There’s no place like home

Dorothy tapped her red shoes, said it over and over again, and found her way back to Kansas.

At about 2.30pm on Friday I walked into a small office, I gave my name and new address and walked out with a bundle of keys. I could have been anyone. I didn’t tap my red shoes, they were brown and lacking in glitter. I also didn’t chant ‘There’s no place like home’.

Earlier in the day I had whisked the sheets off my single bed and wondered whether this would ever happen again with any regularity. I’ve been told that once you get a double bed there is no going back. I had noticed my bank accounts were supplemented by a new account that morning, abundant not in the resources it contained but in the debt it recalled.

It suddenly became very real. I felt as though there ought to be some great solemnity to my actions as I turned the key, entered the block and juggled my way through various keys to reach the space that is now my own in a more tangible sense than ever before. I spent that first night in a sleeping bag having carried a few essentials on the bus, my excuse was the delivery men expected any time from 7am the next day. The truth: there was no way I was not staying here – even the prospect of going away for a few days next week seems slightly weird.

For the past few months this process has absorbed me, and if you follow me on twitter then you’ll have picked up on that too. I hear from my Mum (not on twitter) of conversations she has with those well acquainted with my movements documented in 140 character exerts. When I start instagramming photos of my packing progress I know things have gone too far. For weeks and months I have had room for precious little but mortgage applications, survey reports, property information forms, planning permission and elusive asbestos reports. When I realised I was reading documents my solicitor was not I perhaps should have taken the hint.

I think I have got lost in the process to dull the effect of what the move means.

I may have been in my old house longer than people stay in bought properties but it was always with the potentiality of leaving at short notice. I could wake up one day and in a month be in Australia having left my job, my house and with no one else holding me to the place I currently call home. But home just became a little less flexible.

It’s one of the reasons why I hesitated before jumping in, I like flexibility, I like being able to change plans without consultation or consequence. In short I like independence.

But in every act of chosen constraint is a new freedom. There are things that I am now less able to do, but others that become far more achievable. I have a home where I can welcome guests more readily; I can indulge my book loving, cookware hoarding, habits. To borrow the phrase of Andy Crouch, the horizons of the possible have now shifted.

It means I commit to being in a place I wondered if I would ever call home. But in that commitment, and as a direct result of that choice, I am more able to make home a reality. I first wrote ‘feel like home’, but then I stopped, paused, deleted, and realised the internalisations of the very habit I am wrestling with: to think of home as something other, something more achieved, settled, and perfect. So it is not about feeling like home, it is about making home happen. It is about choosing that this is the place I am.

Boundaries between adolescence and adulthood are far more permeable than before, moving out later, getting married a little older, waiting to have kids, it all pushes the threshold into realms less perceptible or shared. For many marriage is the great threshold when you relinquish a life you had and commit to something new and something shared. But I am not married, it is conceivable I never will be, so I can not pretend life waits for me to resolve my insecurities.

My bookshelves are up, books categorised and alphabetised, boxes of assorted tat I couldn’t bring myself to part with still await sorting and refining. Under my desk sits a box of CDs without a home, although I dutifully placed my CD player on the shelf and attached the wires it rarely spins the disks. Because times are different and habits change. The normality of one form of life gives way to another.

And in the transition between rooms that feel foreign to realising they are home, the temptation to say ‘mine’ stilled by the voice that says ‘ours’.

Freedom and consequence

What if you got everything you wanted? What if you were able to do all the things that you wanted to do? What if barriers were erased, consequences dismissed, costs discounted?

What would you do? What does it mean to be free?

I don’t think I want a world without consequences. I want what I do to have an effect, I want it to affect me, and to affect other people.

Trying to live in a world without barriers is a quest for the impossible. It is also a depressing endeavour. It suggests that we live in this atomised world that can only ever be a figment of our delusions. It would be a lonely life: I think it would be a life without much purpose. Because we live interlinked lives.

Andy Crouch writes in his book Culture Making about how the things that we do, the things that we create, change the horizon of the possible. By doing something we make certain things possible, but we also make other things near enough impossible. He uses the example of highways across the USA, they make travelling vast distances far easier, but they made travel by horse and carriage much harder.

Likewise, when I do something it has consequences, it changes things.

So when we try and live without consequences, when we try and make the most of this thing call freedom by throwing off restraints and doing whatever the heck pleases us in that moment we are caught in an infinite loop of impossibility. The things that we think will deliver the ultimate satisfaction in the end leaves us cold. They leave us in a lonely place because they have failed to deliver what they never had the power to provide.

Because with freedom comes consequences, and with consequences come responsibility. So we step back and we wait a moment before we embrace freedom for its own sake, or our own sake.

I write a lot for work, but when I write for work I write within certain parameters which restrict what I say and how I say it. In theory, when I write on this blog I can write about whatever I choose to, in whatever way I want. Except when I write something it has consequences. I could espouse views that would put my job on the line, even if I hid behind the ‘it’s a personal blog’ refrain. I could write in a way that would discredit my role or my employer, I could offend people I regularly work with. I have freedom to write what I like, but there are many things that would restrict my freedom were I to exercise said freedom in a careless way.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t write on controversial topics, or occasionally in a way that seeks to provoke a response. But what I choose to write about has consequences. When I write about dating and relationships, it changes the potentiality of any prospective relationships. I chose to say I disagree with Christian political parties, and maybe did so in an intemperate way, that has consequences.

Many of the best examples and stories come from those I am closest to, from my family and my friends. But if I were to write about these situations I would affect, and potentially damage my relationship with them. I had a couple of great examples I could have used in my previous post about women in church leadership, but they weren’t my stories, and it wasn’t my place to make them public.

A couple of weeks back I wrote about modesty with a few scattered thoughts about the challenges that guys, and girls, face in a world where sexuality is thrown around with abandon. And this question of freedom and responsibility is at the core of what we were talking about then. For girls who economise on the clothes they wear, there are consequences of that choice.

Here I’m making a slightly different point than I did in that previous post, and I’m very cautious about my choice of words. But guys will look at girls who are attractive and wearing clothes that make the most of that, and while this probably shouldn’t be the case, and it’s not necessarily the responsibility of the girl for what the guys look at, it is a consequence of that choice. So without excusing in any shape or form the leering looks or crude remarks guys might make, they are not detached from the choice that the girl has made in exercising her freedom to wear what she wants.

As I write this I’m conscious that I am exercising my freedom to write about a topic that I choose. And there may be consequences of that choice. Girls may think that I’m being a prude, encouraging them to cover up and spare a thought for the poor guys struggling with their beauty. While I’m content saying that there are consequences of the choice to wear certain clothes, I am far less confident to ascribe responsibility to the girl for the actions, because the way that guys respond is their responsibility, but that doesn’t mean it is unaffected by the choices that the girl has taken.

And the guys who look at the girls sunbathing on the grass? Well those looks have consequences too. It’s easy to think that a cheeky glance at the exposed skin on offer affects no one. But each time that you look, each time lust is stirred, each time you allow beauty to be read through a lens of sex you distort the way that you view women. And a counter intuitive consequence within the church is to adopt this mentality and to minimise an appreciation of beauty because we associate it with sex and with lust. So even in our mental thought processes about who we might be attracted to we view physical attraction as somehow wrong, and therefore look for more holy motives as ostensible reasons to justify our attraction.

Last night I read a fascinating first person piece in the Daily Mail (not a usual occurrence) from the former editor of Loaded magazine. After eight years dedicating his life to putting more bare breasts on pages than the competition he stepped away from that world, partly spurred by the birth of his son. He realised the consequences and ludicrous nature of what he had spent so much time and earned so much money doing.

When guys look at porn it doesn’t leave you unchanged. It affects the way that you look at women, it affects your expectation of relationships, it contorts and distorts the view of sex. And it makes you think you can have what you want without any of the baggage that comes with it. It promotes the idea of unattached satisfaction by pretending that is what it is providing. That it’s just you and your computer.

What a lie.

We live in an age with unprecedented freedom and an unenviable lack of accountability. I can do things if I want to and no one needs to know about them. But that doesn’t mean I should. And if I choose to use my freedom in ways that serve myself I shouldn’t be surprised to find that my freedom in fact becomes circumscribed. If my horizon of the possible suddenly becomes smaller.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, how do consequences affect how you act?