"We owe it to the fields that our houses will not be the inferiors of the virgin land they have replaced. We owe it to the worms and the trees that the buildings we cover them with will stand as promises of the highest and most intelligent kinds of happiness."
(Alain de Botton, in The Architecture of Happiness)
Where my house stands was once a pine forest, and before that farmland, the furrows still visible in one place, and likely before that a mature stand of hardwoods. And though my neighborhood of homes has stood here for some 26 years, as difficult as it is to think of it, the neighborhood may eventually decline, then gentrify, or even be razed to create more high density development, wiping out any notion that I lived here. In fact, it may well be that were I to visit here a century from now, familiar landmarks would be missing, and I would feel disoriented, even lost.
Even now, walking 26 years later on the same roads, there is evidence of change. The modest brick home and country road I once looked forward to seeing has been widened, the home torn down, the elderly couple moved off to relatives or an old folks' home, the only evidence of their being there, the only orienting landmark the trinity of trees that centered their front yard --- two dogwoods and an ornamental pear tree. I'm thankful whenever I pass them. They tell me that not all is lost to change, that the developer had a heart.
New, however, is not necessarily bad, not something to always lament. We sometimes cling to the past in a nostalgic way, remembering selectively, seeing it through rose-colored glasses. We are promised a new heavens and new earth, and I doubt we'll be lamenting the passing of the old. With redeemed memories, memories transformed by God, we'll see the true and good and beautiful of the old in the new, like it was there all along.
Still, when I round that corner, when I look for that trinity of trees, I have hope that God provides something in that new earth that reminds me that these trees are still here, that the old is enfolded in the new. All the good here is carried forward.
The promise of development, the challenge even, is that what we do to the land, places, and buildings we have is faithful to the people and places that inhabit them, so that when we tear down or plough up the earth, it becomes more of what it can be and not less of what it was, that its sanctification will, albeit dimly, mirror our own, that in these remade places we will see something of the place Jesus has gone to prepare for us.
That's a lot to hope for, I know, and yet God's remaking of my own architecture tells me He can also remake that of the world around me. Now and then, I see it.