Every weekend since we moved to Silicon Valley, we notice moving trucks in our neighborhood.
The San Francisco Bay Area is transient. There is so much here! It’s incredible! There are few places in the world where one can make hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, yet drive a half hour or less to surf. Or hike. Or check out an amazing museum. Ir have a world class meal. Drive a couple hours and you’re in the Sierra Nevada mountains – Lake Tahoe has limitless fun [though it typically comes with a hefty price tag].
The Bay Area has its challenges, to be sure, but one look at the topography is enough; it’s drop dead gorgeous.
There is a reason people stream from across the country to live here. It’s an amazing place to live, pure and simple.
Once they get here, however, the difficulties can be intimidating for people from any station in life. A couple years ago, 46% of Bay Area residents were planning on leaving within a few years. But why leave? Higher salaries are nice, but salaries for a lot of folks are outpaced by the cost of living. Houses start over a million unless you want to live in a shack. Traffic is intense. Wildfire smoke fills the air a few times a year. Oh yeah, and there’s supposed to be a big earthquake one of these years – the big earthquake.
Sunshine much of the year is great – but there are some downsides too.
A couple years ago Kaile and I were spending some time with some good friends, and we asked the following question:
What does home mean to you?
We asked the question couple to couple. They had moved from the East Coast around the same time we moved from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Their answers cut to the core of what it means to live far away from friends and family. Instead of the place where they sleep, where their furniture sits, and where mail is addressed, they began to consider the concept of home.
Each of us is faced with this question at some point in our lives. So many authors, dignitaries, and influencers throughout history have pondered the concept. In An American Childhood, Annie Dillard writes about growing up in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in the mid-20th century, its streets and schools and social circles. In Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton reflects on southern France in his youth, among other perceptions of home. Everyone famous or otherwise is permitted to speak lovingly [maybe lengthily?] on their feeling of home.
For some, it’s where we have family. Maybe it’s the place we grew up, or a city where we’ve developed strong friendships – a place we feel rooted. For others, it’s more of a feeling that comes when certain people are gathered. Maybe it’s a river, a mountain range, a forest, a field, maybe another natural feature.
Throughout the world, and more recently in the United States, there is this funny little phenomenon of brandishing vehicles with one’s favorite state or city. I must admit, it’s fun seeing the occasional Michigan sticker on a car here in California. I’m from there!
All of this taps into our innate sense of desiring that feeling of home. This is a human proclivity since Eve and Adam were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. The first people mentioned in sacred scripture were forced to leave their home – and we, their eventual heirs, have felt the same way ever since. We often feel like we’re missing home.
Another biblical picture of home comes in Hebrews 11. The chapter features a host of saints who lived by faith, one being Abraham. By faith, he left his homeland. It was God’s prompting, and his choice to listen, to follow, to leave everything he ever knew. Importantly, he and Sarai left without any offspring of their own. They wouldn’t be buried with their ancestors, as was the ancient custom, and they wouldn’t have children to care for them.
Though God did bless them with a child, they lived in tents in their new country. They were always foreigners, immigrants, or as they say here in the Bay Area, transplants. And what was it that they anticipated? After speaking to the way Abraham had been living, Hebrews 11:10 continues this way:
For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Abraham had a long-term hope, and it rested in what God is eventually doing. Put simply, God is eventually making earth and heaven one. One day, there will no longer be any distance between heaven, where God most fully dwells, and earth. Scripture speaks about the new creation in a lot of different ways, including references to a new Jerusalem – that ancient city that still stands as testament to how God began to work in the world, through a people group, beginning most significantly with Abraham.
I had never reflected on that aspect of this text in Hebrews: it’s a city with foundations.
Why such an emphasis on foundations?
Speaking of cities and their foundations, I lived in Michigan during the Great Recession. In fact, I finished undergraduate college in 2009, two months after the stock market hit its bottom. It wasn’t until October of that same year that unemployment hit its lowest level since 1982.
Welcome to the workforce, graduates! Thanks for spending heavily during college on that degree! And mind you, I was in Michigan, the only state to lose population in the 2010 census. Brain drain, auto bailout, and recession problems hit Michigan like a punch in the gut.
The foundations of many of Michigan’s cities were gutted. Sure, things have rebounded since then, but the reality ten years ago was stark. Detroit was a lonely graveyard filled with empty or burned out houses. Other cities fared a bit better, but overall the picture was grim. I remember hearing a third of Michigan homeowners were underwater, meaning they owed more on their loan than their house was worth.
There is simply no way to guarantee a city will hold up under the economic or natural disaster that can quickly batter it. In 2018 the city of Paradise, California burned completely to the ground after some electrical wires started a massive blaze. Eventually 85 lives were lost in what became known as the Camp Fire in which almost 20,000 buildings were destroyed, causing over 16 billion dollars of damage.
Never mind foundations. Some citiess have simply – and tragically – disappeared from existence.
Presently, the COVID-19 disease caused by the Coronavirus is wreaking some level of havoc on the world. Who knows how it will eventually affect the world. Presently most of my neighborhood and community are self-quarantining for a couple weeks as we seek to mitigate the damage this virus can eventually do.
This uncertainty about the future is why Adam, Abraham, and I think all of us long for a true sense of home. We want all the feels, but it’s impossible not to think beyond just a favorite meal and favorite people, for none of these can quite satisfy in the way our Creator can. We all long for God, our truest home, and for the eventual home which scripture refers to as the new creation, and for the full presence of Jesus with us. We want to be surrounded by people we can trust, in their redeemed state, in the presence of the one who created and restored us.
The joys of whatever city in which we find ourselves is something, to be sure. Love where you live, as the saying goes. The joys of life as we know it, however, are nothing compared to what God is crafting.
I’m stirred at the thought that God knows our desires so well, and has acted on our behalf make a home for us. It’ll be a city free of disease in a world free of the chaos and uncertainty that has always been our norm.
And by the way – it lasts forever.