Unlearning Displacement

I took some time this week to dig out a few reflections that I wrote a couple years ago. Some of them were short papers written for classes in my doctorate program; others were musings that I had started sketching in order to get a few ideas on paper…or at least into a Word doc. One of those papers included some reflections on homelessness and displacement in our culture, prompted in large part by my engagement with Bouma-Prediger and Walsh’s Beyond Homelessness. A section of my paper where I asked a series of questions about my own potential contributions to displacement grabbed my attention again this morning. At that time I wrote:

As I drove my 75 kilometer commute into Toronto last week, I gnawed on my own displacement-causing practices. The food I packed for lunch: where did it come from and did the way I packed it contribute to some else’s homelessness? How about my minivan? What about driving in and driving back out along expressways? Should I take a different route so that I encounter the communities beneath the expressways? Should I stop and eat at a restaurant along the way so that I encounter some of the people who live there? What about the Islamic center that I pass on my commute, or the Hindu temple down the block from us? How does my driving past them without any intention of knowing them contribute to the crippling displacement within our culture? What does it do to my family that they are committing to a particular local community while I am trying to engage with a community that they have no connections to? Even in the best of my intentions, I seem to facilitate homelessness. On my return trip to Hamilton, I wonder, “In a culture of displacement, what can I reasonably and practically do to align myself with homemaking instead of contributing to more displacement?”  

Admittedly, I don’t have all the answers to my own questions…and even with the answers I do have, I have tended to be pretty slow to embrace even “reasonable and practical” rhythms of life that reflect the valuing of people and place that scripture calls for. I wonder what it means for us…for me today, living here in Hamilton…to be wrapped more fully into a gospel story that is narrated by a God who has personally entered that story in order to make his dwelling with us (Rev. 21:1-5). There is a challenge there to be a person that loves place and people – where our embodied presence with the people and places around us ushers and, by the mystery of the Holy Spirit’s grace, even becomes the incarnation of Jesus Christ in our neighborhoods. Though I first grappled with some of these thoughts more than three years ago, I am finding myself reengaging these conversations and thoughts again today.  If nothing else, I am remembering today how far I still need to go in unlearning the ways I participate in displacement.

I think part of why this reflection caught my attention as I flipped through my scattered ramblings and musings was because of a conference that I am planning to attend at the end of February. Our church, First Hamilton CRC, participates as a member of True City Hamilton with several other area churches. This year, True City Hamilton’s annual conference is unfolding around the theme of “Falling Into Place” – a title borrowed with permission from poet John Terpstra. I’ve not been part of the planning team, but have heard and seen the excitement for this conference growing among those who are planning it. While I recognize that not everyone who reads this post will be be able to attend the conference (distance can be prohibitive, especially for a conference on the importance of place), I would encourage those who can participate to check it out. It looks to be a conference that will encourage us to think more deeply and to act more tangibly about what it means to be God’s people called, not only at a specific time, but to a specific place. I’m looking forward to it and hope that you will join me there.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Unlearning Displacement

  1. I’m slogging through the homelessness book right now, and we are struggling with our own version of some of these issues. Economically, right now, we are incredibly dependent on Erik’s career. In order to advance his career, which, economically, we really have to do just to survive (while handling student loans and retirement: honestly, our kids’ college education is pretty much out of the question right now…) we have to live in a very expensive area. Even the cheap towns around here are ridiculous. We can just barely survive on Erik’s salary. And maybe, we’re realizing, even that is impossible. So I will need to start working some in the next year or two. But, the commute for one of us would pretty much ruin our mental health and family life (it did before). I want my kids to have a sense that they are part of a geographic community. So we are investing ourselves in the local school; we’re attending the church down the block; etc. I always thought the ideal for ministry was being incarnation ally present in the place where the church is located. But that will not happen for me unless we move and give Erik the commute; the local Presbyterian pastor takes off; etc. I’d love to look at churches in urban areas near here. Heck, I’d love to feel able to look at churches within an hour of Erik’s work. But I just can’t bring myself to do it, if it would mean being a commuter pastor, or a pastor with a commuter husband and two school aged kids. (and there’s just maybe a chance, please pray with me, that ai might be able to work out a very oart time position with the little church we’re attending) Maybe in a few years the circumstances will be different.

    All that to say, it is so complicated, isn’t it, to be part of a community, to be present, when the demands of family, economy, culture, marriage, dual career tracks, etc are thrown into the mix? There’s no easy solution to this. We live in a complicated time and place. But I am so glad that others are struggling with versions of this. And you’re kicking me to get back to reading that book.

    • I hear you, Erica. It’s not easy to shrink the circles we’re in so that they have more and more overlap with each other. The financial inaccessibility of some communities that would allow our circles of work, neighborhood, church, school, etc overlap more really does become prohibitive for the kind of tangible presence that we are longing for. And the costs associated with commuting are much more than the dollars tied to increased fuel. The extra time in the vehicles, the detachment from communities we travel over or past, the uniform anonymity with the other thousands of people on the expressways, etc. all serve to deplete the presence we have available for engaging with our neighbors. Theology of Place sounds so much more idylic and right in the classroom than when we are slugging through the nitty-gritty of living it out.

  2. Jeff Klingenberg

    Thank you Chris for the muddled prayer . . . continue to seek the peace and prosperity of those living in your neighbourhood.

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