My kids grew up traveling a lot. By adulthood, they had logged between 20 and 30 countries each. We were restless parents, always looking for a getaway from the mundane daily routine. I was chatting with my second son when he was still a teen, and I noted that I had also grown up with restless parents. We moved every few years to a new house, a new town, a new state, a new ward. I said that it seemed to me that when you grow up that way you either have wanderlust and crave new experiences (like me) or you feel rootless, and you never want to go anywhere again. He was the latter. He said he liked the idea of putting down deep roots somewhere and building a life in one place. Travel was fine, but staying rooted was better.
And he hasn’t left his room since! That’s a very slight exaggeration; most of his life, at least when he’s not at work, is online which is its own place, one we can carry with us, a home we have in our pocket. If our phone breaks, it’s like losing access to a place that feels like home, our own set of websites we visit, online communities we frequent, or our source for news and information. Part of what continues to make travel appealing to me is that I can be online no matter where I am (although generally I don’t go online on planes still, even though it is technically an option). I can be “home” while also exploring the world.
Recently my hubbie suggested we take a trip to do some hiking in a national park. It’s the kind of trip we can do while remaining safe and socially distant, but I also felt like “meh.” It’s not like me to turn down a trip, any trip, and I wondered why I couldn’t get jazzed about it. I think it’s because right now we are literally “homeless” for the first time in over two decades. We are between the house we sold and the house we are buying. We are living in an airbnb, using furniture that isn’t ours, without our cats who are staycationing with a friend, without the majority of our things, only a handful of clothes (I mean, really, who cares what I wear right now? I am usually wearing lounge pants that a year ago I wouldn’t have left the house in). Going on vacation is great, but it’s because I want to get away for a while and then have the familiar to return to. Without a home, a getaway isn’t really getting away. The house is the starting point and the destination.
We spent our final days in the old house doing long-neglected home repairs, fixing my leaky vanity faucet (that I endured for 7 years), replacing a loose kitchen faucet, buying a new water heater we hadn’t even noticed was rusty until the buyers pointed it out, resurfacing the pool that was pitted and chipped from wear over the 15 years we had lived there, fighting back the never-ending scorpion hostile take-over. Many of these were things we chose to live with rather than resolve, and I wonder what new problems we’ll find in our new home. Will there be a creaky door, a temperamental sprinkler system, a rusty side gate, a loud garbage disposal? It’s part of any home to find these things, then to ignore them because it’s a pain to fix them.
Years ago I had a conversation with a friend who had left the Church. He said the Church was like a house that was falling apart. There were areas where rain came through the ceiling, parts of the house that were unsafe, and none of it was great. Some people liked it, but some found it was worse than being homeless. Maybe that was true for some. I felt at the time, and mostly do still, that living in a bad house that needs repairs is still superior to wandering around without any house. Camping under the stars is great (theoretically anyway) until you want a hot shower or a cold diet coke. It’s great until you need a closet to keep clothes in or want to have pets. And some houses are in worse repair than others, or different parts of the house are in worse repair. It can depend on where you are in the house.
There was an episode of the Andy Griffith show in which the citizens of Mayberry became jealous of each others’ houses. They saw all the good things in their neighbors’ houses, and they noticed all the bad things in their own. I’ve thought a lot about that episode during this process. One of the neighbors (it’s been years, and I don’t remember how it all happened) agreed to switch houses with another, and that caused a cascade of house swapping (or maybe they bought & sold, but I kind of think it was more casual than that). But once they got into their new house, they realized that the new house was bad in a different way than the old one, and they missed their old houses. Eventually, they all went back to their original houses. I guess it was a realtor’s nightmare.
Maybe part of what I like about having a house is being able to get away from it, but to still come back to it. I both like to complain about the repairs we need (there’s nothing so satisfying as making a list), but also to rejoice with the most minute of improvements, that small relief that comes when the sink is no longer clogged or the once brown grass is now green again or the ugly mural someone painted on the wall is now just a blank wall because I painted over it. We can stand back and congratulate ourselves on making life just a little better in our little haven.
Years ago when we were founding Wheat & Tares in the wake of our departure from Mormon Matters, I was trying to articulate what I wanted our blog to be like. Some blogs were more about top notch content, posts that met academic standards of publication, that were footnoted and researched, but that didn’t necessarily drive conversation beyond “attaboy” comments of agreement and admiration and some shares on social media. Those types of blogs are great, and their authors are highly talented. I enjoy reading them. I even occasionally enjoy writing something that’s shareable or quoted. But I was more interested in the idea that the comments could be the real content, that the post was the canvas that commenters could use to paint on. They could agree or disagree, but they would bring new ideas to the discussion beyond what the author suggested. I wanted a community of participation and for commenters to feel like they were creating valuable content, not just patting great authors on the back.
The Church can be like that too. It doesn’t always want to be, or rather, many leaders and members would prefer it to be the source of answers rather than questions and discussion, a resource rather than a community, but to me, and perhaps to people like me, its value is in the experience of participation. When participation is squelched or viewed with suspicion, as is sometimes the case, being in the Church has very limited value to me. I can sit back and read excellent content from a whole lot better sources than the Church’s website or your average Church lesson. There’s a world of wisdom available to me on my phone, just a few clicks away. If the Church is trying to compete with that, it’s not doing a great job at it. But it doesn’t really have to compete with that because I can have both.
For those who say that you should either love the Church as it is or leave it, I say “Get off my lawn!” This is what home is to me. The dripping faucet, and best of all, the lack of dripping after years of complaining, and that feeling that suddenly we made things better. That’s what life is like as a progressive I suppose, and I know that there are many who hate progressives. It’s not just true in the Church, but also in the country (all countries, but particularly in our current political binary in the US). People who love things as they are don’t like others mucking them up. They would prefer the status quo, not another person’s preferred change. Not all changes are fixing a leaky faucet, a thing we all find irritating. As I often quote Kissinger saying, “Every solution is a ticket to a new problem.”
- Do you think the Church is like a house in need of repair? Is it better to be homeless or do you like to make lists of repairs and work on improvements?
- Do you see the Church as a place to discuss questions or to find answers? Would you prefer it be different than it is?
- Did being away from Church make you long for the community or make you realize you didn’t miss it at all? Why do you think that is?
- Are you a person with wanderlust or who wants to settle down with deep roots? Or both, like me?
 I suspect this is going to be much worse in the new home, but I’m ready for battle.