Below is an excerpt from my forth coming book, “Renovate,” which will be available February 16th at all major book retailers. In this excerpt I explore what it means to develop a sense of place—which combats our tendency to be transient people—so that we can see lasting change in our communities.
Products of Place
Holidays in the Crump home are a balancing act. My wife and I not only differ ethnically, but culturally as well. (Please note those are not the same thing.) With our differences come the gymnastics routine we do every holiday to try to complement each other’s tastes and memories. For example, my wife’s memories are of gigantic family gatherings, at least three generations, complete with aunts, cousins, and everyone in between. They always ate “traditional” holiday food: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, french green beans, and salad. They never, ever had a salad-free meal. This is all she ever knew as a California girl.
I, on the other hand, cannot recall a single Thanksgiving or Christmas where we ate any of those things, except turkey, and even it was deep-fried. I’m from the great state of Louisiana, and we rarely do anything traditionally. If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you know this. If you’ve ever experienced the sights and sounds of Mardi Gras, it’s likely you’ve already been captivated by the wonder that is my home. Unlike my wife’s family, our holiday meals were always anchored by a giant pot of gumbo. The smell of fresh seafood and Andouille sausage would fill the house for days, long after the cooking was done. We ate cornbread dressing, not stuffing. And I had never eaten french green beans or cranberry sauce until I was married.
My wife and I are both products of the places from which we come. Her family has been in California since her great-grandparents moved there. My family has been in Louisiana since before the Emancipation Proclamation. And each of us is unmistakably tied to those places, not only by origin, but by accent, culture, and allegiance to everything that defines our respective homes. You should see us when the Saints play the Niners—yeah, it isn’t pretty.
Even though I’ve been gone from Louisiana for nearly fifteen years (except my brief stint playing football for the New Orleans Saints), every time I return home, there is an ever-expanding sense of warmth and excitement as soon as we cross the state line. Why? Because human beings are not only uniquely tied to the people they love, but also to the places they inhabit. When they leave those places, it often creates an unspoken sense of longing that is difficult to put into words. Place captures our individual cultures, keeps safe our memories, binds us as a people, and gives that sense of belonging as much or more than anything else in the world.
Place can seem to be an abstract concept. In fact, geographer David Harvey asserts that the term place has an extraordinary range of metaphorical meanings. “We talk about the place of art in social life, the place of women in society, our place in the cosmos, and we internalize such notions psychologically in terms of knowing our place, or feeling that we have a place in the affection or esteem of others.”[i] But these metaphorical meanings, although they have become societal norms, do not capture the true nature of place and its ability to define so many of our cultural expressions and intimate feelings.
Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan explains the human orientation with place saying,
The infant acquires a sense of distance by attending to the sound of a human voice that signals the approach of his mother. A child is walked to school a few times and thereafter he can make the journey on his own, without the help of a map; indeed, he is able to envisage the route. We are in a strange part of town: unknown space stretches ahead of us. In time we know a few landmarks and the routes connecting them. Eventually what was a strange town and unknown space becomes familiar place. Abstract space, lacking significance other than strangeness, becomes concrete place, filled with meaning.[ii]
Place, in its truest sense, cannot be thrown around as carelessly as our societal norms have unwittingly constructed it. Place allows us to take what is formerly undefined and lacking in significant value, and bestow upon it worth through the organization of our emotions and experiences. Place allows us to express deep connectedness to a locale, almost as we would to the people who occupy it. It allows us to experience allegiance and even a diluted form of love for where we are, not just who is present. In other words, what holds my heart in Louisiana, and my wife’s in California; what contributes to the holiday gymnastics we experience in trying to plan a simple meal; and what causes inter-home wars during football season is this thing we are inextricably tied to—this thing known as place.
I am going to great lengths to explain this because this concept must be grasped. Our understanding of place must be central to all of our ministry efforts, regardless of urban, rural, or something in between. Until we begin to re-experience place within the framework of our theology and subsequently as an organizing principle of our ministry, then our commitment to seeing “somewhere” change over the long haul diminishes exponentially.
Excerpt from Renovate © 2016 by Léonce B. Crump Jr. Published in the United States by WaterBrook Multnomah, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All Rights Reserved.
[i] Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Oxford [England: Blackwell, 1990. Print.
[ii] Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977), 199.