catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 10 :: 2005.05.20 — 2005.06.02


Where are you from?

I read When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago and I find myself longing to move to a rural village in some tropical country, where produce grows wild and abundant and where a hut with a cement floor is enough. At the very least, Santiago inspires me to move further into the countryside surrounding my town where I, and someday my children, can find wonder in a following a deer path and in visiting the same patch of wild blackberries each year.

Then I listen to P.J. Harvey?s Stories of the City, Stories of the Sea and I long to move back to the city where people form an eternally intriguing tapestry of strangers, where one can know and be known or disappear into the crowd according to mood. The city is a place where I, and someday my children, can find wonder in biking everywhere we need to go and in discovering global culture over a cup of Turkish coffee with a neighbor.

Both scenes call out to me and my passion for both splits my will because I am also passionate about having roots in a place. Do we choose our place or does our place choose us?

Over three decades ago, my newly married aunt and uncle packed all that they owned into a U-Haul and started driving to see where they?d end up. They parked for good in Phoenix, Arizona, in some ways as far as one could get from the South Chicago suburbs where they grew up. If they ever regretted stopping there, they never moved because my grandparents and my other uncle were soon to pursue them to the desert. Sometimes I want to follow their example, but mostly I am afraid to because a part of me will always love and long for the places I leave. And the people I leave.

I?ve often thought in talking to college students and in examining my own life-after-college that community is THE thing, the ONLY thing that makes a place work. We can make it through the roughest stretches of the journey if we are surrounded by people who are willing to hold our hands or even to carry us until we can stand again. Likewise, when the road is easier, the sky is bluer and the scenery more wonderful when we are surrounded by kindred spirits who share our joy. And so I think a valid question in the effort to choose a place is, ?Where can I be close to friends who fill my cup when it is empty and who seek my guidance when their own resources are waning??

While the criterion of community speaks to the practical and the immediate, there is a larger view of the ?where? question that I often miss in my restlessness. The words are easy to speak: ?I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.? But it is just as easy to forget the weight of their meaning. If we die and rise with Christ, it is reasonable for us to expect that our resurrection into new life will model his; that is, we will be present in the flesh and, therefore, will need a flesh-and-blood habitat, which is promised in ?a new heaven and a new earth? (Rev. 21:1). The promise of the Kingdom, represented in the New Jerusalem, is not that we will return to the Garden of creation with all of humanity?s work rendered meaningless by the reinstatement of God?s original perfection. Rather, God will take our work as co-creators seriously. What is good will stay to be enjoyed forever.

So how does this theology relate to my vacillation between city and country living? I can be confident that death is not the end of life, but the transformation of the body, just as the ?death? of the earth will be its transformation. I do not need to live as though my predicted seventy-odd years represent the extent of my experiences because the whole of the earth will be my home into eternity.

My restlessness betrays my inability to internalize this promise, because we are called away from worry and toward contentment. We are called away from endless searching and toward the humble acceptance of grace. But the longing for the impossible ?perfect place? is also a reflection of the yearning of all creation for redemption.

If you get the feeling that I?m not coming to any conclusion, it?s because I?m still in the middle of this struggle. My simple hope is that I can continue to serve patiently in the place I am, repeating the psalmist?s words of comfort:

By day the Lord directs his love,
At night his song is with me?
A prayer to the God of my life.

In relationship with a living God who finds and guides me everywhere, I am from Three Rivers, Michigan, on a path toward the Kingdom.

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