Friday, September 04, 2009

A Spirituality of Place

“I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:11).

I was two years old when Vince Dooley took the field as head coach at the University of Georgia. When he coached his last season I was in seminary. When Joe Paterno began his head coaching career at Penn State I was four. Paterno still holds that job.

Not long ago while grinding away on an elliptical machine, working hard at going nowhere, I plugged my earphones in to watch a show on ESPN that was surveying the coaching scene in college football. In the banter between the show’s two hosts the observation was made that we’ll never again see the likes of Dooley and Paterno.

It’s not their love of the game or their appetite for winning that seems to be disappearing. Gifted coaches will rise to prominence in every sport and in every era. What we’ll see far less of is the durability of a Dooley or Paterno. One commentator was blunt in saying that a coaching tenure that spans decades in one place is a thing of the past.

It’s not just college coaches who are constantly being uprooted. We are a displaced people breathing the air of impermanence. There’s a restlessness that pervades our culture. Constantly shifting realities are the norm for us, and after a while we grow antsy and bored. Sameness feels like stuckness.

That may just be the way it is. But the life of faith finds practical expression within the context of place – the home we inhabit, the cubicles or boardrooms we sit in for hours, the other people who sit in those places with us, the traffic we negotiate, the weather we plan around. Following Jesus is a way of life, and life is always shaped by a place.


It would be nice if the Bible gave us a straightforward theology of place. You can look, but you won’t find it. In calling his first disciples Jesus asked life-long fishermen to leave their boats and nets and step away from the family business. Sometime later however, having healed a man of demon possession in the region of Decapolis, Jesus insisted that this man return home. Some are called to go, some are called to stay put.

Some of you woke up today in the same place you were when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter. You’ve claimed a home and you’ve stayed in it – but everything around you has changed. It hardly feels like your place anymore. Your children are gone, the neighbors are different, streets have been widened and new construction has crept closer to your door. You’ve not left your place, but at some point the place left you.

Some of you will leave your house and go spend the day in a place you resent. Your skills are underutilized and you’re convinced you’d make a bigger impact somewhere else. But professional transitions in this economy are tough to navigate, and the debts you owe don’t show the slightest sign of going anywhere. So you gut it out in the place where you are right now and you remind yourself every morning that you’re really lucky to be there.

Some of you are in a new place. Every day you discover new people and new possibilities. You’re on an adventure, and your place is full of mystery and promise.

Whatever your place is like today – and regardless of how you feel about it – God has something for you there. Paul’s example to us in the city of Corinth is one of being faithful in the place where you are right now. Jesus reminded Paul “I have many people in this city.” That is to say, “I am at work right here in ways that you cannot see right now. I am doing more than you know.”

The place where God would have you be is the place where you are right now. God is at work there – and God has a reason for you to be there too.

Send us into this day, O God, knowing that you have assigned us a place in this world. We are not stuck or forgotten or left to manage as best we can. We are your people in the places where we live and work. Grant to us a sense of being co-laborers with you, wherever we may be. Give us the grace we need to be faithful where you have us right now, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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