Where do you come from? It’s such a simple question, but these days a simple question can bring complicated answers.
When people ask me where I come from, they’re expecting me to say Philippines, and they’re absolutely right insofar as 100 percent of my blood and ancestry does come from the Philippines. But in the Philippine archipelago, there are close to ninety languages among people of different tribes scattered all over the 7,100 islands. I know only two and a half of these languages, so I don’t think I’ve really earned the right to call myself a full Filipino. So, if “Where do you come from?” means “Where were you born, raised and educated?” then partly the Philippines and partly the United States.
If we speak of ethnicity or tribe, I am Pampangueno – which literally means people who live by the river banks. And if “Where do you come from?” means “Where do you pay your taxes? Where do you see your doctor and your dentist?” then I’m very much a part of the United States, and I have lived in the US for almost 25 years now. I was once a tourist, a student, a religious immigrant missionary, a green card holder, and now a Naturalized citizen.
I live in a city that represents the whole world – Los Angeles. I have befriended Americans who are Armenians, Australians, British, Canadians, Chinese, Colombians, Dutch, Egyptians, El Savadorans, Germans, Filipinos, French, Indians, Iraqis, Iranians, Japanese, Jews, Koreans, Mexicans, Singaporeans, Thai, etc. Therefore, the longer I live here, I do actually feel more alien. As you can see, as far as my home, I feel a little confused… more like “a lot” confused (smile).
And I say all this just to stress how messy our backgrounds can be. Many of those people I meet in the USA are more international, multi-ethnic and multi-culture than I am. And so just like most, we spend our whole lives taking pieces of many different places and putting them together into a stained glass whole. Home for me is really a work in progress. It’s like a project on which it changes.
For more and more of us, home has really less to do with a piece of soil, but it is more with a piece of soul. If somebody suddenly asks me, “Where’s your home?” I often think about my sweetheart, those close to me, or my church home.
And I’d always felt this way, but it really came home to me, as it were, some years ago when a powerful volcano exploded and spewed volcanic debris, called lahar. This thick boiling mud came to our barrio, or village, and buried several Dizon (and relatives’) houses… including our old house — the house that I loved, the house where I grew up.
Just like that, snap. I lost a sense of home. We lost everything but the roof. All my siblings and relatives dispersed in faraway places, never to be united again in one village. I don’t even have a place to visit and call home in my hometown.
So when I am asked, “Where is your home?” I literally couldn’t point to any physical construction. My home would have to be whatever I carry around inside me. My heart. Something deep in my soul.
Although losing our physical home was terrible, it was a blessing in some ways. It was some kind of liberation from depending on something physical and temporary.
When my grandparents were born, they pretty much had their sense of home, their sense of community, assigned to them at birth, and didn’t have much chance of stepping outside of that. And nowadays, at least some of us can choose our sense of home, create our sense of community, fashion our sense of self, and in so doing, maybe step a little beyond some of the black and white divisions of our grandparents’ perspective.
It is no coincidence that the president of the strongest nation on Earth is half-Kenyan, partly raised in Indonesia and Hawaii, and has a Chinese-Canadian brother-in-law.
The number of people living in countries not their own now comes to 220 million, and that’s an almost unimaginable number. And the number of us who live outside the old nation-state categories is increasing so quickly, by 64 million just in the last 12 years, that soon there will be more of us than there are traditional “Americans.”
Where you come from now is much less important than where you’re going or what we are becoming. And home, we know, is not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.
What does the word of God say about home?
It is helpful, when reading a psalm, to try to determine when it was written and who wrote it and for what occasion. This psalm was written by Moses, and that makes Psalm 90 one of the oldest psalms in the Bible.
Moses lived millennia ago, and he had the privilege of living in a very unique period of the history of God’s people. As we are well aware, Moses lived during the time of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. This was the great salvation story of the Old Testament, and God’s people referred back to it often, much like we refer back to the death and resurrection of Jesus as a turning point in our history. God was doing great things in the time of Moses.
But even though God was doing great things, the experience of God’s people was not always positive. We don’t know exactly when Moses wrote Psalm 90, but it is very possible that he wrote it sometime in the last 40 years of his life. The Israelites had already been freed from Egypt, and they had already once been at the border of the land that God had promised to them. But because of their unbelief and faithlessness, God turned them back and forced them to wander in the desert for 40 more years. During those 40 years, every person who was over 20 years old at the time of the Israelite rebellion would die and would be buried in the desert. Moses, because he sinned as well, was told that he would not enter the Promised Land either.
Verses 1-2 are a statement made by Moses to God: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place forever. You have always been God to us.”
As Moses begins to pen the words of this psalm, he admits that while the Israelites did not have a place to call home, God is that place. He is the one who provides the safety and rest that we normally attribute to dwelling places, places like homes and hometowns and landmasses within the boundaries that make up our country. God is that for us, Moses declares.
And then we see the first reference to time. God has always been that. While we might not experience God in that way, that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t provided us with safety and rest. Our problem, when we don’t experience that in God, is not God’s problem. It is ours. When we don’t experience God as our dwelling place, it’s because we are probably finding our safety and rest elsewhere. God has always been our dwelling place.
What difference does it make that God is our dwelling place? A lot. God oversees whole swaths of history, and he does so easily. We may not understand how history is unfolding or comprehend why it is unfolding as it does. But we do know this: God knows what is going on. He has it under control.
Now notice Psalms 90: 13-17 Moses doesn’t say, “so that we can have full and meaningful lives.” That is already true for us. He prays, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love.” It’s not the things we do that give us satisfaction; it is the love of our God and heavenly Father.
Moses wants us to know that we will never find fulfillment or satisfaction from life by the things we do. If we seek to be fulfilled by the things we do, we will become disillusioned with a life that seems increasingly futile. Rather, we find our fulfillment by resting in the safety of God’s love. We find fulfillment in the fact that God is Home.
I may be a pastor, but I am not a religious person. Christianity is not about being with a religious organization. It is about having a personal relationship with the Son of God, Jesus. Churches have their roles. But Jesus is our refuge. He is our comfort. And so when people ask me today where my home is, I tell them Jesus is my home.