A naturalized home

Coming ‘home’ takes all sorts of forms, let alone whether where we are coming to is technically home at all. Back in 2010 I came to Botswana, my first visit since 1989, to work with Fr. James Amanze in envisioning a House of Studies, now the St. Augustine Theological School. There was nothing about ‘home’ then – rather just a curiosity as to whether a ‘foreign land’ where I had been over 20 years earlier had changed much (it had). But when I returned in 2013 to teach at the new school, my first diary entry tried to convey the emotion I felt when Ben Motlhalamme, then the diocesan secretary, simply said ‘welcome home’ as we passed the peace on my first Sunday back. It felt like belonging. The following year my first diary entry only speaks of the intensity of it all – classes and the challenges of settling in and all that. It still felt like belonging, but the focus was on the busy-ness of it all.

Here I am again. 2016. It’s almost ordinary. Susan Mogwera, the Diocese’s executive administrator, meets me at the airport at noon and drives me to my flat, which looks much as I left it (well, no longer in the midst of a major construction site), and where she hands me the keys. We have a bit of lunch and she takes me to the School, where Florence Bogopa, who keeps all working smoothly there, greets me, hands me keys to the School and to my car, which is sitting outside, nicely clean and with a full tank. I sit down and we begin our class at 2:00. Two good sessions, but nothing out of the ordinary. Afterward I boot up my laptop and glide smoothly into the School’s wireless setup. I hear the printer start to whir, and it even remembers that I asked it to print out a couple of documents in 2014, and it spits them out now. Later Fr. James takes me to dinner, and I return to the flat, needing nothing but some groceries to ‘belong’ again.

The Diocese's flat for companion link folk, plus my car

It all seems so routine.

Finding ‘home’ is a great theme, in life as in literature. Sometimes it may touch us deeply, sometimes there’s an intensity to it, sometimes you feel as if you never left. It doesn’t matter. One of our great quests is to discover a place to feel at home, whether in or out of our own culture, whether geographically our ‘technical’ home or not. Sometimes, remarkably, it comes to us in unexpected ways, unexpected places. Sometimes even its ordinariness may be profound.

This morning, at the early (7:30) service at the Holy Cross Cathedral, Bishop Metlha offers me a word of welcome. ‘We will help you become naturalized when you are ready,’ he says with a smile. Some in the congregation follow with a laugh. I smile too, and I thank him. But I remember too that being ‘home’ is multi-directional. The extent to which I feel at home is directly related to the extent to which I am made to feel at home by others whose home this truly is. I remember those who have been in Botswana for decades – even secured citizenship – but are reminded daily that they are not truly ‘home’ here, and never will be. I recall that, despite having grown up in North Carolina, my absence for over 40 years means that I am not, in the eyes of some, as ‘North Carolinian’ as those who never left. I think of the viciousness with which people in leadership, both political and religious, have made it clear that children of God who are distinctive in their ‘otherness’ are not truly ‘home’ in the United States. I see daily – we all do – those caught up in war seeking a new ‘home,’ knowing that what used to be home cannot be again, and what may become home is a foreign land and a foreign tongue.

How do we discover home for ourselves, and affirm home for others who come among us?

This week’s return to Gaborone happens against a backdrop of a meeting of Anglican archbishops, where together in Canterbury they seek to find a way forward after years of contention over the Church and issues of human sexuality. Those issues are important, but for purposes here: Never mind those issues. The issues could have been quite different, but it wouldn’t matter. Behind it all is the question of ‘home.’ Do we belong together? Are we ‘at home’ together? Can we embrace difference – much as families try to do when they get together on holidays – and still belong together? Can we respect the dignity of every human being – which for me means, can we welcome others as being at ‘home’ with us?

Jesus has an answer to this. It’s his prayer that ‘they all may be one’ (John 17:21). We are one together when we find a home together, one which we can embrace despite all that distinguishes us from one another. That’s not easy, as the archbishops sadly demonstrate. But I like to think that in such a small but maybe not such a small way, my being welcomed into a ‘naturalized’ home in Botswana is a small gesture at our oneness, at our sense of home.