While at the Wild Goose Festival (wildgoosefestival.com), I sat in on Mike King's talk on "Theology of Place". King's basic point was "stay where you are". He said that he is blessed to have grown up in Kansas City and lived there all his life. His extended family live within a 15 mile radius. King and his wife have taken pilgrimages all over the world, but they return to the place, Kansas City, that they have committed to.
Even though King suggested that planting oneself in a physical place is important because God chose a specific place for the incarnation of Jesus Christ, I was skeptical. A lot of his presentation sounded like a love ode to Kansas City.
However, King's suggestion that committing to a place as a spiritual practice, continues to have me thinking. He pointed out that place comes before space. It is human to connect to place and to embrace it. If we devalue place, treating where we live as unimportant, we devalue life.
What does this mean for United Methodist clergy who are itinerate and lay people who move for career reasons? King would suggest that even if we know we are going to move, we can commit to the place we are in as if we would leave there forever. We can connect to the community, authentically and with energy.
During the Q & A of his talk, I asked whether the church could be a place or a part of pilgrimage. And how could spiritual leaders encourage a commitment to place. He didn't really answer my question.
When the presentation over, a woman sitting near me leaned over and said, "He didn't answer your question, did he?" When I agreed, she said, "I have a story."
Mary told me that she had lived with her husband in a home in Pennsylvania for 30 years. They'd raised their children there. But Mary had never seen it as her permanent home. She had her dream house in mind and assumed that someday they would find it and move. Then, about five years ago, they decided to hand build a Scandinavian masonry stove for their home. The stove is built into the foundation. In northern Europe these stoves are used for generations.
When the stove was complete, Mary realized that she and her husband would not be leaving. It would be her home for the rest of her life. She found herself changing the way she looked at the house. She started planting more perennials than annuals. She paid attention to the repair and decor of her home. She settled and felt more comfortable.
And then something interesting happened. People started asking to come and visit her garden and to sit with her on the patio. Her connection to the community grew and she opened her house in hospitality like never before. The transformation happened because her perspective of place changed.
What would happen if itinerant clergy and others made itinerant by their vocations, decided to have the perspective of commitment to place? Could a decision to live fully connected to a particular community change openness, acts of hospitality, compassion for neighbor?
I am willing to try.