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Musings The Christian Life

Appreciating the local

Instinctively, I’m a globalist. There are many reasons for this but here are two: (a) I’ve lived significant chunks of my life cross-culturally and (b) my own sense of a strong national/cultural identity, resulting from that, is somewhat ambivalent.

That’s why I find American poet Walt Whitman’s reflection here quite challenging:

It’s taken from his “Leaves of Grass” collection of poems. He writes in praise of neighbourliness and the local. And I love it!

“Happiness, knowledge, not in another place, but this place – not for another hour, but this hour.” I love the rootedness and presentness of that line.

In many ways, it’s unnatural (but still highly desirable) for me to feel completely happy and rooted in one place. To feel that I belong completely. I’m reminded of writer David Goodhart’s “Anywheres v Somewheres” analysis of the fallout from the Brexit vote. He wrote in 2017:

“The value divides in British society that led to Brexit, and may now break up the United Kingdom, stem from the emergence in the past generation of two big value clusters: the educated, mobile people who see the world from “Anywhere” and who value autonomy and fluidity, versus the more rooted, generally less well-educated people who see the world from “Somewhere” and prioritise group attachments and security. There are many subdivisions within both groups, of course, as well as a large “inbetweener” group. Anywheres tend to be more mobile than Somewheres, their careers often sucking them into London for a period. Yet more than 60 per cent of British people still live within 20 miles of where they lived when aged 14.”

I personally understand and can resonate with the feeling of being disconnected from my local community … because of personal interests that are a product of my education and life experiences.

Although my wife is of a different cultural background to me, we’ve had very similar life experiences. We both grew up in Africa (Kenya and Zambia respectively), we both went to very similar international schools, we both hold social science degrees, etc etc. We also both experience that sense of rootlessness that comes with not feeling that you quite belong, well, anywhere! We’ve been married 5 years now and have lived in our current house for almost 3.

Re-reading Whitman’s poem, I was reminded of how much good being rooted in THIS place has been for us. This afternoon, we did some gardening with a couple from across the street in their garden. We then shared a BBQ. On returning home, ours hearts (and bellies) were full!

Over the last three years, we’ve opened up our home to others as has been done to us. A particular highlight has been the Discussion Meals we’ve hosted since January 2019 (although these have involved a much wider audience, not just neighbours).

All this has brought us a lot of joy. It’s as if humans were made for this sort of thing! 😉 I’m also reminded of the Bible’s wisdom on this in Jeremiah 29, a chapter which often grips my heart. Verses 5, 6 and 7 say:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

I’m not entirely sure where all this is going (I blame Whitman!) but just to say I’m appreciating the local. I’m appreciating feeling known and cared for by those (not all of course!) physically closest to me. One of the upsides of lockdown has been noticing who’s around us more.

But as a natural globalist, I’m also wrestling with how to love and care for the world outside of my immediate domain (national and international causes). It’s not either/or, but for now, I’m learning (slowly) how to love and care for the local.

I originally wrote this as a series of tweets on June 27, 2020.

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