Theology of place. Typing it into Google and asking for a definition won’t yield a whole lot (trust me, I tried). It’s a topic I’ve been pondering a lot over the past few days as I had the opportunity to view “The Man Who Ate New Orleans” and attend a talk with the film’s subject — Ray Cannata — over the weekend (see blurry picture below).
Loosely defined (by me), the theology of place is the belief that God cares deeply about all of creation, including the places (not just people, actions and ideas). Theology of place also draws attention to the Gospel’s implications for the world as a whole, which is rooted in the truth that God came to earth as a man and inhabited particular cities, ate specific foods, etc. Throughout the whole Bible, rarely does an event happen without the mention of a place.
Thus, Christians are called to be a people who care about embracing and celebrating the best of local places while restoring the broken pieces of those places. As Cannata explained in this WSJ article, the Bible’s specificity of place reminds us that the Gospels are “an earthly thing. . . . It’s not a fairy tale. It’s not ‘Once upon a time.’ ”
The time I spent listening to Cannata was simultaneously encouraging and helpful, inspiring and challenging. My husband and I are re-thinking our daily rhythms of life, considering how we can walk to the places we need to go, serve our neighbors and practically invest our time and money in Cincinnati.
And as I continue to reflect on the good theology I heard this weekend, I can’t stop thinking about a unique group of people whose way of living has taught me about the theology of place– Indiana farmers.
It’s a beautiful thing to be able to walk to the local restaurant and have neighbors spontaneously visit with you on your front porch. Too often, I’m tempted to equate those superficial lifestyle choices with theology of place.
The farmers I’ve met over the past five years show me that theology of place isn’t about living within a certain-mile-radius of your church and going to local art shows. Their lives give evidence to the deeper themes of the theology of place. It’s about knowing and helping your neighbors, even if they live 25 miles away. It’s about being proud of where you come from, whether that’s a neighborhood, city, county, state. It’s about investing in an infrastructure for the good of the community by serving on the school board, paying taxes, promoting conservation practices, and attending local meetings. It’s about coming alongside others and sharing what you have with those who need it.
Cannata talked about the value of staying in place for the long haul. As a new transplant to Cincinnati, that sentiment struck a nerve. My move to this new city was a hard one, and I vocalized my desire to move to my husband during our first few months of marriage. Things have become easier, and Cannata’s words pointed me to the blessing of laying deep roots that weather seasons of feast and fallow.
I’m reminded of the folks I met through a program I coordinated to recognize Indiana farms that had been family owned for more than 100 years. All the farms honored during my time on the job had survived WWI, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, WWII and the tough economic conditions of the 1980s. I met farmers whose family operations went back to 1814, two years before Indiana became a state. These men and women get that life is not just about them. It’s about contributing to something bigger than oneself. There are seasons that are hard and dry, but the fruit of letting places become part of us is worth it.
Where God will lead my family I don’t know (I still have my fingers crossed for a brief stint in Dubai 😉 ). I do know I want to purposefully live into that place, celebrating the pieces of heaven and working to mend the pieces of hell.
I’m thankful for people like Cannata and Indiana farmers who are showing me what it means to do just that.