Friday, August 02, 2002

Thought of the day: the idyllic notion of home as haven vs. the need to get out and change the world:
Even though my wife and I life in an apartment in the heart of the city, blocks away from housing projects, I think we feel our home is a safe haven from the noise, grit, and anonymity of city life. It's a far cry from the artificial suburban existence of our Michigan hometown, where people groom their huge lawns and lock their double- or triple-stall-garage doors and rejoice in their safe, saccharine lives. Since the suburbanization of the 50s (and perhaps industrialization around the turn of the century), it has been consummately American to think of the home as a holy sanctuary from outside life. As far as I know, this is a recent and odd cultural value. Before, home life blended into public life casually, intimately, and, yes, odorously. Perhaps never before the American 20th Century did people value private life and fear public life, rather than the other way around.

This suburban-bred impulse of my wife and I to lock our doors to the outside is in one sense a survival function and in another a flaw. We have been called to serve the city, as citizens, as workers, as Christians. If everybody stayed inside and feared the outside, the world would only get worse. The home-as-haven myth ignores 1) the evil and sorrow that can lurk inside the home 2) the pleasantness and happiness that can lie outside it and 3) our calling to make the world a better place.

The baby daughter of one of my favorite writers, James Lileks, sums it up profoundly, as he asks her where home is:

She pondered, and said: outside. She's right, of course. Our house is outside. It just seems like a strange way of thinking of it, because we think of houses as defining interior space. But she's right: all the houses in the world are outside.

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