God Is at Home in the Amateur

On the Fourth of July, I happened to be in the area of Boston where the big concert and fireworks display goes off. Hundreds of thousands of people come to this area for this hours-long event at night, which includes live works by the Boston Pops orchestra and professional performers, with a half-hour professional fireworks show at the end. Back 20 years ago, I used to live across the street from the location on the Charles River where the fireworks were launched, and I was in that area for a little while, taking it in.

I felt alone there as hundreds of people filed in and out of the Esplanade, near the police, while loudspeakers blared the amazing professional performance to the thousands of people who had arrived hours-enough early to get a little plot of ground area to call their own for the night. After a little while, and a good hour before the fireworks, I decided to leave. I was bored and lonely.

I took the subway to the end of the line, where my bike was waiting for me to ride home. As I set out riding, though, I could actually hear some fireworks explosions up in the distance ahead. As I chugged away on the pedals, the intermittent sounds got louder and the flashes brighter. I finally arrived at a park, where I and so many of my peers used to play Little League as a kid. The lights were on, and the stands were filled with groups of families – Latino immigrants having a little celebration, while setting off some fireworks. Families and children mingled together, people talked to each other, drinks were opened up. I ended up meeting a number of people. Kids got to set off sparklers, and experienced adults guided some of the older youth in setting off roman candles. And every now and then, one of the adults would come out with some larger fireworks for everyone to ohh and aww over.

And I couldn’t help but think of how different it was from being downtown with the professionals and the crowd. How lonely that was, compared to how at home it felt.

I often mention to folks who have the patience to put up with me that we’ve become too professional of a society in the United States. We need more amateur life. Amateur life is domestic life, it’s family life, neighborhood life, community life. It’s a small and vulnerable life. It’s not based in politics or business or other institutions that make for power. It’s just people with all their messy humanity. At a time when there is so much division, what reconciles barriers into bridges is not programs or organizations or schools or political or social movements – or even Sunday Mass. Those are the realms of the professional. Despite all their activity that has its place and value, if they are the focus, I think they leave people feeling … alone. What is at the core of reconciliation is the amateur life. Family, friendships, neighborhoods. Small groups and communities in grace. Vulnerability. Personability.

A place to be at home.

Jesus was an amateur. The apostles were amateurs. Abraham, Moses, David, all the prophets – everyone was chosen by God as an amateur. And so they are all people of reconciliation and unity because in the personal vulnerability of amateur life – family, friends, neighborhood, community, small church, recovery groups – something amazing happens.

God finds a home.

After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. (Mt 2:9-11)


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