Bernard Johnson - spiritually speaking column EPN

Bernard Johnson

I’ve been thinking about leaving home. In one way or another all of us do it. Most of us grow up and leave home one day. Whenever it happens, it is usually seen as a natural transition.

At the same time, leaving home can have a deeper meaning. In the Hebrew Scriptures leaving home is a defining metaphor. Abram of old heard the voice of God telling him to “leave home for a new land that God would show him” (Genesis 12:1). And so begins the story of the Hebrew people. Whatever else is true leaving home was essential to the story.

The longer I ponder this metaphor the more I get in touch with homelands of the soul that I had to leave in order to live into a future that “God would show me.” In most cases, staying home was an option. Leaving home was a choice and a decision. In every case it has been both frightening and energizing to finally leave home — for the “new land” that God would show me.


We live in a youth culture where a lot of money and time is spent on staying young, looking young and even acting young. Aging, while accepted, is seen mostly as a problem to be solved, not a desirable place to live and dwell. In fact, one of the popular solutions to the problem of aging is to always think like a young person. As I live into the springtime of my senility I can identify with the person who said, “Somehow I thought growing old would take longer.”

I think I wasted time ignoring the invitation to leave the homeland of youthful ambitions for a new land where aging had the more sanguine effects of mellowed opinions and age-appropriate ambitions. While physical realities demonstrate that there is no cure for the common birthday, it was the new land of aging and wisdom that begged me to let go of youthful idolatries. Some things do, in fact, get better with age.


I spent 20 years acquiring an education that qualified me to enter the field of Christian ministry. Along the way, I would pursue and receive a Doctoral degree that amplified the academic qualifications for my career. For over 25 years, I was a branch manager in the Presbyterian Church serving five different congregations on both coasts and the Midwest. While moderately successful ultimately the whispers of God, time and circumstance were telling me I needed to leave home for a new land that God would show me.

This was a scary departure since my career had become a safe place to dwell. I had a hard time imagining a “new land” where I could even make a living and support my family. While leaving home this time was both a chosen and forced departure, I have to say that finding the new land was both scary and energizing. Now 20 years later, my life experience is dramatically larger and more fulfilling in ways unlikely to have accrued to me in a ministerial career.


Along the way, I have twice dwelled in the land of clinical depression when life overwhelmed me. It is strange how depression becomes a safe place of sorts when, at the same time, it is a soul-crushing captivity. I think that most of the time a person wants to leave home for a new land rather than remain in the land of depression. The problem is that depression comes with discernible physiological factors that mean, for most people, that you simply cannot think your way out of it. As Dick Cavett, a survivor of depression, once said, “Depression is like this. If you are depressed and sitting in a room and someone says there is a cure for your depression on a table across the room, you would not be able to leave your chair and take the cure.” Leaving the homeland of depression required the help of medicine and travel guides trained to help me navigate the road to a new land which could never be the place I was in before I became depressed.


Early on, and for too much of my life, I tried to live in the land of certainty. It seemed important to me to believe my beliefs were certainly true. Part of that certainty was a fainthearted nod to the fact that no one can know everything. For me that boiled down to something like “I may not always be right but I always know who is wrong!”

Someone has said that the enemy of faith is not doubt. The enemy of faith is certainty. Leaving the land of certainty has taken me to a new land where the older I get, the less I know for sure. It is a land of acceptance and inclusion, a land where binary thinking is no longer free to separate me from “the other.” It is a land where everything is left to God and not to my explanation of God. It is a land where there is breathing space and loving my neighbor, without exception, reigns supreme.

So it is that “Leaving Home” is a durable metaphor for understanding the things that have happened in one’s life or something that may need to happen.

Dr. Bernard E. Johnson shares this space with the Revs. Timothy A. Johnson, Rod Anderson and Trish Sullivan Vanni as well as spiritual writers Nanette Missahgi and Beryl Schewe. “Spiritually Speaking” appears weekly.

Melissa Turtinen is the multimedia reporter for Lakeshore Weekly News. She's passionate about adding context to stories and informing people about what's going on in their community. She enjoys being outside, traveling and good beer.


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