catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 15 :: 2012.07.20 — 2012.08.02


Connoisseurship and the art of moving

As pastor’s kids who moved a lot, my brothers and I were unwittingly raised to be connoisseurs of locational amenities. By the time I was graduating junior high and my dad was considering two possible church locations, we believed we were true masters of the questions to ask to put in our two cents.

Sure, my parents were asking things like whether it was God’s call for us to go there and how close the nearest Christian school was. It’s not that we didn’t care about such things, but they were already worrying about that and it felt more like dad’s call than our own. Instead, as savvy consumers who were coming from a small city with all the bells and whistles compared to other small towns we had lived in, we had other things on our minds.

  • How many people in town? High population was a sign of prosperity and large possibility of “good stuff” in the area — plus, we’d learned that smaller towns meant for more focus on what was going on the pastor’s family, so the bigger the better.
  • How close to a mall? Weekly bike rides to the mall with friends to shop had been a major part of my last few years in the small city.
  • How many fast food restaurants in town? Small town local restaurants, in our experience, did not reach our teenage standards of slickness. We knew better than to ask about finer dining, as we rarely went out to eat as a family, but with our allowances we could occasionally go out with friends for fast food.
  • Barring a nearby mall, how close were other box stores to hang out in? We didn’t know the term “box stores” at the time, though, so we simply called them “civilization.”

In retrospect, the blatant consumerism present in these questions appalls me. Even though we were likely to live in a parsonage we’d have no choice over, we, like many Americans, looked on moving as an act of acquisition as well as appropriation.

As surely as our American forebears purchased large swaths of land the sellers didn’t really have a right to sell, we were looking to purchase a particular experience in the voice we had about our moving location. We weren’t looking for the unique things each town had to offer, and we certainly weren’t looking for the unique possibilities in each location or what God could possibly be asking us to do to serve there. Instead we were looking for a reproducible experience, something straight off the assembly line and quality-checked for happiness: as predictable as a Big Mac.

Perhaps this should not be surprising.  We were European-Americans emerging from a long line of European-Americans whose doctrines of manifest destiny and promises of the “pursuit of happiness” made this country what it is, for better and for worse. We had been through so much uncertainty during our various moves that we were tired of it, and as good Americans we just wanted to buy a stable, reliable version of happiness, much like that in the best of the other places we’d been to.

Our desire to buy such an experience was at least in part a rebellion against the other losses that were about to occur in our lives. This particular time had been spent living in a place we loved with family and friends we loved being around — a place where we’d found a measure of that elusive happiness we feared we wouldn’t find again. We knew we would lose the proximity to these particular family members and friends no matter what, so we might as well try to reproduce the experiences the best we could. And what better way than trying to find an option with similar amenities perfectly set up for similar experiences?

With the increasing mobility of American society, I wonder if this idol of stability is the kind of impulse that’s lead to the ubiquity of chain stores and chain restaurants. If we have to move to a new location for so-and-so’s job, than at least there’s an Arby’s there, right?

As an adult, I realize this kind of emotional logic is still in me during moves, for better or worse. As I seek to follow God’s call, I won’t refuse to move to a community it feels like he’s leading us to. And after all, that’s really the only priority that should matter — and it really does, topping priorities charts by a long stretch. But I still ask questions of the prospective places, this time to Google.

Thankfully God’s been working on my adult soul, so things have gotten a bit better in my adult moving questionnaire. Yes, I’d still like to know the number of people, whether there’s a store that carries the cats’ brands of supplies, and how close a mall is, but I rarely go in them these days (though I should confess that’s in part related to online shopping). But I now find rows and rows of fast food restaurants a disturbing sign of what a location values. For the rare occasions when I go out, I’d prefer a good, quirky set of local eateries any day, especially now that I’ve married an African — someplace where we can get something other than sandwiches or pizza.

Even more, it saddens me if I can’t get good local fruits and vegetables in a location, and so I look for healthy and thriving farmer’s markets and good produce sections whenever possible. Just as important, I look for an international grocery to find my husband’s preferred foods. After all, I know it’s important for us to feed our bodily temples of the Spirit well, and to feed them in a way that allows us to blend the flavors of our homes to make a new home for ourselves together.

And yet, I’m still not sure all of the desires connected to these questions are pure, especially since they all involve asking of a place what it can provide for me instead of asking what I can do for it. After all, at the heart of it, we’re still wishing to bring at least some stable experiences with us from our past locations, and that shows we’re still bringing fears with us along with unhealthy perspectives. These fears ultimately boil down to the question of whether this time God will be faithful to provide what we need. And, ultimately, we wonder whether God will provide the vision for how we can be faithful within our new communities rather than waiting for them — and him — to be faithful to our whims and desires, however well-intentioned and theologically grounded.

That’s really the heart of the matter: do we trust God to imagine our new locations for us, and our purpose there, as the perfect purpose? Or are we working too hard to engineer our own experiences for our own security? I certainly don’t have the answers to these questions, but I’m learning, oh so slowly, to open my clenched hands and let some of my questions flutter away. What will God replace them with next? Most likely with a measure of uncertainties and difficulties, but also with a vision for what he wants of me in a location along with completely unexpected joys I could never imagine on my own. After all, if there’s one thing I’ve learned I can count on over this lifetime of moving, it’s that he’s a God of surprises. And, despite my doubts, he is faithful.

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