The Insomniac: A Story

Geography and Theology

7107000080 In the Christian imagination, where you live gets equal billing with what you believe.  Geography and theology are biblical bedfellows.  Everything that the creator God does, and therefore everything that we do, since we are his creatures and can hardly do anything in any other way, is in place. All living is local --- this land, this neighborhood, these trees and streets and houses, this work, these shops and markets. . . . God’s great love and purposes for us is worked out in the messes in our kitchens and backyards, in storms and sins, blue skies, daily work, working with us as we are and not as we should be, and where we are, on “sidewalks in the kingdom,” and not where we would like to be.

(Eugene Peterson, in the Foreword to Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith, by Eric O. Jacobsen)

Although suburbia is much maligned by urbanists and environmentalists for waste of land, stupefying conformity, lack of community, and more, it is where many of us live and make our homes.  It is where I have lived all my life --- where I took my first steps, where I played capture the flag and rode bikes, where I had my first “dates” sitting on curb and gutter and walking the streets, where I am still rearing children and dogs and cats.  And I love these particular places where I live, so steeped in memories, shaped by walks and gardens, and resonating with the sounds of children playing.  For all their faults, much living has been done in these non-rural, non-urban places.  They are, inevitably, particular.

As Christians we have a faith that is tied to dirt and sky.  On the one hand, it is an earthy faith bound to places with names like Ur and Bethlehem and Nazareth and Jerusalem and to a people with names like Urbanus and Stachys and Phlegon and Hermes (Rom. 16:9, 14), believers about whom we know nothing and yet God deemed it important to include their names in His limited revelation to us.  Why?  Because people are important --- particular people.  Because places are important --- particular places.  Our faith is not a matter of abstract principles but of truth worked out in a real world full of people and places with names.  And yet we’re not left with only dirt.  We’re called to view life in light of transcendent truths --- a blue sky of meaning.  We see something out of this world, so to speak, in the mundane, ordinariness of this world.

Eugene Peterson says that we need “to see these ordinary places where so many of us live as gift-places, as holy sites.”  So down the hall, in the kitchen, walking in the backyard, I ask the question “what is God saying to me?”  Because I’ve lived in my home, on this particular piece of dirt, for 23 years, it is a place rich in memories.  I have to think that in Heaven, all this particularity must have some meaning, that we won’t have a collective amnesia when we arrive there but will bring with us our memories of people and places, memories somehow transformed and deepened in our glorified state, as we see how all things were working for the good of those who love God --- even the places we live and work.

I don’t what all of it means.  Yet I know that just as Jesus lived in the ordinary and mundane, just as Scripture features the people and places of Palestine, so too the places and communities in which we are rooted have meaning.  It’s holy dirt, under a holy sky. Believe that and nothing can ever be the same.