Seek the Peace of Your Place: Jamison Galt’s Advice on How to “Live and Love Locally.”

March 8, 2011


Caring for creation in the context of a city means knowing and loving all its little idiosyncrasies, its unique glories, its mundane aspects. (cc image courtesy EuroMagic via Flickr)

In “Living and Loving Locally” (appearing in Comment magazine) pastor Jamison Galt tells the story of a divide growing in his community between the “old-timers” and the “newcomers.” Galt, though new to the neighborhood, found himself presiding over the deep divisions of the two “intractable parties.” The divisive issue in question was over the expansion of a local school, but Galt’s article is not about education policy. It is about how and why a community ought to throw itself into the messy and redemptive work of “living and loving locally.”

Galt’s thesis is rises out of the belief that God puts each person in a specific place and thus “Christians, then, must see their own neighbourhoods as the primary arena for the pursuit of God’s healing shalom.” (What is “shalom“? See this excerpt from Cornelius Plantinga’s book Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin)

Out of these convictions Galt gives some advice for old-timers, newcomers and the rest of us. To the old-timers he writes:

Celebrate your place: its unique glories, its funky idiosyncrasies, its sad stories, and its festive rituals. You know your place like a lover knows the gossamer hairs on the small of his beloved’s back. And you know intuitively that no honeymooning newcomer could possibly love the neighbourhood with the wisdom you do—that some only use it for cheap satisfaction. So make your life a loud and living poem that trumpets your love. Invite others into it and give them time to grow from naïveté or indifference into the depths of mature love. As a proud host, welcome these strangers into your home and set the feast. Your greatest temptation is parochial tribalism, so be not too proud or intractable to exercise hospitality, to incorporate creative change, to allow your vigour to be renewed by your neighbour’s presence in your shared place.

For the newcomers:

The burden is ours to be attentive to the radical and rapid manner in which our presence is able to make over a place. We often share in social movements with the power to profoundly effect change, for good and for ill. It will not do to be unthoughtful about our responsibility with this power to others—we start out as guests in someone else’s home, after all. Your presence might not feel to you like hostility, but as we learn from the Parable of the Good Samaritan, indifference while pursuing your personal agenda is its own form of violence. Our greatest temptation is to mindlessly remake a place in the image of whatever our universal affinities may be, regardless of their relationship to the local. And while your open loft may be a blank canvas, a neighbourhood never is.

And to the rest of us Galt says:

Be truly present in your place. Walk as much as possible. Use your sidewalks and public spaces. Meet people unlike yourself. Go out of your way to befriend those who’ve lived in and served the good of your neighbourhood longer than you. Listen to them—then listen some more. Allow your values to be shaped by the hopes and loves they have—loves you have overlooked, but may come to share. And while not all of us can guarantee a lifelong commitment to a particular place, we can usually stay rooted longer than we’d planned, even when it means sacrifice. And more importantly, it is possible to engage in sanctified imagination and live as if you’ll be present there forever, for the sake of your neighbour.

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