Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Does place really make a difference for the Church (Part 2 of an occasional series)?

The relationship between between place and religion is more than an academic question--it's also personal.

Last night my family and I traversed up Washington Highway 16, across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and to Port Orchard with a colleague and his family (friends?). Our daughter is not the only one trying to make new friends, we are making our way through the friendship field as well. Vocationally, our observations of the region and its communities carry a lot more weight than they used to. We had a great exchange on the trip, not to mention the pure beauty of what we saw.

My experience with travelling up the Washington Peninsula in my youth usually involved baseball. My most frequent visits included Port Angeles and Bremerton. My team usually kicked Bremerton around, but Port Angeles represented a strong challenge. They were our equals in talent, each of our teams had some low level college and pro talent. I loved going to Port Angeles for the hotel stay, some extended time of comeraderie with my teammates, and the great views of the Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I liked playing Port Angeles because they were a hard working team and had players with good sportsmanship. I appreciate quality competition.

All of these thoughts came to mind as we travelled up WA-16, and I heard the new observations of my dear wife. She has a great knack for challenging assumptions about the relationship of place and religion. Her skepticism and willingness to inquire is an asset to my own thoughts and to the Church as a whole. My dear wife is more vocationally engaged in the Church these days, I am dealing with keeping our daughters healthy, giving them every opportunity to learn and thrive, while managing the household and its resources. Someday I will be more vocationally engaged in the Church, though I'm not really sure about the timeline or capacity.

In the meantime, while my wife attended a leadership meeting, the girls and I sauntered toward Downtown Port Orchard. Though not remembering the particulars of that town, I have a common memory of coastal towns--the variety of boats, the briny air, the presence of good old salts working on their trade and/or avocation with the sea, the whitewashed buildings of merchants and restauranteurs, the cheap, nautical-themed decor, and the hospitable breeze. The girls and I examined tiny crabs, barnacles and seaweed. While the girls later played on park toys, I examined the horizon. The Olympics, the bay, and the sunshine hitting the Puget Sound accentuated the blessings of the day and a stunning backdrop for our exploration and play. What I appreciated most about the day was the discoveries for my girls. What are they thinking about the difference of the land that we inhabit now? What are they learning? They pick around the land with their hands and examine its parts more than I have ever seen--jagged crab claws, ovalesque clam shells, contitents of bumpy and sharp barnacles, squishing wet sand in hands and toes. Why did we not do this kind of thing in South Dakota? Was it the climate? Was it the hospitality of the terrain? Did it have to do with my own lack of familiarity and how to explore the land with a child's eyes? I made sure that I took our eldest daughter to memorable tours of South Dakota. I want her to remember something. I feel I can teach her more in this region about the land--but our time in South Dakota is a unique part of her history where her memories are important for who she is.

I am interested in how our new place is affecting who we are. The relationship with place and religion is both an academic and personal pursuit--regardless of how the academic path goes the value and power of my seeking will never be stripped, and the life my family and our relationships will always live in appreciation of where we live and God's blessing of life.

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