Connecting with Culture
It’s been said that culture is ‘what we make of the world’, but what does that look like as Christians? How can we begin conversations about what’s goin...
CAUTION: Contains spoilers for the film Nomadland
‘Home, is it just a word? Or is it something you carry within you?’
This line echoes through the Oscar-winning Nomadland. Fern has recently lost her husband, her job, and her home. But, she insists, she is not homeless. She is houseless.
What is the difference? Nomadland reflects on this question, tracing Fern’s efforts to find – and define – home whilst living in a van that she drives across the American West.
It is an insight into a radically different way of life. As we watch Fern negotiate the challenges of her van-dwelling lifestyle, complete with a five-gallon bucket for a toilet, we may not recognise our own daily struggles.
However, this quiet, thoughtful film repeatedly points to our common humanity. On the road, Fern discovers how many other people share her desires for community, connection, purpose, freedom. Many also share her experience of loss. Their nomadic lifestyle is an attempt to plot a route through their grief. Nomadland offers solace for their weary hearts through the healing power of human friendship and generosity, and the expansive poetry of nature: mountains, stones, birds, stars.
But for all their beauty, these things are sometimes still not enough. And so the film falters when the characters seek something beyond the finality of death. Many find themselves drawn to the idea of an afterlife in which those we have lost are restored to us. It is a vague hope, reassuring only if it remains unexamined.
How glorious that as Christians we instead have something steadfast and certain that we can cling to. For, although we may not always recognise it, we ourselves are a nomadic people. We dwell in temporary tents (2 Corinthians 5), aliens in a world muddled with beauty and loss, glory and grief.
Yet we can be confident that will be an eventual homecoming. One day we will live in a heavenly house (2 Corinthians 5), where a place is already being prepared for us (John 14). This is no vague, disembodied realm to which we will escape. It is a remaking of our messy and mundane world, in which God will make his eternal home with us.
A foretaste of this eternal peace and purpose carries us, through our weary wanderings on this earth and into eternity. And we can carry it, too, and give it generously: an offering of hope to those we meet on our journey.
Rachel is a part-time writer and a full-time mum. She attends King’s Church Durham.