Leave Home Without It
I’m showing my age here, but some of you others may remember the 1980s ads, where a couple is on a crowded boardwalk or motorcycling through an Italian village, the camera zooms in, and Karl Malden’s voice tells you they are about to be pickpocketed or someone will drive off with their motorcycle. Just after we see the look of horror on their faces, the camera switches to Karl Malden: “American Express travelers checks. Don’t leave home without them.”
As silly as those ads seem in a day of credit cards and ATMs and Apple pay, I knew how these travelers felt as I pulled off the NJ turnpike into the Walt Whitman service area in Cherry Hill, New Jersey last Sunday morning around 7 am. I had left myself about an hour in wiggle room/travel time, and I needed gas. I pulled in, looked in my handbag to grab my wallet… and it wasn’t there. Not a good feeling. On so many levels. Almost as if I could hear Karl Malden’s ridiculous voice in my ear: “Don’t leave home without it.” [Half an hour later, Scott had wired money to the service area, and I was on the road again.]
This fear, this sinking feeling that we will be stuck, without our resources, helps us understand our deep cultural discomfort with Jesus’s message to his disciples after his own less-than-auspicious visit to his hometown Nazareth. “Leave home without it,” he seems to say. “Take nothing for your journey except a staff… no bread, no bag, no money in your belts, but wear sandals [not shoes] and just one tunic – no outer cloak.” Not just “travel light” – but leave home without it, “it” being whatever might weigh you down, but also whatever might give you some protection, some sustenance, some security.
We think we need our things to get us from one place to the other, because without them, we might not make it. We try to anticipate what might be coming… it might rain, so we pack our raincoats and umbrellas; it might be hot, so we pack our sunscreen and water bottles. We might get hungry… pack snacks; we might get bored… Heaven forbid I should go anywhere without the 4.7 inch piece of metal and plastic that holds my phone, calendar, contacts, photos, maps, and NPR app.
And yet, as I try to leave home in a larger sense these days, going home on the weekends to go through our family’s accumulations over the last almost ten years, I’m reminded of the spiritual wisdom of this, not just for disciples on the move, but for all of us. Three aspects we ignore at our peril:
- The danger of what Pope Francis called “throwaway culture.”
I’m not a fan of the office of the pope, but the recent encyclical on the environment is inspired. Pope Francis calls on people – not just Catholics, but people everywhere – to question the aims of economic growth and enormous inequalities, and to look at our own behaviors and thought patterns. “We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea what to do with their possessions…” he says. (What to do with the decorative potty trainer our son used twice? I have no clue…)
Jesus’s encouragement to leave home without stuff calls into question the whole idea of stuff in the first place. Is this something I really need? Am I just going to throw it away? Does it contribute to economic inequality? Jesus invites his disciples to a different way of life that looks at things differently. Jesus’s words to his disciples about what to leave at home are very specific, even for Jesus. To the point that I’ve wondered if one of the reasons the disciples were so effective at their ministry was that they didn’t have anything else to distract them.
- The way things define relationships between people and groups, build walls.
In Roman culture, status was really important. It dictated who could speak with whom, where you walked on the street, where and what you could eat. And your things defined your status: your clothes, your shoes, what you carried your money in, how you styled your hair. One of the reasons Jesus’s disciples were able to be effective as they left home was that they stepped out of this way of understanding people according their things. They assumed what would have been considered the dress of the lowest status; and they were therefore not a threat to anyone. No one would be intimidated by them.
They would also have to model different ways of relating to people – not according to their status, but according to being created by God… What would it look like to imagine those around us with different things, without their things?
- Leads to Healing. Leaving home without it all made them remarkably effective at healing – almost more so than Jesus himself.
When we leave home without it, whatever it is that keeps us feeling safe or secure, we can be open to a new way of thinking that becomes healing in so many ways – for our world, for how we relate to each other, for how we see ourselves.
We begin to leave behind our throwaway culture, our tendency to define people by what they have instead of who they are, or even better yet whose they are, our own fear that we won’t have enough, that we’ll be stranded.
You don’t have to become what’s been called a “minimalist” overnight. Think of one thing that you could leave home – just for one day. [Phone, car keys, wallet…]
Something happens when you leave home without it, “it” being whatever keeps you safety, sustenance, security. Here’s what I saw in Cherry Hill, NJ. I had a little bit of a breakdown – not like me. But I didn’t want the guys in the garage to see me. These guys were the nicest, and they didn’t have to be – to this preacher woman stranded in her churchy clothes…
May you leave home without it, and may you discover home wherever you find yourself. Amen.