Plesionology - a theology of place
Help me out with some pondering I’ve been doing on the theology of place, that is the godly importance of investing in one place.
See - I tend to be a bit of an adventurer and something in me struggles to stay in, or invest in, any one place for a particularly long time. As I write this, I am on an airplane heading for Vancouver. (I’m posting it between flights 😊) There is rarely a week where I don’t have a road trip to somewhere. Multiple times a week I’m Zooming (video conferencing) with people from various places across our region, nation or globe. In addition, I grew up as a military kid, moving to various places and starting in new schools. Even when I left my childhood home I bounced around the country & global for a number of years. Hmmm…I haven’t been great at faithfully investing in one place over the long-haul, have I?
It hit me as very strange when I recognized that I have lived in Saint John, NB for over 10 years! 10 years, that’s a decade, that’s longer than I have lived anywhere in my life. See, when I first moved to Saint John my attitude was similar to some Bible characters view of Nazareth - “Saint John?!?! Can anything good come from Saint John?” But do not fear Saint Johners & Maritimers…you have deeply worked your way into my heart and I love you and this place deeply.
The other challenge I see in me, is neighbouring is hard for me. It’s easier to do my own thing and invest elsewhere. When it hit me that I have lived in Saint John for over a decade it challenged me to reflect on questions like: “How well do I know my neighbours?”, “How have I invested in the people here?” and “How have I been a blessing to this city?”
Turns out, not very much at all. Just yesterday I happened to see neighbours coming out of their house carefully carrying a newborn in a car seat across the ice to their truck. And I thought - “They had a baby! I had no idea. How did I not notice she was pregnant the last 9 months?” Sigh…how easy it is just to hide, especially in New Brunswick winters. Actually, right now on this leg of my flights it turns out my seat-mate lives in the same neighbourhood as me in Saint John. She has lived there for 41 years and yet we’ve never met until now.
As I’ve been running the roads all over the globe my neighbours’ lives have gone on and we’ve scarcely had a wave. How sad. Love your neighbour. I am recognizing how counter to my (and perhaps yours too) normal rhythms that has become, as we live so much of our lives elsewhere, including virtually elsewhere. What would it mean to invest in my life right here? To have a theology of place right here?
Preston Pouteaux, who was our guest speaker at the CBACyf Summit earlier this month, also got me thinking about this when he talked about “Plesionology” (Although I’d prefer it to be called “placeology”) - a theology of place. In reflecting with us he shared that “Plesionology” has not had as much written about it by theologians as other topics, yet is one of the most important spiritual disciplines as we learn to love our neighbours. He also used the words “neigbourology” and “neighbourist” and these concepts have been bouncing around in my head ever since - as I run the streets of my neighbourhood, as I glance out the windows as neighbours dealing with the ice & snow, and as engage in the chatter at my local gym.
So let’s ponder this together - what is our theology of place? How important is it to engage in a particular place and time? And what does that even mean and look like? What does it mean to be a part of seeing God’s Kingdom of heaven breaking-in on earth right here in this place? Without writing a book on it, here are a few starting things that come to my mind as I ponder this.
1. Jesus had a plesionology - He is the Saviour of the world, but entered the world in a specific time and place, and invested Himself fully there with those around Him during His earthly life. Jesus never traveled really far, getting around mostly by foot and spending a large portion of his time investing in just twelve young, rough leaders. Jesus traveled most through the region of Galilee, and frequently traveled by foot to Jerusalem. If Jesus thought it valuable to begin changing the world by investing in a specific place and people perhaps we’re called to do the same.
2. Plesionology changes me - It shapes me to steadily invest in one place. When I’m flying through a place it’s easy to avoid the difficult, the long-haul, the depth of sharing and the shaping experiences that truly change me and us. It’s through steady investment in a place and people that God develops our heart for others. Sure, God can certainly bring about God moments as we’re passing through others lives and a place. However, more often God moments & conversation happen after a slow & steady investment in peoples’ lives and in a place. People only get to know each other and see into each others heart’s over time. We only build a reputation and trust in a place over time. In this instant world longer-term investment is needed and valuable in opening up deeper, richer experiences that would not happen if we’re just “passing through” or don’t take the time to invest where we are. It moulds and shapes me, as I invite Jesus to help me know how to love my neighbours through the ups & downs, the city politics, the differences of opinions and the storms.
3. It takes slowing down - Jesus main mode of travel was walking. It is estimated he walked over 3000 miles during the 3 years of his earthly ministry. I realize how much I’ve been missing in my specific place, my neighbourhood, my people, as I’ve been rushing and gallivanting all over the place. And I don’t just mean missing clearing my driveway from the snowstorms 😉. I know there has been great value and richness in my travel, and I will continue to value that. BUT, I’m recognizing I need to use my time when I’m not on the road well, being a regular, at least as much as possible, around my place and join the activities going on in my neighbourhood, so that I can get to know my neighbours and they me. I need to slow down enough to invest right here, in this place and these people. Where can I/we be a regular investor in our local - church, school, community centre, street parties, gym, coffee shop and/or neighbourhood?
Here is to us investing in our place and joining God in our neighbourhoods.
Please feel free to share your reflections below.