I have called fifteen places home in my life. Six apartments, four parsonages, two dormitory rooms, one rent house, my parents’ home, and the house my wife and I own now. Yes, it was not until the fifteenth residence that I could say I owned the place. Well, actually, some mortgage company in New York City owns our house, but they let us live in it from month to month.
The thing that jumps out at me about having lived in fifteen places is that there have been at least fourteen moves. Which surprises me because after every move I have uttered the words, “I will never do this again.”
People make moves in life for a variety of reasons. Some folks move not because they choose to, but because they have to. I have seen that reality in trips overseas to places like the Republic of Georgia. I visited an abandoned Soviet military base where thousands of refugees were living because they had been driven from their homes by the conflict between Russia and Georgia. I’ve also seen it on a trip to Zimbabwe. The cruel government of President Robert Mugabe has so shattered the Zimbabwean economy that thousands are moving to South Africa and other neighboring countries looking for work. Do they want to leave their homes? Of course not. But they have no choice.
All of which makes me reflect on the immigration debate in this country. There is a tremendous uproar about undocumented people and what we should do about them. But what I don’t hear in this so-called Christian nation is much discussion about the forces that drive people to leave their homes, risk their lives to travel to an unknown country, so that they can work jobs that few of us would be willing to do. I hear a lot about the threat of terrorism, and how unfair it might be if we let a few of these people into our community colleges. But I don’t hear many of our moral watchdogs talking about what drives people to risk so much to come here. And that disturbs me.
For most of us, though, we make our moves in life of our own volition. The first big move many people make is when they leave home for college. Where we go to school and what we choose to study make a statement about what is important to us. Later, career moves also reveal something about our needs and desires. We might move far from our original home to chase a job opportunity that is right for us. Or, we might sacrifice money and prestige to go to a place that fits the needs of our family better.
The common thread I see running through all of these moves or changes is that we are usually seeking safety and comfort. We select a school based on whether it feels like the right fit for us. We might move a thousand miles for a job that provides a more comfortable lifestyle for our family. Human beings have a fundamental need to find places that feel right, that feel safe, and we will go to great lengths to discover those places.
So, some people make moves or changes because forces beyond their control compel them to seek survival in a new place. And many of us make moves or changes in life because we need to find the safety and comfort of the right place. But there is another move we make that has little to do with having our survival and safety needs met.
This most dangerous move calls us to risk rejection in order to do what we believe is right. It calls us to push beyond our normal comfort zone to do what is just. It calls us to choose a path that others might deem foolish in order to create what is fair. What am I talking about when I describe this ultimate move in life? I’m talking about LBJ signing civil rights legislation even though he knew it would cost his party the South for a generation or more. I’m talking about the kid in school who risks his social status by befriending the outcast. I’m talking about LGBTQ people and their straight allies challenging the homophobia that permeates families, churches, schools and legislative corridors. When we reach the place in life where our need for survival and safety no longer trumps our hope for a more just and fair culture, we will have moved to higher ground.
The great Stevie Wonder once wrote:
Till I reach my highest ground
No one's gonna bring me down
Till I reach my highest ground
Don't you let nobody bring you down (they'll sho 'nuff try)
Yes, Stevie, they will sho ‘nuff try. May each of us keep moving toward the high ground where justice for all is more than a slogan.