This blog is meant to be an encouragement to you as you journey through your day. If you have a question about the life of faith, please feel free to email me. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I welcome the conversation.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Sense of Place

I think it was William Knoke who called this the "age of everything-everywhere." If that is an accurate description, then what do we do with what seems to be our hard-wired need for a sense of place?

I think about this a lot. For example, I wonder how closely my identity is tied to where I think of when I think of "home." I was born in Baltimore, and lived the first 18 years of my life in that area. My parents, and many of my other relatives still live there. But I stopped thinking of it as home a long time ago.

I went to college in the Boston area, and after grad school moved back there. I was married there, my kids were born there, and I lived 26 years of my adult life there. When people ask me where I'm from, I say New England. Yet no one from New England would consider me from there. (You need at least 3-4 generations to really fit in, at least according to New Englanders.) More importantly, when I go back there, I realize it is no longer home.

For the last almost 10 years I have lived outside Philadelphia. My wife is here, my kids come back here from time to time, and my work is here. Yet this is not home. I wonder if it will ever be home.

I believe we need places in our lives, yet it seems those places must be integrated,  not only with our relationships, but with our most intimate sense of self. Can we truly be ourselves - dare I use the word "grounded," if we don't belong to a specific place?

I suppose it is naive to expect that I could ever be as connected to a specific place as some other people seem to be. I know a family who just lost their farm, which had been in the family for generations. The grieving was intense, and it wasn't just about the finances. Some of their identity was gone. When you have always understood yourself as being connected to a place - and that place is gone - then who are you, really?

I wonder if some social scientist will look at the relationship between our sense of place and the sports teams we root for. I used to cheer for Baltimore teams - Orioles, Colts, Bullets. But then the Colts and Bullets left, and so did I. I began to cheer for Boston teams - Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins. I wonder if I will ever become a fan of Philadelphia teams? Will that mean that I am home here? I know people who cheer for Boston teams, even though they only spent a few years in New England, and now live far away from Boston. What does that say about us?

Which brings me back to our "age of everything-everywhere." If my friendships are no longer tied to where I live, but are available to me anywhere I am via my computer screen and my social networks, that is a wonderful thing. But what does it say about my identity? What does it say about how important those relationships are to who I am, really?

And do I really need a group of people that I regularly see and touch and do life with? Is virtual community enough? Is there still a need for "church?"

If I don't have a sense of place - then who am I, really?

Monday, February 6, 2012

I Don't Curse

I am tragically uncool.

And I have recently discovered yet another way in which I am not hip.

I don’t curse. 

Now, before you consign me to the trash heap of Christians who cannot possibly reach a generation of folks who are looking for authenticity, relevance, and who are not interested in nice, neat, easy answers - and who find cursing a way to express their existential angst - let me explain why I don’t curse.

It has nothing to do with my faith.

Okay, yes it does. It has everything to do with my faith, but not for the reason you may think. It has to do with my faith because everything in my life is connected to my faith, or I want it to be. That, and when I first became a follower of Jesus, I was convicted by God to allow the Spirit to tame my tongue, and that involved cursing.

But the real reason why I don’t curse, and find myself uncomfortable with cursing among those who are called to lead God’s people, is for another reason. I was raised to believe that cursing was the language of sloppy, uneducated, immature people - and I wanted to grow out of that. I was taught that cursing was for those folks who lacked a strong grasp of the language, and simply couldn’t think of better ways to express themselves. And since communicating is not only what I do, but  how I serve God and people, and language is the tool to do it, I should do it well. And most times cursing just seems sloppy and immature. Sorry, but it does. And I was taught all this by a mother who had never heard of the “holiness” tradition. She was not teaching me legalistic religion, she was teaching me how to be an educated adult.

Later on, I received graduate education in psychology, and this education challenged the folk psychology that every feeling should be expressed, and that the need to say what you feel at all times was the sign of, you guessed it, an immature person.

With this history, I find myself choosing not to curse, and encouraging those who are my ministry colleagues to find better words to express their strong ideas, emotions, and discomfort at the pain of life. I understand why some folks disagree with me. I really do. Just don’t ask me to join you. And try not to put me in a box as someone who sees life and faith as a Hallmark card, because I am really working hard not to put you in a box - the box I was told is the place where folks who curse belong - the box of folks who simply don’t know any better.

And, in my attempt to just be a little cool, I have scruffy facial hair and black-rimmed glasses. 

Doesn’t that count for something?