The Meaning and Making of Place
Getting ready to move to another country, and in a hurry, creates a certain intensity of nostalgia in everyday experiences that will soon be absent. Just driving down the highway with all our typical American billboards, fast food chains and big box stores makes me realize that i still feel a certain stake, an ownership in this place. It’s just unfortunate that every other place in the United States looks the same as mine. Listening to Texas Rebel Radio reminds me of everything I love about Texas and being from Texas. Camping, fishing and swimming on the Guadalupe brings back a lifetime of memories.
I don’t know entirely what to expect of Santa Cruz, Bolivia or my Low-German mennonite brethren. I don’t want to have too many expectations. Over these years I’ve realized the importance of place. Our hyper mobile culture and homogenous strip malls tends to eradicate the meaning of places. We’ve done our best to export this around the world. In the cracks of this culture of sameness grow the flowers of places and people that defy the pressures of conformity both out of necessity and choice.
Food, whether organic, natural, local, processed or industrial is from somewhere (or many somewheres). People, no matter their background or history, are shaped by specific places and experiences. They are not generic global citizens abstracted from the reality of the politics and peculiarity of places. For some people it is easy to love humanity, but hard to love people. It’s easy to love the planet, but difficult to love the complex, messy people and places that actually make up that planet. You can love the “environment”, but find it hard to love tobacco farmers in Appalachia.
We are preparing to uproot ourselves, violently tearing at the fabric of our lives and community, and transplant our lives in a foreign land, language and culture… no wait two foreign languages and cultures (Bolivian and Low German Mennonites). The redemption of this cross-cultural activity done in the name of Christ is that it forces us into the same choice that God made in Jesus. Are we to be detached, abstract global citizens who are from everywhere and nowhere, committed to nothing, belonging to no one? Or are we to become an incarnational collective Body, covenanted to the people and places where we find ourselves on this pilgrim journey, committed enough to stay, to give ourselves completely to the other for the sake of the other?
The difference is subtle and can easily lead to justifying the status quo of our privilege of travel, capital and influence, while wearing the mask of service and love. Our only hope is incarnation. I hope that our time in Bolivia can be one in which we cross the “dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14) and learn to love Bolivians and Low-Germans in a way that honors them and their place.
Picture of Low-German Mennonites from MCC: http://mcc.org/stories/galleries/bolivia-life-mennonite-colony
Pictures of Bolivians from BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/7146559.stm