Being human is being comfortable with the uncomfortable.
I remember the first time someone told me I was going to hell (apart from the times in elementary school when my teachers were just fed up with my wisecracking in class). I was an undergrad.
“No way! I can’t go to hell. I believe in Jesus.”
But my antagonists were convinced that I didn’t believe in the right Jesus. “You believe in a false god. Not the one that comes through this church.” By “this church” they meant their particular denomination, and in many ways they were right: I didn’t believe in the Jesus that they interpreted in their weekly Sunday gatherings. I believed in a Jesus and a Christianity that were broader and more nuanced and more inclusive. How could they reduce a whole Jesus movement to their own particular denomination? What do you call this? Some would label it extremism. I might reach that same conclusion, but I typically imagine an extremist tying me to a chair, locking me up in a room, and forcing me to watch their religious propaganda—like Wednesday, Pugsley, and Joel were indoctrinated with Disney Films in Addam’s Family Values. Thank god that didn’t happen! Fundamentally, I believe my interlocutors felt an unease with something different. They were uncomfortable.
How to be “comfortable.”
Most of my free-spirited liberal friends would say, “Life is a balance.” I agree, wholeheartedly. However, is the balancing act ever comfortable? Think about it. When the Wild Coyote is chasing the Road Runner down a tightrope, does it ever look pleasant for the Coyote? Does it look easy for a gymnast to perform on a balance beam?
I often found myself in sweaty situations where all I could do was fake a smile, and the only place I was able to decompress was in a small, one-window bedroom. In these moments of decompression, I realized something: I was making a home.
I’ve given much thought to this idea of comfort, especially as it relates to balance, and I’ve come to believe that comfortableness is not a human quality. We are always susceptible to forces beyond our control and encroached by evil even in places of peace. Our bodies are degenerative. Our families, traditions, and legacies fade or are replaced, and only a few of us are lucky enough to see three generations. Being human is uncomfortable. Being human is being comfortable with the uncomfortable.
In my time at Harvard Divinity School, I have often been uncomfortable. In the beginning, I thought I would get used to the different personalities, cultures, customs, views, and people, but that never happened. In fact, I became more uncomfortable as time progressed. I often found myself in sweaty situations where all I could do was fake a smile, and the only place I was able to decompress was in a small, one-window bedroom. In these moments of decompression, I realized something: I was making a home.
Homes take different forms. There are the physical spaces we often think of as home. Some find home in a religious tradition. But for me, home is dynamic and ever changing.
Homes take different forms. There are the physical spaces we often think of as home. Some find home in a religious tradition. But for me, home is dynamic and ever changing. It is an uncomfortable place filled with different views, people, cultures, and traditions. I don’t think of a brick-layered building, but a sculptor carving away at a block of stone. It may be incomplete, but always, in a sense, progressing. Not a progression that requires a triumphant end, but one that astonishes you with every new development.
My home is in others’ homes. It may sound bizarre. It may sound like conformity, compromise, or masquerading. But what would it be like to reimagine home? We often think of home as a refuge—a place like no other. This presumes that we are autonomous individuals, each traveling our own path, each in need of a home that consists of seclusion and apartness. In a complex, yet still divided world, I’ve found it helpful to remind myself of the value of encounter.
In a complex, yet still divided world, I’ve found it helpful to remind myself of the value of encounter.
When I first came to HDS, I was tempted to avoid encounters with the different cultures, worldviews, and religions because of unfamiliarity and unease, but after a period of time I grew aware of something happening to me. Disagreements challenged me. Cultures informed me. Traditions awakened me. This development became a consistent reminder that I am a sculpture and the world—my new community—is the sculptor.
I have found that my home is no longer an individual estate or a place of seclusion, but that my home is in others’ homes. It is not the place I retreat to in order to avoid seeing coworkers, tough situations, major events, crisis, and people. It’s the meeting place where the worlds of many become one: everyone unique and yet somehow familiar, collaborating, exchanging, and growing. Home has become a place constantly transformed by the world and life. Not a retreat, but a place of engagement.