This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “A Better Country: Recovering a Political Theology of Kingdom,” coming (Lord willing) in spring 2018.
You are homeless.
Now, most of you probably don’t feel that way. You’ve got a roof over your head and three square meals a day. You probably have friends and family and a place you feel secure and comfortable. A place you call home.
But I don’t care whether you live under a bridge or in a six-bedroom McMansion in a gated community. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a military family that moves every six months, or whether you’ve lived in the same house since you were born. You’re homeless.
And deep down, you know it. There is a restless discontent in the bottom of your soul that never quite goes away, no matter how comfortable your life is. A little voice in the back of your head saying, “This isn’t good enough, this isn’t good enough,” no matter how much stuff you collect. Whether you’re 16 or 60, you still have that same deep-seated teenage angst, an ever-present fear that you don’t fit in and that there’s something not quite right with you (sorry kids, that angst never really goes away; adults just learn how to self-medicate with things like ‘career goals,’ ‘weekends’ and ‘family,’ until the ache turns numb or breaks loose in a midlife crisis). As we age, we are increasingly stalked by the wrinkles and gray hairs of decay until our cells finally succumb to the relentless onslaught of entropy. We stoop, shuffle, and shrivel our way back to the dust where we decompose and are eventually forgotten.
If that’s not enough to send you into an existential tailspin, keep reading. Because the alienation we all feel isn’t just something internal. It’s external as well. There is something deeply, fundamentally wrong with the world, something we are always aware of but can’t quite articulate. Turn on the news and you’ll be assaulted by a macabre parade of tragedies and outrages, strung together without any storyline or meaning. Walk the halls of a hospital and ponder the strange intermingling of heroic healing and senseless suffering all around. Drive past courthouses and prisons and billboard advertisements for personal injury lawyers; you’ll see a longing for justice and yet sense something defective and diseased in our application of that justice. Stand in a funeral home or a cemetery and see lives reduced to slideshows on a television or dashes on a tombstone. Let the futility of it all sink in.
Do you feel the homesickness yet?
It’s a strange thing, isn’t it, to be homesick in your own home? This is what I mean by “homelessness;” it’s a sense of misbelonging that haunts us, as if we woke up one morning in a world that was almost like home and yet subtly and disconcertingly different. This is the bizarre experience of everyone alive today: longing for something we can’t articulate and, truth be told, have never actually experienced. We are simultaneously native-born and exile, at home and homesick, content but never satisfied.
The groundbreaking 1999 movie The Matrix explores this sense of displacement. The movie posits that this is not the “real world” after all; this is only a simulation in which we are trapped as slaves. In one pivotal scene, Morpheus—who has come from the “real world” to free the main character Neo—confronts Neo with this truth:
“Let me tell you why you are here. You have come because you know something. What you know you can’t explain but you feel it. You’ve felt it your whole life, felt that something is wrong with the world. You don’t know what, but it’s there like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
At this point, everyone in the audience nods along with Neo. Yes, Morpheus, we do know what you’re talking about. We have all felt the same splinter. It’s the very thing that drives us to the escapism of the movies, and yet here it is confronting us again.
“The Matrix is everywhere,” Morpheus continues. “It’s all around us, here even in this room. You can see it out your window or on your television. You feel it when you go to work, or go to church or pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
“What truth?” Neo asks, already knowing the answer.
“That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, kept inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind.”
It turns out that Morpheus is on to something. Even if the movie’s sci-fi explanation for our predicament isn’t true (at least, I don’t think there are sentient robots harvesting my body’s energy right now), his explanation for our restlessness hits home. “You were born into bondage,” he says.
Surprisingly, the Bible agrees with Morpheus.