Watershed theology sermon
Ched Myers, an activist and theologian writes,“Our culture of displaced and displacing mobility has severed most of us from rootedness in a home place. “Placelessness” is the primary form of First World alienation.”
“I believe the most important theological and practical journey of our time is to reclaim and restore our sense of place in and and on the land. The dominant culture of urban modernity in which most of us were raised is one characterized fundamentally by displacement and alienation from land and place. Mobility has trumped roots for most non-indigenous North Americans... capitalism promotes “exotic” lifestyles: patterns of domestic life, work and leisure which are “not native, naturalized, or acclimatized” to their Place.”
Here’s what happens. Much of our lives are scattered and disconnected. He media makes us aware of what’s happening in Malaysia, Syria, and Afghanistan. Social Media makes us aware of what’s happening on Justin Timberlake’s dinner plate and Kim Kardashian’s closet. Movies make us ev
er aware and afraid of kidnapping, terrorism, plagues, and heartbreak. Constant travels make us forget what day it is, knock our body clocks out of whack. High demands require us to compartmentalize our lives. This is the time for my job. This is the time for my family. This is the time for church. And if one thing creeps into another- and it does thanks to technology advances and phone bleeps to notify us- bing bing you have a message...bing bing you may finally be resting but make sure you remember to turn in your paper...bing bing pick up your prescription...bing bing your bills are due...stress bubbles to the surface and leaves us ever distracted.
In such an atmosphere, it is practically impossible to be grounded, to be rooted. In this day and age, the two simple commandments- to Love God with everything- an integrated, whole, connected- mind/body/spirit love- and to Love your neighbor as yourself...they seem like a dream world rather than a tangible reality.
In a fragmented, stretched thin, databased world, we hardly even know our neighbor much less love them...and loving God with everything? We hardly have anything left to give.
The thing is...the beautiful world that God created is formed like a “basin of relations’ [cup hands] Every creature, every organism, within the basin is interconnected and dependent on the health of the whole.
Our disjointed lives, our disconnectedness, oru lack of touch with our immediate surroundings and the present moment upses God’s sacred order.
This is true not just of our spiritual lives, but of our physical reality as well. The two cannot be separated. Every part of our lives- spiritual, relational, physical- neighbor, creature, society- are interconnected and dependent on the health of the whole.
Writer and theologian, Wendell Berry suggests that “we don’t stand against [injustices] because we have no place to stand...“We have lost our way as creatures of God’s biosphere, but- the good news is- the map woven into creation can lead us home.” (Berry)
We have lost our sense of place, of interconnectedness, and thus we have lost our sense of responsibility and concern for creation, for one another.
“The pathology of placelessness can be healed by disciplines of “re-place-ment”. Covenanting with specific land and nurturing relationship within community can reconvert us toward the likeness of God’s kingdom once more. Embracing the long-term-lifestyle-project of living sustainably in a particular place among a particular people can wean us off our addictive-compulsive quest for infinitude.
The ministry that I am a part of in West Charlotte aims to practice Re-place-ment. QC Family Tree, a neighborhood based community development organization in Enderly Park, cultivates community for the common good by building a little village where abundance is coming to life.
Being neighborhood based means that we start with the assets and respond to the challenges of the neighborhood after experiencing an intimate and immediate relationship with the people and places there. For decades, economic and relational divestment left my neighborhood unstable. 15 years ago, when we moved to Enderly Park, it was labeled by the City Quality of Life study as fragile and threatened. What that looked like in real time and real life was: housing instability- people transitioning from slumlords to eviction and back to slumlords; Family instability- parents suffering from plagues of addiction, incarceration, and unemployment.
Our early days in the neighborhood involved offering hospitality to folks who were in housing transition- either homeless or eviction. It also involved a lot of community picnics and playing basketball.
That’s how we met JRoc. JRoc was one of the boys who used to play basketball at the center. After a while of providing fun outings and activities for the youth, JRoc and his friends started coming by our house nearly daily. On Christmas….and that’s how youth group started….
Those first years were filled with crisis intervention: making sure folks had food, shelter, jobs.
The same folks who during white flight moved out of the neighborhood when urban renewal caused blacks to move in, their children and grandchildren are now taking advantage of decades of divestment from the neighborhoods they left. With the privilege of generations of property ownership,a privilege that people of color and the poor have not had, they are able purchase homes, renovate them, and move back into the neighborhood.
This phenomenon, that most people call gentrification, has already displaced Enderly Park’s most fragile of families. There are still folks in place in Enderly Park, but the assets and challenges have changed due to displacement. QC Family Tree has responded to the more recent assets and challenges by focusing on affordable housing- keeping people in place as well as organizing a community land trust, youth leadership development, economic development through social entrepreneurship, and community engagement & organizing.
Again, we are cultivating community for the common good by creating a little village where abundance is coming to life.
Our call to practice “re-place-ment” is to wade in the waters, to dive deeply into a way of life that reflects our intertwined connectedness to one another as brother and sister, children and creatures of the Most Holy.
It is no accident that “At the beginning of the gospel, Jesus is baptized into the Jordan River watershed, following in the footsteps of the wilderness prophets; at the end of Revelation, the city is transfigured into a garden watered by the “River of Life.” From Noah to the New Jerusalem, our tradition is about the redemption of the terrestrial.”
What stories do you know of your baptism? Do you remember your baptism? Where was it? Was it in a lake, river, pool, tub, basin, font? Where was the water from? What covenant did you make at Baptism or confirmation of your baptism? To serve the Lord your God all of our days. To walk in the ways of Jesus, even as he was dipped into the waters at the river Jordan.
In order for us to fully live into the covenant we make at the waters of baptism, to love neighbor as self and to Love God with mind, body, and spirit, we cannot neglect to address the immediate and unjust issues in our community.
I charge you, beloved, to remember the covenant you made with God at the waters of baptism...to wade into the living waters of God’s creation, to dip your fingers into the cool basin, and to renew your sense of connectedness with God and with neighbor.
Remember that at the waters of baptism, you are claimed by God as beloved, as are your sisters and brothers surrounding you, as God’s beautiful creation...it is good, you are good.
This church resides in what is the Sugar Creek Watershed. The Sugar Creek Watershed is good. Enderly Park resides in the Irwin Creek Watershed. The Irwin Creek Watershed is also God’s creation, it is good.
Using the Charlotte Quality of LIfe study, I have done some comparisons between these watersheds. In Myers Park and Dilworth, upwards of 50% of residents live within ½ mile from a grocery store. In Enderly Park, only 24% of residents live as close to one. In Dilworth, the average age of death is 73. In Myers Park, it is 77. In Enderly Park, the average age of death is 66. Our zip codes should not determine our health and they certainly should not take an entire decade away from our living.
On each table before you is a container of water. This water comes from The Irwin Creek Watershed in Enderly Park. Please take a moment and dip your fingers into the water. Consider making the sign of the cross on your forehead or hand.
May the waters remind you of your sacredness, of the holiness of God’s creation, and may they call you to a renewed sense of care and responsibility. May the waters remind you of your call and may they ground you, give you a sense of wholeness and rootedness...may they be a source of strength and unity with God and neighbor.