The theology of place
A nest in a tree is home to the bird and her young eggs. But one day the little ones are nudged out of the comfort and sent out into the world, to seek their own and their new home. I get that. I have three kids who all have moved from home and yet are ever ours and we are ever theirs.
The need for place, and the holy nature of place are in my mind today. This gazebo is a sanctuary of sorts, near a little Anglican church northwest of Sydney, in Pitt Town. The old parish building is on one side, and the newer building on the other, but this little shaded area is a stand-alone. And it's welcoming. And set apart.
Our little bookshop in Sydney's east in Bondi Junction will no doubt have to move within a year or so. Like so many urbanizing areas, the Junction is meeting the creativity and greed of developers so that little mom-and-pop shops are being replaced by multinational chains and Oxford Street is becoming Franchise Avenue. We will lose our lease in 2014 or so, and have to move. And thus, more thoughts today and this week about place.
Where will we set up? And what needs do we have in that place?
God established the idea of place as he set up Heaven and Earth. (Genesis 1.1) Then he established the Garden of Eden and placed man there. (Genesis 2.8) Cain was the first murderer and lost place, being sent out as a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth. (Genesis chapter 4)
When God wanted to meet with the Jewish people, en masse, he chose the Tabernacle (Exodus chapter 25) as the place. The Hebrew says this, "Build me a Mishkan (Tabernacle) that I may shakan (dwell) with them." (Ex. 25.8) The Hebrew is clear; dwelling with the Lord is the purpose of the tabernacle (tent).
That continued in the ministry of the Temple in Jerusalem, and to this day the purpose of buildings to Deity is that he may dwell with us.
That's why I find school hall meetings a bit less than 'regular' church meetings. Set-apart spaces which are dedicated to the Lord, and which have sacred symbols and sacred utensils, that all makes sense to me as place.
When an enquirer wants to find a minister, when a neighbor in a neighborhood wants to meet someone of religion, where will they go? Whom will they be seeking? The first thing is place; the second is person. Most 'uninformed' people who rock up to places of religion are not looking for Mr Smith or Rev Cohen, but rather find the place and seek 'someone' there. Place itself is the draw.
That's why I'm pondering anew what our place will look like in Bondi Junction in 2014. And hopefully you will be part of us and part of our outreach and our presence in the neighborhood and in the country.
At least, you are invited to do so.