The San Francisco Bay Area is trendy, techie, and cool.
New York is the impressive intersection of the world - business, media, arts, culture . . .
Nashville and Austin are hot and happening cities with booming populations.
I live in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis was hot at the turn of the century - the 20th century. We hosted the World's Fair in 1904 and were the fourth largest American city, the Gateway to the West. Today, we're a worn and tired city. We've lost our NFL team and a few Fortune 500 companies. We suffer from a history of racism, white flight, and social disparity.
We're anxious right now because of tension over the acquittal of a white police officer who shot and killed a black man. Over the weekend, we witnessed clashes between protesters and police that returned us to 2014 and the unrest that followed the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Twelve years ago, I resisted St. Louis residency. I did not choose to live here. It was chosen for me. Today, I claim this territory as my hometown.
What happens when God calls you to a place you don't want to be?
I believe in a theology of place and space. The incarnation means God values earth and the places we live. God has come not only to the Temple Mount, but the lowly valley. Not just to the Holy of Holies, but the Court of the Gentiles. Not only the sanctuary, but the street and sidewalk.
How much of Jesus’ ministry was spent in the temple? And how much was spent in the field, on the road, at a table, or in a market? The scenes of the four gospels take place in all kinds of places. In Jesus, temple theology was redefined. "The dwelling place of God is with man." It is no longer about a singular building in one special place. It's about a singular Savior who goes to every place.
Scripture reveals a God who sends and goes to places you wouldn't choose.
God values places. Ordinary and mundane places. Dry and dusty places. Hostile places. And he calls people to these places. This goes against our American sensibility in which our ideas of place are determined by desire and personal preference. "I choose." "I decide." "I chart my destiny."
In a theology of place, God says:
To places of need.
Where there's a void.
To territory that makes you uncomfortable.
To people who hunger for what you can give.
Against your will, and according to His.
In New Orleans after Katrina or Houston after Harvey.
In Detroit or in the rural Ohio town diminished by heroin and unemployment.
When it's hard or hurts.
When you feel like escaping to the beach.
I have days when I look for greener grass, but St. Louis is my city. I will not flee. I will pray for my town. I will get to know my neighbors, especially those different from me. I will support my police officers and elected officials. I will work for justice and peace. I will attend to the cause of the marginalized. I will be the good neighbor God has called me to be.
Describe your place.
Are you somewhere that you didn't choose?
What does it mean for you to go? To stay?
"I do not know how the turbulent kings and peoples of earth shall be brought to acknowledge the Messiah and pay homage to him. But this I know. Those who seek him will do well to look among the poor and lowly, the sorrowful and the oppressed."
- Henry Van Dyke in The Story of the Other Wise Man