It was like Billy Joel was haunting me from New Jersey this past week. Everywhere I went there was a Billy Joel song playing – once while sitting at a piano I was asked to play “Piano Man” because of course I was, I always am. Which even for a Billy Joel fan like myself is a very particular kind of hell. But nobody wants to be surprised with Billy Joel, that’s cruel. A pleasant Billy Joel listening experience is one you’ve chosen for yourself and not one that has been forced upon you while you sit waiting for your beer or otherwise. Like every good pop-music artist Billy Joel wrote songs – he’s mostly stopped writing pop music since his 1993 album River of Dreams – that stick in your head like a brain parasite eating away at the gray matter. But today I’ve chosen to listen to Billy Joel.
Though preferring albums like Streetlife Serenade, Glass Houses, or The Nylon Curtain today I’ve been listening to Joel’s sophomore album Piano Man. Why not? And there’s this tune “You’re My Home” that’s been playing on repeat in consideration of yesterday’s service.
The song opens:
When you look into my eyes and see the crazy gypsy in my soul it always comes as surprise. When I feel my withered roots begin to grow… well I never had a place that I could call my very own but that’s alright, my love, ’cause you’re my home.
First off, let’s all agree that “crazy gypsy in my soul” is just great. Now, let us get on to the point. The idea isn’t anything fresh, lover as home, considering the first love poem ever written (This is now bone of my bone / and flesh of my flesh) was followed with the admonishment that this is why a man leaves his home and is united with his wife – to form a new home. Wherever I go on God’s green earth if Alyssa is with me there I’m home.
This past weekend we sang two songs that were essentially different Psalms set to music. Mackenzie introduced an Audrey Assad tune called “Lead Me On” based on Psalm 23 which we then followed by singing Matt Redman’s 1995 classic “Better is One Day” paraphrased from Psalm 84.
I’m not going to say that the theme of our singing was necessarily home but, yeah, it was.
Psalm 23 and 84 feel related in their reading, like they’re cousins. Both, from different vantage points, speak of the comfort of the House of the Lord and they follow a similar form. Psalm 23, maybe the most beloved liteary achievement in history, talks of being actively led to the House of the Lord. Psalm 84 about the blessing in having already been led to His dwelling place.
With our impending move back to my hometown I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be home. In some sense I’m plagued with nostalgia – an ailment Alyssa knows all too well that I suffer from. I look forward to writing poems and reading novels at Café Domani on Highland Ave just east of the Fox River, spending lazy Sunday afternoon with cousins watching our kids play in the park, taking Alyssa out to all of my favorite places, spending warm summer evenings with old friends around the fire out in the country. I’ve mentioned before that I’m hobbit, yeah?
Last month an article from PBS popped up in my FaceBook newsfeed: “Can You Really Move Back To Your Hometown?” If I believed God spoke through obtuse signs and internet algorithms I’d think it timely. But, I don’t. I prefer the Spirit’s methods of leading through His word, the counsel of Godly people, and wisdom found only through prayer and listening for when I make big decisions. Anyways, in the article Larry Jacobson, a retirement navigator with Buoy Coaching in San Francisco, is quoted:
Nostalgia is one big reason [why people move back to their hometown]. It’s like a comfort food. For people who left when they’re young, it may be a strong draw to recapture something. I have a client whose eyes almost glass over when he talks about the tiny town he grew up in in Connecticut.
Home is where we’re safe, protected, and provided for. Where we’re brought in from the cold and warmed by the fire. Where our “wounds get dressed” as Josh Garrels sings on his most recent album. Home is where we’re healed. Where we’re named and known.
But still we’re restless. There’s a longing for home we all experience. We desire to “recapture something” as quoted earlier. Fantasy author Lev Grossman in a 2011 blog post titled “What Is Fantasy About?” writes:
We can lay claim to a certain amount of longing.
Longing for what exactly? A different kind of world. A world that makes more sense – not logical sense, but psychological sense. We’re surrounded by objects that we don’t understand. Like iPods — they’re typical. They’re gorgeous, but they’re also really alienating. You can’t open them. You can’t hack them. You don’t even really know how they work, or how they’re made, or who made them. Their form is abstractly beautiful, but it has nothing to do with their function. We really like them, but it’s somehow not a liking that makes us feel especially good.
The worlds that fantasy depicts are very different from that. They tend to be rural and low-tech. The people in a fantasy world tend to be connected to it — they understand it, they belong in it. People in Narnia don’t long for some other world (except when they long for Aslan’s Land, which I always found unsettling). They’re in sync with it. (iPods and Macs kind of mock us, don’t they, the way they’re always sync-ing with each other but never with us.)
This longing for a world to which we’re connected – and not connected Zuckerberg-style, but really connected, like a dryad with its tree – surfaces in a lot of places these days, not just in fantasy.
We’re longing for a different kind of world. “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come,” the author of Hebrews writes. In his Confessions Augustine asserts, paraphrased, that “You, O Lord, have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
And thus we’ve found our way back to Billy Joel. The final verse of “You’re My Home” concludes that if I travel all my life and I never get to stop and settle down [as] long as I have you by my side there’s a roof above and good walls all around. Our restless, crazy gypsy souls are wandering around looking for a city that is yet to come where our withered roots can begin to grow. In our travels we’re led through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and the desert Valley of Grief to the table prepared before our enemies in the courts of the LORD.
Where we wander we long for a home that is not a place but a Person. And in Him, we’re safe, protected, and provided for. We’re brought in from the cold and warmed by the fire. Our wounds are dressed and we’re healed. We’re named and known.
Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.
blessed is the one who trusts in you.
- God is Great by Hillsong
- Lead Me On by Audrey Assad
- Better is One Day by Matt Redman
- Lord I Need You by Matt Maher
- This I Believe by Hillsong
Per usual – here’s a playlist with Sunday’s songs with some of the tunes mentioned in this post and more because why not? Go buy them: