Belong Where You Live

The following excerpt is from a book by Wendell Berry called ” Imagination in Place”. These particular phrases come from the essay, ” American Imagination and the Civil War”.

“If imagination is to have a real worth to us, it needs to have a practical, an economic, effect. It needs to establish us in our places with practical respect for what is there besides ourselves. I think the highest earthly result of imagination is probably local adaptation. If we could learn to belong fully and truly where we live, then we would all finally be native Americans, and we would have an authentic multiculturalism.”

It is great sport among some people who live in rural Northern California to deride Southern California. The only way they seem to be able to feel good about the place they live is to put down the place they don’t live. But even as some people claim that “my land is better than your land”, they demean the place of their habitation. Just as people who put down others are actually insecure, people who look disdainfully at other geographies are insecure in their sense of belonging to the place in which they live.

When I hear a person say, “I can’t wait to get out of LA or leave Southern Californial. for a better place,” I wonder what that better place is. There may be good reasons to leave. My observation has been that most people are running away and most problems follow us when we run away. It is much harder and requires more imagination “to learn to belong fully and truly where we live”.

We live in a time of such transiency; people move with greater frequency and families are separated by ever increasing distances. There is less and less investment made in the place we actually live. Why? I think because we are disconnected from the people who share the land of proximity with us. Connecting requires time and energy and we are too often tired. Shall we continue in this vein until all of us are “just passing through” and very few are ever invested in the places where real community actually happens?

Our church community is in Pomona which is part of what is called the Inland Empire. We are beginning an organizing effort, like OneLA, toward the East into the rest of the Inland Empire. (Currently, it is called Inland Empire Sponsoring Committee) We are learning this landscape anew and connecting with new people and institutions that help us have a more complete picture of the challenges and opportunities all of us face. It is better that we face them together than alone. It is better that we develop our imagination with others for the story to be complete.

Our congregation engages in this mission because it is one of the ways we “stand for the whole”. Jesus’ ministry was consistently about bringing people together, all kinds of people. As we follow him, our ministry must also include including others, creating bridges of relationship across chasms of distrust, misunderstanding and confusion. Do we have the imagination to belong where we live? I think we do.

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