This past Friday my husband and I hurried out as soon as he got home from work to beat the crowds at what we were sure would be a very busy opening night at the new brew pub in town. We grabbed the last open table with re-purposed church pew seating, sampled some impressive local brew, and talked amid the happy clamor of someone’s small business dream coming true.
In our tired but trying town, I’ve started taking every new business venture as a personal triumph. I was infuriated when I saw the headlines that our neighborhood coffee shop had been closed down due to unpaid taxes, and then elated and relieved to hear they were reopening (where I plan to leave tips from now on and forevermore). I frequent the farmers’ market and champion the local coffee roastery and bookstore over any franchise.
But I have not always been so interested in local culture. Two years ago when I first moved here after our honeymoon, I was not ready to put down any roots. It took me nine months to change my Maryland license. We slept on a mattress on the floor, not bothering with furniture which would be too hard to move later. I hated the weather.
It took some time to acquaint myself with the place and the people, but as I’ve immersed myself in our local culture, I never would have imagined how much I would come to identify with it.
Our Location Shapes our Person
Have you ever noticed how people describe their personalities according to their location? We identify ourselves by our geography. We define ourselves by our free Californian spirit, Midwestern roots, southern hospitality. We call ourselves city girls or country boys, corporately-minded East Coasters or free-flowing West Coasters.
We say these things, because where we live plays a part in who we become.
We inhabit a space and it shapes us. The ancient Israelities understood this far better than we do today. Old Testament Waldemar Janzen explains,
Americans often rely on the luxury of choosing their location, whether for a career, the climate, or another variable, but through God’s grace, we can inhabit any place and spread out our roots wide and full.
And when we are at home in our space, we are empowered to:
- welcome others into our space through hospitality,
- and obey Christ’s command to “love our neighbors” (Matthew 22:39).
Our Location Shapes our Faith
A local gospel must be important for a God who entered our physical space, Emmanuel, to dwell with us. There’s just something sacred about drawing near, loving not just the abstract world but our neighbors within physical reach, and putting down roots in faith.
Do you identify personally with your environment, or perhaps on the opposite end of the spectrum, resist it? How has where you live changed your convictions, interests, perspective?
  Waldemar Janzen, Old Testament Ethics: A Paradigmatic Approach (Louisville: Westminster Press, 1994), 42.