What difference does your place make?
As of this June, I completed my first year of work toward starting a new church in Oshawa, Ontario, which we’ve named Ecclesia. In this season, I find myself thinking and praying and speaking often of our core values — our guiding ideas that will help us live into God’s specific calling for our community of faith. We’ve included Place as one of those guiding ideas.
At first glance, this may be a strange word to use for a core value of a new church. Why would Place be an important value of any church? Well, because our place has a lot to say about how and why we scatter — how we love our neighbours in real, tangible ways.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but where we are matters. When we are, matters. The fact that Ecclesia is being planted in the North Oshawa, Ontario in 2017 has a lot to say about how we “do church.” We can’t engage with Oshawa the way that a church might engage with New York City or Vancouver or Uzbekistan or Uganda. We have to respond to our neighbourhood, to our community — and we have to recognize the beauty and the difficulty of the place where God has put us.
And what’s more, the incarnation is an essential part of our Christian faith. The Incarnation — God Himself putting on flesh and coming to live with and among and for people — is what we base our whole worldview around. The idea of the God of the Universe humbling himself to become human is inconceivable in many other religions, even blasphemous. But this is who Jesus was. And it’s a beautiful example of how we are to live. Jesus intentionally became a person and rooted himself among us. And now we can follow His example, rooting ourselves among our neighbours right where God has placed us.
But this is a difficult undertaking.
As Michael Frost wrote in his book, Incarnate, our world has become increasingly disconnected. Technology has changed the way we think and engage with each other. Advances in travel and connectivity have made the world smaller, making it easier to leave our homes and see the world — bringing with it both a beautiful availability of the rest of the world, as well as a lessened connection with our own homes. Our online personas make it all-too-easy to disengage with those who don’t agree with us, to objectify other people and other places, to experiment in virtual realities that connect more with our “personal brand” than with our actual lives. Frost calls all of these realities “excarnate living.” The remedy? The incarnation. Recognizing God’s example of John 1:1 (The Message): “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood,” and finding ways to follow suit. To move into our neighbourhoods in the most profound sense, and truly, deeply connect within our own context. Our own place.
I was listening recently to The RePlacing Church Podcast, put together by my friend Ben Katt, in which he interviewed Ron Ruthruff, author of Closer to the Edge: Walking with Jesus for the World’s Sake. In the interview, Ron had the most beautiful insight on this idea of responding to our place, suggesting that our place informs how we understand our current realities. For example, if I say, “It’s raining,” we can all understand the basic meaning of those words. We all know what rain is. But, our place informs the real meaning of those words. If I’m in Seattle and say, “It’s raining,” you might say, “So what?” If I’m in New Orleans and I say, “It’s raining,” you might say, “Oh no.” If I’m in the Sudan and say, “It’s raining,” you might say, “Thank God.” Our place makes a huge difference in how we understand the realities around us.