Incarnation is a hope which is not escapist.
I wonder how much of our hope winds up in forms of escapism. This has partly been on my mind with the restrictions of this year. My hope is attached to being able to leave, to restrictions being lifted, to being able to escape.
In other ways too, the emphasis of modern life is on ‘careers not places’. Our primary commitment, what we end up prioritising, what we sacrifice for, is our career (I have put this rather than work for a reason). Maybe this is why one of the first things we ask of people is ‘what do you do?‘
I’ve moved around a lot in the space of a few years, and the places I have lived in I have let be dictated by work. Place has mostly been incidental to the way I live, and even living apart from friends who live elsewhere has felt unimportant because of the ability to travel.
Our models of church and wider communities have accepted a new level of transience. Place does not define someone’s community by default (I realise this does have a class dimension, the agency to move is a privilege). Likewise, we adapt community around the primary commitments of others, which mostly means squishing it around a working week, and understanding that people will move away.
I don’t wish to romanticise place unduly. But I do want us to re-remember it and acknowledge that we are making distinct choices in how we relate to places. I recently read ‘Soil and Soul’ by Alastair McIntosh, which includes an account of his life in the Highlands circa 1960s. It speaks about communities taking a couple of weeks to help someone build or repair housing, and the systems of sharing etc. which facilitated the imbalances of goods through different seasons. The author detailed some of the processes which had eroded this (shift to jobs not based on sustained natural resource base, but labour off the islands, corporate fishing, focus on GDP + cultural assimilation to the mainland). I found this account really compelling.
Every place is part of the community of creation. How we relate to (and identify with) a particular place is theologically important. I don’t know that I give the places I live due reverence or consideration. I act as if people are the main actors, and place is a backdrop, a peripheral element of how I live.
I want to redress the balance. To consider, love and revere the places I live, and to demonstrate a commitment to them. To have hope for them, to hope with them.