I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

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Friday, June 05, 2009

From homeless to pilgrim

Last March I posted Spiritually Homeless, an honest reflection of my spiritual journey in and then out of organized religion. I didn't feel I had a place to lay my head, no "home church" or anything similar. But I embraced this reality and in the post from March, I reflected on how being spiritually homeless can truly be a positive and life-giving experience.

For one thing, Jesus was homeless.

I put the post up on my Facebook Notes. (You can try this link to get to it.) The result was more than a hundred comments: various questions, comments, and mostly support and appreciation for a sincere approach to the issue of church. It's no secret that many people are having a more and more difficult time connecting with organized religion in a meaningful and life-giving way.

In the process of all the feedback and discussion, I had an insightful observation made to me by Tamie: You are not spiritually homeless, you are a spiritual pilgrim.


So simple.

And yet so true.

For a time period, after I exited the institutional church, I felt lost and homeless: scrambling on the streets to find a meal, take shelter for the night, and scrape up a little money for booze every once in a while.

It was survival mode.

And it was necessary.

And it was good.

"Homeless" is a derogatory term for many. But again, Jesus was homeless. And this sense of being homeless is still important for me. To feel too much like we are at home in the system of the world means that we will never challenge the system, never bring reform, and never be personally transformed into something more noble and beautiful.

Nonetheless, I feel like "pilgrim" is a better description of my current journey. It still carries with it a sense of restlessness and discontent with the status quo: this world is not my home, this system is not my identity. And yet there is a sense of purpose and calling to travel, to make a difference, to challenge the system.

Drumroll, please.......

In some of the upcoming posts, I will try to unravel what a pilgrim looks like in these days and in this system. Together we will dialog about the pilgrim metaphor. In conjunction with this dialog, I will be engaging John Doyle's unpublished novel The Stations. (John is a frequent commentator here at Theos Project, his blog and tag name are Ktismatics.) I have been interested in posting on this novel for quite sometime, but I've been holding off, with the sense that there was more in store for posting on The Stations than just straight exegesis.

The Stations tells the story of a movement of "Salons" that sweep across the nation and the world. These Salons are new approaches to being human that investigate new perceptions that human beings might have of themselves that "portal" them into alternative realities and spiritualities. It is an ambiguous and imaginative novel that stirs up some of the thoughts and questions of pilgrimage.

I would like to combine personal experiences, reflections, and an exegesis of The Salon, mix them together and see what we get.

I think we can generate some energy around the topic of what it might look like to explore this curious sense of displacement that seems inherent for those seeking to live a deeper life of faith, spirituality, or just humanness....to embrace the ambiguity and danger of homelessness while proceeding forward with a pilgrim's sense of calling.


tamie said...

I love you so much. And I LOVE this post. It's so simple, so straightforward, and from the heart. A perfect picture to accompany it too. Where are you at in that picture?

I'm looking forward to see what you do with the notion of pilgrim and pilgrimage. Bring it on.

tamie said...

And by the way, this post reminds me of Rachel's recent post: http://theclearscamandrach.blogspot.com/2009/06/tryin-to-get-my-song-back.html

I'd be interested in hearing if you think there's a connection. Have you two been secretly talking to each other?!?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Thanks Tamie.

That's me in the picture, and it is from my 2007 backpacking in the Black Hills. The specific location is Harney's Peak, the highest point in the beautiful Black Elk Wilderness.

Here is a link to some pics of my 07 trip, for those who are interested.

evan said...

I think this is a really appropriate change of terms. When Allie and I were bumming around the streets of various towns, the difference between the homeless and the travelers was unignorable. Homeless men typically emitted some foggy air of despair and confounded-ness, whereas the travelers set themselves square and headed out onwards. I would ascribe to both of them a desire for new-ness, but the difference, approximately, is that the homeless person waits for his renewal and the traveler looks for his renewal.

For now, does recognizing yourself as a pilgrim ease the tension of homelessness? Do you feel pointed in a certain direction... have developed goals or a "rule" for your mode of travel?

Jonathan Erdman said...


Thanks for the insight.

[For those who don't know, Evan and Allie spent the better part of a year hobo-ing it around the U.S., so he's got the first hand skinny on being homeless!]

To answer your question, yes, I think that picturing myself as a pilgrim does ease the tension of homelessness for now. But I think that the tension will probably return. It's a healthy tension, I think, to feel the angst/fear/longing of one's homelessness. Or at least I think it can be a good thing.

What do you think?

Also, what kinds of feelings and thoughts did you experience when you transitioned from being a "settled" person to becoming a hobo? Did you experience any anxiety? Or just the sense of adventure?

Evan: Do you feel pointed in a certain direction... have developed goals or a "rule" for your mode of travel?

That's a good question. I'm not sure that I do. I think that's part of what I want to explore in the upcoming posts. Right now, the main thing that I feel is that I want to embrace the sense that "this world is not my home," in order to be in a better position to question the status quo and work toward making a better world, using my gifts and abilities to that end.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, Evan.

How is life going now that things are a bit more "settled"?

Also, what kind of feelings did you experience as you transitioned from hobo back to "respectable"(!) citizen?

john doyle said...

Oh my.

amy said...

Thanks, Jon. I look forward to it.

samlcarr said...

Even in the heyday of evangelicalism, long before the challenge from 'emerging' came on the horizon, there were always seekers.

I came to see myself as one, though, after a very bitter mental struggle. I guess Dr. Doyle may perhaps have started out as be one such - what say, John? It would have been hard to even get into TEDS without some similar origin...

I guess it's time John broke down and published. Rather hard to be reviewing something that very, very, few folks have had the pleasure (or even opportunity) to read!

I too am am very much looking forward to seeing your review of John Doyle's "The Stations".

evan said...

Overall thus far I'm having a hard time deciding what my role as a traveler means to/for me. I certainly had no rule or goal for myself. So, hm.

For no as-yet describable reason, I felt I needed more detachment, anonymity, or flux in my life--so I acted and left Flagstaff within about a month's time. Once I was on the road I felt much more balanced, I think.

Now, having "settled in" for one week with three months ahead of me... I'm waiting around until I can leave again, assuming I'll feel that way come August.

Like a Mustard Seed said...

Pilgrim... that is perfect.

Rich said...

Maybe my compass is broken.

If my point of reference is me being led by a broken compass going in what I think has to be the right direction, (after all I didn’t skimp out on buying a ‘cheap’ compass) then why the hell do my eyes hurt so much when the truth is realized, my compass was broken?
Neo: “Why do my eyes hurt?” Morpheus: “You’ve never used then before.”

If nothing is as it appears to be, then why do we suddenly feel so alone, isolated, cut off from this world, as well as from people, unless we begin to see through the lie that our well being, acceptance was only as good as our performance!!

Kellsotr said...

I am very much looking forward to this new direction of discussion. There is so much inherent depth worth discussing in being a pilgrim vs. a hobo in the spiritual sense. I think I personally cycle back and forth between pilgrim and homeless, depending on my mood, my desire/strength to keep walking, my frustration with the journey, how bad my spiritual feet hurt. Right now I am feeling very much more pilgrim in my soul, and less homeless, as well. It is refreshing, I hope it stays for a while.

Jonathan Erdman said...


Good point.

Perception is key.

Illusions seem to permeate.

Jonathan Erdman said...



I feel the same way, I think.

The lines between "pilgrim" and "homeless" are not always so clear.