Friday, February 8, 2013

Natural Habitat

“Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing...They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that -- heaven country. You can see why God was so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.” 
-Hebrews 11:13-16, The Message

It’s not just Valentine’s Day for human beings next week. Love is in the air for another type of critter as well.
     It’s coyote mating season, though you can be excused for not having it marked on your calendar. The chief significance of this for people is that it might be more likely that we’ll run into one out on the prowl for a mate. That isn’t too big of a problem, as coyotes tend to be  afraid of humans and prefer to steer clear of us. Wildlife experts say that if you encounter a coyote, you should make loud noises and big gestures and make yourself look as large as possible. A coyote shouldn’t give you any big problems.
     Your pets, however, might be another story.
     Coyotes have even found their way into Chicago in recent years. They usually make the news when they do, being pursued by well-intentioned animal control officials who want to trap them and relocate them to a better home in a forest preserve. But try to put yourself in the place of a coyote in an urban (or even suburban) environment. Can you imagine what's going through this coyote's little coyote brain? All he knows is that these big, loud, slow, clumsy, creatures are everywhere, chasing him. They're waving scary-looking devices. Instinctively, he's afraid of them. He's incapable of understanding that they really want to help, so he runs. He can't imagine that they want to take him to a place that's better suited for coyotes. As far as he's concerned, the home he's in is just fine.
     If only he could understand. That's what this coyote needs: some way to picture the home his pursuers want to give him. Field mice and rabbits in abundance. No bright lights to hurt his sensitive eyes, loud noises constantly assaulting his ears, or fumes blocking out familiar smells. No unexpected dangers. Trees, not skyscrapers. Fewer human beings to hide from. If only he had a little more imagination. If only he could trust the animal control officials enough to give up running. 
     But he can't, can he? So he goes on living in this home he's chosen for himself. And if he survives, he'll learn to steer clear of cars and trucks. He'll learn the places he can hide. He'll learn to cope with the dangers and deal with the struggles. He'll learn where he can get food -- at some point he'll probably even learn to scavenge in garbage cans. If he keeps eluding his pursuers he'll learn how to get by. But you can be sure of this: the life he lives will not be the life a coyote is meant to live.
     Of course, he's a coyote. Just a dumb animal, operating on sheer instinct. He can't reflect. He can't evaluate the choices he's made. He can't understand that to finally arrive at a place that's truly home he must let go of what he considers home now. In short, he can't live by faith. Faith's impossible for a coyote.
     What's our excuse?
     Why is it that we find ourselves in the same situation as that coyote in Chicago? Why do we find ourselves trying so hard to make a home in an inhospitable world? Could it be that we have the same problem? Could it be that we, too, lack imagination and faith? Could it be that we can't even start to conceive of the home God has for us and can't believe that he will bring us there? We get too comfortable in this world. We adopt its practices, follow its rules, develop strategies to survive. We chase success as defined by money, power, and admiration. We fight with each other over scraps. We learn which dumpsters contain our favorite treats and dive in every chance we get. We forget our true home, if we ever knew of it. Pretty soon we start to feel at home here. And we get pretty cranky if anyone tries to move us. Even God.
     That's why we fear aging and death. That's why we live in terror of illness. That's why we kill ourselves over a lost job or a lost love. That's why we lie, cheat, and steal to get by. We think this is it. We think this is as good as it gets. We think this is home. Try to tell us otherwise and we bare our teeth and growl. Or we run and hide. We've been hiding from God almost since the beginning, haven't we?
     Yet there have always been a few of us who have been visionaries. They've seen in the distance the home God has for us. They've seen the place, however hazily, where we can be what we were created to be and live the lives that God has intended from the beginning that we live. Abraham, leaving behind what he'd always called home because God told him that there was something better. Moses, leaving behind Pharoah's palace to cast his lot with a ragged bunch of refugees on a fool's errand. Rahab, welcoming the spies as messengers of God's new order. Jesus, accepting a cross. How about a wife who clings to her faith in spite of the ridicule she gets from her husband? The teenager who defies the crowd because the crowd's just wrong? The missionary who leaves home and family for a faraway and hostile place? The executive who has his eye fixed on a distant horizon when those around him can only see as far as the bottom line?
     The big question is this: Can you call yourself a transient when everyone around you wants to tell you that this is home? You and I are no more at home in this world than a coyote is among Chicago’s  skyscrapers. God has a wonderful home in store for those who see themselves as strangers here. At best, you'll only get a glimpse of it here, from a distance, like Moses on the mountain looking into the Promised Land. You'll just see its outline from time to time. But when you do, wave a little greeting in your heart. Let its attraction work its magic. Let your imagination fill in the details. And, most importantly, entrust yourself to God to take you there. That's what living by faith means: living in this world as transients just passing through while God brings you to the home he has for you. You can't make this world into home, no matter how hard you try. But why would you want to? God actually put on humanity and came into this world to give us a glimpse of the home he has for us. Stop running from him, from the realization that you'll never have the life you were meant to have here. Your natural habitat is heaven, and when you arrive you'll wonder why you ever tried to make a home anywhere else.
     Stop running. Stop hiding. Place yourself in God's hands. Let him take you home.

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