According to the great American poet Robert Frost, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” In our highly mobile society, home has a multi-layered meaning. If we have just been to the corner store, going home means to return to our permanent address – to the place we are living now, identified by street number and postal code. If we are travelling to visit relatives, going home may mean a journey to revisit the region where we were born or grew up. It could even imply a visit to an ancestral homeland – a country we may never have been to but whose contours we know thoroughly from stories told us by our immigrant parents or grandparents.
For me home has all of these connotations and more. Hamilton, Ontario, has been my home for 26 years. I have lived here longer than anywhere else, and in that time I’ve grown to love it and everything about it. Though constantly overshadowed by Toronto in the popular imagination, it boasts a lovely natural setting along the Niagara Escarpment. The Bruce Trail is a short walk from our house, as is a magnificent view of Lake Ontario. We are never more than a few minutes from a waterfall. Hamilton is a favourite of film producers because of the sheer diversity of landscapes found within a fairly small area.
Yet for me Hamilton is home because of the people who have become dear to me over the years, including Redeemer University colleagues, former students who have settled here and, of course, my wife and my daughter, who was born here. Our church community, now 175 years old, has become our home church.
Our family usually makes an annual pilgrimage to the Chicago area, where I was born and grew up. Topographically, that region is not especially interesting and lies in a flood plain. The farmlands that were never too far from our home when I was younger have mostly disappeared and been swallowed up by the sprawling suburbs. Nevertheless, it means a lot to me to be able to visit the elementary school where I was educated, to see the two houses our family lived in and to look for remnants of the electric railway that once passed through my hometown. Most of all, the presence there of four generations of family means everything to me.
Then there’s the state of Michigan, where my mother was born and where I spent so much of my childhood visiting relatives. I have deep roots there going back to 1882, when my great-great-grandparents, Niilo and Anna Juntunen, brought their infant daughter (my great-grandmother) from Russian-controlled Finland to settle in the Upper Peninsula near the shores of Lake Superior, very likely arriving by way of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Three sets of great-great grandparents, two sets of great-grandparents and a grandmother lie at rest in the Great Lakes State. Though I never had a permanent address there, Michigan still has a homelike feel to me.
The term homeland sometimes has political significance, but not always. Early twentieth-century Germans spoke of das Vaterland, the fatherland. Russians call the Second World War the Great Fatherland War, because it was fought on Russian soil, even as they continue to speak of “Mother Russia.” After the 9/11 attacks the United States established the Department of Homeland Security, a seeming redundancy that the Department of Defence should have made unnecessary. The flag and arms of the Swiss canton of Vaud carry the motto: “Liberté et Patrie” – Liberty and Fatherland. Here fatherland refers, not to Switzerland, but to Vaud itself, suggesting that, even a country as geographically compact as Switzerland may be too large to feel like a real home to many people.
So where is my homeland? I am a citizen of two countries, with an apparent right to claim two more citizenships through my father’s birth as a British subject in Cyprus. I should be the stereotypical cosmopolitan, but I really am not. My earthly homeland is the Great Lakes Region. Yet, from my reading of St. Augustine and from my Cypriot relatives’ painful experience of exile, I know that our earthly homes are never completely secure. Given the multi-layered meaning of home, I can accept more than one earthly home while recognizing that our ultimate loyalty is to the city of God, the only place that can genuinely offer homeland security over the long term.
David T. Koyzis has taught politics at Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario, for just over a quarter of a century. His next book on authority, office and the image of God is forthcoming from Pickwick Publications, a division of Wipf & Stock. This appeared in the 10 June issue of Christian Courier as the latest instalment of his "Principalities & Powers" column, which has been running monthly since 1990.
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