Places of Hope in an Age of Anxiety

Euro-tribal Christians are adopting another focus of energy in their unravelling. They’ve moved past church health, New Church Development, discipleship and missional church; today the focus is some combination of church planting and being in the neighbourhood. It doesn’t take much prescience to see that lots of conferences will crop up with groovy techniques for how your church can go local. The chances of objectifying our neighbourhoods are high.

Issue 10 of the Journal of Missional Practice (journalofmissionalpractice.com/category/issue-10/) shared stories of Christians who are discovering the importance of place, of encountering God in their local, everyday experiences. It’s worth listening in on these varied stories before joining the conference bandwagon. Conversations about the place of neighbourhood in Christian life would have been strange half a century ago. Most people felt rooted in the places they lived though this wasn’t the complete story. First Nations peoples have long struggled with their displacement; African-Americans have lived with bitter disenfranchisement. Immigrants have continued to struggle to find their place within established societies. For once-dominant Euro-tribals loss of place contributed immensely to their disorientation; the deepening anxieties that drive their church leaders to look for methods to fix their unravelling (https://www.amazon.ca/Joining-Remaking-Church-Changing-World/). Today, the latest way to fix the unravelling is about becoming local in the neighbourhood. The latest “how-to” books will soon be out.

Make no mistake, for Christian life and witness dwelling in the local is critical. This is what Martin Robinson and I argue in our new book Practices for the Refounding of God’s People (Practices for the Refounding of God’s People). For a growing number of citizens, consumer capitalism and globalization contribute to the erasure of place as a primary context of life for growing numbers of citizens. One result has been a transformation in our perceptions of reality. Place has been exchanged for fragmented moments, brief pastiches of experience and nostalgia in the perpetual motion machine (sometimes misnamed as postmodern) of being anywhere and everywhere at the same time (supposedly the gift of “social media”). With these transformations there came, for many, a loss of belonging, of being rooted in the local. In this context we are witnessing a rising level of anxiety and a push-back (see David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics (https://www.amazon.ca/Road-Somewhere

These were themes explored in Issue 10 of the JMP. Christians told their stories of reconnecting with and dwelling again in the local as a formative means of being rooted in God’s life. We discovered through our interviews across differing groups that place is a multivalent symbol; its complicated. How one saw and inhabit place depended on the peoples to whom one belonged. The meaning of place for First Nations peoples was radically different from that of Euro-tribals which, in turn, was profoundly different for Latino Americans. We realized that place was a sacred gift of the Creator God; it must not be used by anxious Christians as another technique for their survival. The closing editorial described some of this learning (http://journalofmissionalpractice.com/place-time-and-identity/).

Issue 11 – Hope in an Age of Anxiety looks at this age of anxiety in which we live. In such an age, the focus on neighbourhood can be an anxious attempt by Euro-tribal Christians to locate themselves in a culture that no longer takes them seriously (www.contextwithlornadueck.com/2018/06/22/dangerous-dreaming). That doesn’t mean there aren’t Christians who are learning to be with their neighbours. But one still has this gnawing sense that movements of “neighbourhood” among the Euro-tribals express more of their anxiety over identity than a genuine understanding of where to engage with God’s Agency and the Spirit’s disruptive ferment. “Neighbourhood” is being commodified; it’s the next consumer method to be relevant as Euro-tribal Christians.

A lot of us have lost our sense of belonging with place as we entered the new world of hyperspace with its heralded promise of connectivity. In the context of global capitalism, place became irrelevant, a throwback to a more primitive time when we were limited, constrained and unfree. Place was replaced by space – the open-ended ability to go wherever we chose and be whomever we wanted within a consumer society shaped by what Eva Illouz described as emotional capitalism (Eva Illouz, Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism, Cambridge: Polity, 2007). The price of joining this hyper-world with its faux freedom was the jettisoning of any basic relationship to place, what in St. Benedict’s rule of stability was a fundamental requirement for any human life related to God. The result of this utopic promise has been a rendering of us as incapable of locating ourselves; we have become rootless and ungrounded and so find ourselves where we never could have expected – in an age of anxiety. In unbounded hyperspace the markers that once made sense of our lives are gone; we’re left disoriented, uprooted and anxious about how to live when so much is unravelling.

Issue 11 of the JMP will share stories of Christians who, within this rising anxiety, are discovering the story of God’s ferment in the ordinary and everyday. We’re looking for the quiet, everyday stories of Christians practicing an alternative hope as the anxieties across our societies keep rising. We’d love to hear from you.

The way to discern such hope is through the recovery of Christian practices. Over and over, wherever we go, Christians tell us they have no time to be present in the place they live.  At the Everyday Abbey we recently had a conversation about this. You can find it here (https://everydayabbey.org/time/). Listen in on the conversation and look at the resource we’ve created to assist you on this journey of joining God in your everyday living.

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