodness of home itself, and what constitutes the goodness of home?
Miroslav Volf: I think also, we formed very close attachments. People will let people come very close to us in homes. We spend a lot of time with them, which means that there is a huge potential for great depths of enjoyment of other people, but there's also potential for deep scars. Those scars can be scars of parents in relation to their children. Those cars can be scars between siblings, a little sibling, rivalries, that teach us how to live in this world and form deep attachments create also wounds. And every time we think of home, every time we think of returning home, some of this is conjured up along with a vision of beauty and closeness. There's this, kind of submerged, animosities and tensions that emerge at the same time.
Drew Collins: This sort of voluntary attachments can often feel like tethering and chains sometimes. And then we don't think about it often this way. In every nativity scene, we encounter the homeless Jesus. Every nativity scene is a snapshot of Jesus Christ without a home.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah. And the idea of Christ throughout his life and even—not just without living his own home, but not finding the space in anybody else's home in order to be there. Because there is this precarity of his life, which was there because—and not just because he was away from his home, but because doors of other homes are shut, were shut for him. And I think that's a huge challenge to think about, such an important phenomenon of our lives as our homes. But then throughout his life, he ends up being homeless, ends up not having a home.
And then the question becomes: for us, most of us have some kind of home, but he did not. Or he spent quite a bit of his time in homes of other people. What implications does that have for us as we build our homes, as we construct in our images whether there's need to have a home? Should we have homes like Martha and Mary and Lazarus, where Jesus could come almost any time he was passing by? Should those be places open for those who do not have a home? Should we endure or take upon ourselves homelessness at certain point? This was not gratuitous homelessness of Jesus. It was homelessness on the way to create the home of God, as we liked to put it. But it was nonetheless homelessness, and that's a challenging question.
Evan Rosa: Now, what does that mean for Jesus's homelessness to be on the way to creating the home of God.
Miroslav Volf: Maybe one can put it this way: what's the goal of God in creating the world? This is a very small, tiny question that we don't spend too much time thinking about. But that is at the foundation, I think, of everything. What's God's goal with creating the world? And some people might say: "Well, the goal of God with the world is God. We go through the world in order to end up at home with God." Or you can say, and I think it's more true to the biblical texts, "the goal of God with the world is a world, but not a world without God, but a world with God. An image of that goal of God with humanity is home, is a world as God's dwelling place. And I think you can see the entire mission of Jesus directed precisely toward that.
Drew Collins: Yeah, I would say, the entire, to the extent that you could just talk about the drama of the scriptural narrative, the entire drama of scripture is oriented around God's home with humans'. And starting in the Eden, moving on to the tabernacle and the construction of the temple, the exile, the destruction of the temple, the incarnation, and the return in the heavenly Jerusalem in revelation. All the problems, the benefits, all of these things are bound up with God making His home on earth.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah. And that's, I mean, once you put it in that kind of way, then it becomes a puzzle, almost like a paradox that God who is coming into the world to create the world into God's home, ends up being homeless. That God has to be homeless in the world so that somehow homes can be created for us. One of the reasons for Christ's homelessness is that human beings do not tend to like the kind of home that God wants to create. And the kind of home that God wants to create is a home in which everybody can be at home.
And there are vested interests that sometimes want to protect their own exclusive right and power. They want the doors to be shut. They don't want to upset the boundaries of our habitations, so as to make the world much more hospitable to everyone having a home.
Drew Collins: When we teach Christ and Being Human, we start off by 10 minutes of looking at a gospel passage, and reflecting on the way in which Jesus relates to this specific phenomenon in that session. And when we start the home class, we walk the students through a variety of passage from the Gospels, and it becomes immediately clear that Jesus has a complicated relationship with home himself. He sends people home. He tells people they can't go home. He visits homes and seems to rely on homes for his own ministry, while also eschewing a home for himself.
And so there's this complicated sort of tension-filled relationship between the importance or lack of importance of home, the kind of importance that homes have for Jesus. If we think about the drama of scripture as oriented around God's making the earth God's home, you see there are a variety of ways in which God makes the world his home across history and across the scriptural narrative. And the different ways in which God makes his home on earth are experienced by humans in very different ways. And which is not to say necessarily better or worse, but different ways.
so, when God's home is in the tabernacle, one of, if not the most, prominent feature of the way that home is experienced by humans is in terms of what it excludes. And the holiness of the tabernacle does not permit contamination and it is essential to keep the purity of the home, and to keep the impure things outside.
Evan Rosa: This thought can of course be a bracing thought to those who would focus on hospitality, inclusion, living not from fear, but love. And yet Drew and Miroslav here point out an essential aspect of the definition of home. That is there are real boundaries we draw. There are moral, cultural, spiritual limits we enforce for the sake of a good home thriving. Here, the dialectics of exclusion and embrace are particularly effective.
Miroslav Volf: I think in our ordinary experience of homes, we think there are things that a good home should not have. In our home, my home, dirty shoes stayed out—just to take one simple example. There's kind of a boundary that's being drawn. There are certain ways in which we encourage each other not to talk about each other or to each other. There are all sorts of forms of, as Drew mentioned, quote unquote, exclusions, right? Which are essential to maintain the boundary, the salutary boundary that that home is. After all, it is about that space. It's a space of certain forms of attachment.
There are many ways in which to ruin a home and so maintaining a healthy home, a home in which when I come, my heart skips and I say, "I'm there." Right? I resonate with what is here. It took quite a bit of work in order to do that, and some of these exclusions are particular to each individual home and they're completely neutral. This is what we in this home like. We speak this kind of language. If we think of national homes or something of that sort, this is where we feel at home. Other exclusions are such that cut across homes. We don't harm each other at homes. Homes is a nurturing environment. And in that sense, I think this dialectic of inclusion and embrace and kind of exclusion is fundamental to home. The question that only becomes: what is it that we exclude? What is it that we embrace? How it is that we go about, excluding? How it is that we go about embracing? And are we trying to expand our home, and many other creating other homes, that will eventually encompass everyone and so that everyone can truly feel at home?
Drew Collins: This is very much the stuff of contemporary conversations about home. I mean, we live in a world where there is a container store that is dedicated to the ceiling and containing and ordering of things within our homes, so that they can be more home-like. We live in a world in which organizational experts can become celebrities. Marie Kondo is a household name now. Everybody in America seems to know who she is, has either read her book or watched her Netflix special and is in some way, shape or form, trying to apply the KonMari method to their own homes. And there's something profoundly important and good about the anti-materialism, or at least the materialistic minimalism, that is one of the pillars of her approach to homes and her understanding of what makes a home good.
Evan Rosa: The KonMari method is laid out in Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Kondo is a home organizing consultant.
Drew Collins: So the KonMari method is a method of establishing a good home by including only those things that spark joy and ridding ourselves, our homes, of all the things that do not spark joy. What Marie Kondo suggests we all do, as part of the KonMari method, is sit down with all of the things in our home. And we go through them item by item. And we look at it. And we discern whether or not that particular item or possession sparks joy. If it does, set it aside. If it doesn't, you thank it for its service and you wish it well on its way to the dump.
And this is appealing to people because we have too much stuff. And this is appealing to people because I think we tend to think about homes, if not exclusively, significantly as receptacles of our stuff. And that is one of the things: home is a conglomeration of possessions arranged in just the right way, arranged in a way that is conducive to the flourishing of those inhabitants in it. But, it's oriented around the arrangement of possessions.
Miroslav Volf: I'm wondering also—I don't know enough about Marie Kondo and I haven't seen that Netflix series. I read a few things. But the way you described this, I'm wondering whether it's also not something about a kind of impulsive shopping in which we are involved because we have—when we buy stuff, we buy it for the experience. And we have this relatively momentary experience and we seek these highs of acquisition, of something new, but then the problem arises that we have to put it somewhere else. We have to do something with that. And so the pile of stuff grows. And as our engagement with it kind of cools down, we don't know quite what to do with it.
And so it's almost like a consequence of this mountain of stuff that's being produced and being foisted upon us that we take. And actually don't think about experience of home as we shop, but we think about experience of individual things simply. But I think it may be really important to think: whatever possessions we have, how do they fit into the larger sense of home that we need to build.
Drew Collins: In so far as the KonMari method is a diagnosis of, and a remedy for, rampant consumerism—consumerism run amok—it seems very effective and appropriate to me. In so far as it is able to convey what makes a home good in a substantial vision of the goodness of home. I'm not convinced.
Miroslav Volf: Maybe it has an element of it. Right? So that if you think that things that are in the home, they spark joy that you resonate with them. They are you, in certain sense. And once they stop being that, they're like a dead weight of home because it no longer speaks to you. So in that sense, in a limited sense, I think one might say, that seems like the right thing to do.
Drew Collins: Yeah, that makes complete sense to me. And of course joy, from a Christian perspective, joy is very much a reasonable effect to consider as at the heart of any good home. But the question that is not asked in that process of confronting each possession and discerning whether or not it sparks joy, twofold: one, what should spark joy? And should the horizons of joy be primarily oriented towards possession?
Miroslav Volf: Question for you: when she does that, does she ask this question "does it spark joy of an individual member of home?" Or does she ask that question of everybody who inhabits the home? For it could be that something sparked joy and other people are saying: "What a crazy thing to have! This can't be part of the home." The reason why I'm asking this question is because I think our investment in things is partly investment of other people in things. Something that we have experienced together binds us together. And so something sparks joy in more than one person. It will contribute to the joy between people as well, which is what part of home, being at home, is.
Evan Rosa: The question of what sparks joy in you is surely important. It's a diagnosing factor at the very least, but really Drew makes an essential point here about asking the bigger and more important question of what should spark joy in you. Here the conversation takes a turn back toward the broader social significance of home and homelessness. For the question of which of the many objects that decorate and occupy your domicile, which sparked joy, is a question for those who have, have not just enough, but likely too much. So here we come back to the homeless Christ. In particular, a statue of a homeless Jesus and a different approach to the order of one's home. The Catholic social worker, Dorothy Day, whose minimalism and commitment to voluntary poverty is really a personal maximalism. That is you get rid of the stuff for the sake of the people.
Miroslav Volf: So there is this sculpture of the homeless Jesus. Timothy Schmitz, I believe, there was an Ontario Canadian artist. And he's produced this sculpture, which is basically live-size Jesus on a life-size park bench, wrapped in some kind of a sheet. And you can't see the figure. And the only way you recognize that it's Jesus is because his feet are sticking out, and you see that these feet are marked by scars from nails. But otherwise, it's just any homeless figure could be simply there underneath this.
And apparently, rectors of two churches, one in Toronto, one in St. Patrick's in New York, were initially excited about having this given to them, or maybe bought from him. I'm not quite sure. And then for whatever reason, they decided it was too offensive. And they returned back or did not want to take the sculpture. And then finally it found a spot in Canada at a Jesuit school. The Regis college was a Jesuit school. When you go past, you see the glass window behind and there's this bench. There's this Jesus, lying on that bench, which is kind of very unsettling, very offensive, very powerful piece of art, and Jesus who is homeless.
Drew Collins: Yeah, there's one in Davidson, North Carolina as well. And you said it was offensive, so offensive that somebody called the cops on the statue of homeless Jesus, as they thought it was a homeless person. And if that doesn't—if that doesn't show the confusion about who Jesus is and what he means for the way we construe our homes, and the way we relate to those who don't have homes, I don't know... This is to me where Dorothy Day intersects perfectly with Marie Kondo. Dorothy Day, like Marie Kondo, was a—well, you could say she was a minimalist when it came to material possessions. She lived in poverty. She had very, very little. And she—and I know her colleagues. People like Peter Mauer were regularly confused for homeless people as they went around to give lectures. The kind of minimalism that Dorothy Day is seeking is a result of the personal maximalism that orients her understanding of home, the goodness of home. Ultimately, home for her is about who you can welcome into it.
Miroslav Volf: So the relationship might be: get rid of the stuff, for Dorothy Day, so you can have space for people; and get rid of the stuff, for Marie condo, so you can have joy by yourself with things that surround you that give you joy. It seems to me that Dorothy Day was all about welcoming people primarily, and things were completely in the service of people, whereas this isn't quite the case with Marie Kondo.
Drew Collins: Dorothy Day was instrumental in starting this movement called Houses of Hospitality, which were residences for destitute workers and homeless folks, places where anybody could come and find a bed, and some more meals, and get back on their feet. And, she wrote, describing how these Houses of Hospitality would relate to the more individual experiences of Christians. And she wrote:
"The idea would be that each Christian, conscious of his duty and the lay apostolate, should take in one of the homeless as an honored guest. Remembering Christ's words, "In as much as you had done it under the least of these, you have done it unto me." The poor are more conscious of this obligation than those who are comfortably well off. We know of any number of cases where families are already overburdened and crowded have taken an orphan child, homeless, aged, poor, who were not members of their families, but who were akin to them because they were fellow sufferers in this disordered world."
Well, the question that Dorothy Day, I think, would ask of Marie Kondo is: what does it mean to have an ordered house in a disordered world? What kind of homes—If earth is the home of God, has promised to be the home of God—what kind of homes should we have that reflect the state of the world now and as it should be?
Miroslav Volf: Yeah. We've invoked many times this idea: can there be a right life in the midst of the false one? Can there be a space? So I think toward the end of a well-known book, Minima Moralia, Theodor Adorno asked the question, " Is it possible to have the right life in the midst of false life, distorted kind of life." And one way to look at what one might aim to do in something like a Christian home would be to create a space that is kind of sampling of the right life in the midst of the disordered world.
And in that sense, homes would be kind of foreshadowing—individual homes will be foreshadowed of that great day when the entire world becomes the home of God. And that's what happens when each person becomes a Christian becomes the home of God, the space which we then inhabit as Christians becomes small homes of God, which invites people in and which mirror to the world: what it might look like to be and dwell in the place, that is place of wholeness and holiness, that is a place of joy and care.
Evan Rosa: For the Life of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School. This episode featured Miroslav Wolf and Drew Collins. I'm Evan Rosa, and I edited and produced the show. For more information, visit us online at faith.yale.edu. New episodes drop every Saturday, and you can subscribe through any podcast app. We hope you're enjoying the show and we hope that you'd consider supporting us three ways that you can do that are as follows:
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