catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 14 :: 2009.07.02 — 2009.07.16


Dwelling places

How on earth does one decide where to live? The world is a fairly large place, and today, thanks to technological advances in transportation and communication, very little of it seems inaccessible. Navigating this veritable world of choices reveals a great deal about who we are, what we believe, and what we value.

For emphasis: where we choose to live is indeed a choice, and one of the most important ones we will ever make. Where we choose to live has an enormous bearing on the lives that we lead. In his article Where Then Shall We Live, new urbanist Eric O. Jacobsen argues convincingly that not only does dwelling place determine how we make certain choices, it also determines what choices we will be presented with. Here is one of his examples: when living in communities that are only accessible to high-income families, what choices can we make about helping the poor and downtrodden of our community? Are there any poor and downtrodden people in our community to help? There are other barriers to loving our neighbors as ourselves: lack of public meeting places, communities that discourage pedestrian traffic, etc. All of these barriers can be circumnavigated, but with often great difficulty. Bear the importance of dwelling place in mind.

Reflecting upon this very important choice always brings questions of value to mind. Where do I spend my time? My money? What do I enjoy? Who do I care about? Another way to ask the question, “What do I value?” is, “What do I want to be near?”

Answering any of these questions immediately fans out into a series of other questions. For example, if I have identified that I value going to church, I must then ask myself if I value being within walking distance of the church so that I can fully participate in the church community in addition to reducing air pollution by not driving. Or perhaps this is not what I value. Perhaps, instead, I value the freshness of the countryside. Or the closeness of dear friends and family. Or access to entertainment. Or privacy. Whatever I value, it is reflected in where I choose to live.

Values become complicated, however, when two or more values conflict with each other. To take previous examples, let’s say I value being close to church and the freshness of the countryside. Can the two values be reconciled? Perhaps, if there is a vibrant congregation in the countryside that I could join. But perhaps not.

This is a simple conflict that easily presents itself to the single self-supporting adult. Greater complications arise when entire families and communities are involved. The question then becomes, “What do we value collectively?” Is it possible for Mom and Dad to be close to a church and work community and for the kids to walk to school while enjoying the freshness of the countryside? Or, is it possible to live in privacy while still maintaining an active and exciting lifestyle? Or can members of a church who live far away truly participate in community?

It is in this place of conflict and probable frustration that choices become real choices: one thing must be taken at exclusion of another. At the same time, I would suggest that if more thought would be given to what we value and how that is reflected in our dwelling places, we might make very different choices. As Christians and as members of the Church, we have the same sea of conflicting choices and values to wade through.  We need to think; we need to talk; we need to pray and meditate on God’s Word. In all this, I believe that it is possible to recover what God values for us and our time and place on this earth and to make choices consistent with our discoveries. For surely, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” (Psalm 90:1). 

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