My latest column for the Christian Courier.
It is difficult to be indifferent when someone is “put in their place!”
On the one hand, we are likely to experience real satisfaction, or a sense of justice, when another person is brought down a peg or two. “He was getting too big for his britches but she put him in his place!” On the other hand, if we are the one who has been put in our place, the feeling will be quite different. There will likely be some degree of shame or humiliation when someone insists that we have spoken beyond what we know or have acted beyond our competence.
It seems to me that nothing would be lost if that phrase (and the experiences that accompany it) were banished from our lives and lexicons. There is little grace in the smug satisfaction of the one who has put another in his place. And the person who has been put in her place will generally have little sense that the other has acted with genuine compassion toward her, or with a view to her growth as a person.
Putting someone in their place always seems to be a blunt, ungracious action.
At the risk of reaching beyond the scope of that phrase, however, it seems to me that there is still something to be said about discerning, and remaining within, our place. There is a set of boundaries that defines “place” for each of us – a set of relationships, and a geographic circumference, that creates a decidedly local web of awareness and familiarity. If we think of place in this way, then it is certainly important to remember that we have been put in our place and that we have some duty to remember our place.
My family participates in Community Support Agriculture (CSA), which means that each year we buy a share in the produce of a local organic farm. For 16 weeks each Summer and Fall we receive a weekly basket of locally produced veggies. And each Fall our CSA farmers, Jamie and Nora, invite the members out to the farm for a harvest celebration – an afternoon of picking carrots or potatoes followed by a wonderful potluck meal. The picture at the head of this column is of squash curing in the sun on the farm.
What I have discovered is that Nora and Jamie know their place – and, though they have been there for years, are still getting to know it. They understand the soil (clay!) of their property, the water sources of the land, what it takes to replenish nutrients in the soil, which insects and other critters are interfering with vegetable growth, and, above all perhaps, what it means to respect and honour the land in their corner of Elgin county, Quebec. They know not to ask more the land than it can give, and how to honour the biodiversity that surrounds the gardens.
It is not only in relation to the land, however, that it is important to know our place. We can think of this also in terms of the missional nature of local congregations. Each congregation has been put in its place (whatever history has placed them there). And to know that place is to know what constitutes it in terms of social, economic, architectural, cultural, and environmental realities. For a congregation to share the love of Christ, it must know its place. Congregations are invited to become a guest with Christ in the neighbourhood, working for the transformation of place in the way of His Kingdom, humbly offering the reason for its hope when opportunities to speak that gracious word are opened to us.
It is so easy to forget our place, today, or to live as if place were irrelevant to our life in Christ – particularly in our internet-defined, internet-saturated world. Yet in the same way that Jesus inhabited a particular time/space, and attended to those given to him and chosen by him there, so we are invited to inhabit and attend to our particular place. Doing so entails no judgment or shame, simply the gift of a place, and the presence of a Lord who loves that place with us.