Places: Where Body meets World
We believe in the resurrection. That is our Eastertide confession, rooted in the biblical vision of the inherent goodness of the body and earth. We worship a resurrected Jesus whose body could be touched; we follow disciples who visited an empty tomb. The Good News is an announcement about bodies, earth, and place.
It is at this same intersection of body and earth that the slippery notion of place begins to materialize. Being embodied creatures means that we are also “implaced” creatures. We must always be somewhere. Whether that somewhere is a home, a school, a city, a farm, a wilderness, a suburb, a bedroom, or a boardroom, we are attached to places. Why Place Matters is a collection that reminds us of this point precisely because, oddly enough, even implaced creatures can forget they’re placed.
Thinking about “place” is tricky though; it’s like trying to get a fish to understand wetness. Whether we articulate it or not, place—in its built or unbuilt form—is the medium through which we always move. Local historian Joseph Amato’s sprawling definition is perhaps one of the best encapsulations of place in the collection. As he puts it:
In singular, unique, and kaleidoscopic combinations, a place forms young minds and the veins and roots of engrained habits in older citizens. Sidewalks, storefronts, alleys, fields, churches, and schools host the rituals, ceremonies, and celebrations by which individuals and generations experience and know, make and represent their lives.
This definition—like this collection of essays—awakens us to a renewed sense that our places are not merely the sites we move through, but are the powerful meaning-making structures that can shape, for better or worse, our individual and collective identities.
Because place has such a power to shape, we must be mindful of how we shape our places. It’s important to remember that at birth our first places are outside our choosing, they are gifted to us much like Eden was to Adam and Eve. Yet as we grow older we increase our power and responsibilities to steward our places, serving them to make them better. Places—good places—are constantly being made and re-made by the various people who inhabit them, generationally or even only for a short time. This dynamism complicates things by adding a historical dimension: the meanings of a place become layered through time. Because of such human, geographical, and historical complexities, good places must also be distinct places. That is, the City of Hamilton, Central Park, the Serengeti, or the Salisbury Cathedral should take pride when they are like no other place. The true sign for a healthy culture, so this book suggests, is when such unique, diverse, local places can be found speckled across the map.
It’s at this point, though, that some readers might become frustrated with this collection, since the idea that we need a diverse range of distinct places is more often assumed than rigorously supported.