Last Saturday I was dressed up as “Lola Cabana”—ex-show girl—and on my way to a murder mystery party (that information is incidental, by the way). As I drove, I listened to a podcast in which the Irish poet, theologian, and mediator Pádraig Ó Tuama quoted these lines from “Lost” by David Wagoner:
“Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger.”
I began ruminating on a theme I was familiar with—that where I am is Here. My own version of the idea goes something like this: “There is no center somewhere else, that you are excluded from, because God the Trinity is fully present with you here and now.”
How I came to believe that, against all my instincts, is another story.
Pádraig Ó Tuama leads the Corrymela community, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organization, which was established before “The Troubles.” As I listened to the American interviewer draw out some of Pádraig and Corrymela’s story, I became aware of a particular kind of grace. You know the kind—where a specific place or community is at peace with itself. Where it has heeded the call of God and been faithful to that call. When a community is unafraid to be itself it somehow seems to be able to speak more powerfully to people beyond its borders. I saw something of that truth out of the corner of my eye.
Last Thursday I finished watching “Derry Girls,” a riotously funny series about teenage girls (and one English boy) who all attend a Catholic Girls school in Northern Ireland during “The Troubles.” I was a teenager in the 90s and saw much of my own world recalled through the use of music, fashion, and culture in the show: Doc Martens, choker necklaces, and denim jackets with fur collars.
After watching the last episode, I read an interview with the star and creator Lisa McGee, who talked about the origins of “Derry Girls.” She was in London at the age of 24 and saw another play set in the Irish town of Donegal. “The crowd loved it,” she said, “Here was this oh-so-sophisticated audience in London laughing about the goings-on in a post office in Letterkenny and I just thought, ‘This can work, people can get it.’” The article described it as “the first time she knew stories from her homeplace could reach further afield.”
They really did. I’ve only been to Derry once, but in recreating her home with such care Lisa McGee built a bridge to my own experience of being a teenager. By the final episode I was in tears. I doubt Walter Bruggeman meant 90s fashion when he talked about “the scandal of the particular,” but there was a beautiful paradox at work. When the particular is lovingly drawn, it becomes a window to a much wider world.
Last Sunday I went to see a film, taking the long way around through the woods. “Wherever you are is called Here.” That truth was holding me up on a day when I was tempted to believe there was a party I wasn’t invited to. “No,” I decided, “I’d rather be right here, wandering the woods and listening to birds.”
I didn’t know what “Wild Rose” was about before I watched it, but I’d recommend it. A young woman from Glasgow, Scotland has been released after serving a year in jail on drugs charges. She is angry, violent, effervescent, and hugely talented. She loves country music, and she’s desperate to get to Nashville and become a star. The only complication is her criminal record, lack of money, and the two children living with her mother, all of whom she has to rebuild relationships with.
I’ll try not to ruin it for you, but she does indeed get to Nashville and the truth she encounters there brings her straight back home. In the final scene we see her on stage a year later surrounded by family and friends and performing a song she has written. It’s called “Glasgow” and is an homage to family, place, and dreams:
“Ain't no yellow brick road running through Glasgow
But I found one that's stronger than stone
Ain't no place like home….”
As a viewer you’re desperate for her to get out of town, to “make it.” Yet when she returns, you know the journey has changed her. She writes about what she knows and, compared to the identikit musicians prowling Nashville’s bars, she suddenly seems alight. Glorious.
Last Friday I was on a call with cohort members of the International Certificate in Youth, Theology, and Innovation—a program Youthscape has been running with the Institute of Youth Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary this past six months. We opened our conversation reading and reflecting on Exodus 3 and Moses meeting God through the burning bush. We shared different thoughts about the passage: the possibility that the bush had always been on fire but Moses had only just noticed; the choice to turn aside; God’s injunction not to come closer; and of course the many ways that Moses tries to deflect God’s call.
Then someone said that this was not special ground. It was the same old mountain Moses had walked on hundreds of times, but it was made holy in this moment because of an extraordinary encounter—itself made possible because Moses noticed and turned aside.
Wherever you are is called Here.
I’ve always loved how Hebrews 3 draws on this theme of here and now with an urgent call to pay attention today.
“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.’” (Hebrews 3:7)
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called "Today," so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13)
We are all, at some time, tempted to escape. The grass looks greener elsewhere and we hear stories from another place, that threaten to dwarf the place we call home. But we are called to be awake in the time and place we are today because God has come to us and is not somewhere else.
Youthscape is based in Luton, a town we love but which suffers from a bad reputation. The young people of our town need us to bear witness to the truth that life, love, and hope are not “somewhere else.” In my experience, adolescence was 80% longing for escape. If others feel that too, we can turn aside and try to help the young see what is aflame with the glory of God, within and beyond them. Here and now.
There’s no place like the holy ground of home.