17 Oct 12 // Theology of the City pt. III

Cont. from pt. II

Sacred space is the pursuit of all modern dwellers. Whether we are camping, sitting in a leather chair at the corner bookstore, or practicing feng shui with Ikea furniture in our studio apartment we all want the comfort of free space. Real estate, long held to be a permanent fixture of tax returns, is at a premium across the globe for this very reason – people want space. They want to own it, dwell in it and on it, trade it, give it away. It is one of the last luxuries of the human experiment, becoming smaller and yet more valuable each day, with each birth.

Space. The final frontier. Right? We’re always on the move looking for “the next thing” to conquer, to claim, some fertile crevice to put our flag in and inseminate… and the availability of such pleasures becomes increasingly infrequent.

Having already discussed the place that “wilderness” fits into our understanding of the city (by way of contrast, that is), I want to engage in the ways in which we use various lenses to understand the city.

Again, while all seven perspectives or “lenses” are important – even vital, I would argue since a holistic understanding is the most comprehensive and therefore accurate – the sacred, social and theological are the most pressing for my purposes and so I will be devoting my attention to those. To recap the perspectives:

  • Temporal – We frame out view of the city based on other cities, primarily the “great” cities of the past. Rome, Paris, London are all examples. How we understand our own place is, in large measure, predicated on how we understand another. We become both satisfied and unsatisfied when we think of these other places. When I compare Pasadena, California to Natchitoches, Louisiana, I am so very relieved to have left. It embodies so much of what I detest. When I think of New Orleans, I think of the wonderful times I have had there – the history, the smells, the architecture, food, the magic embodied there… And yet… I find for all of the greatness of Pasadena, I frequently miss New Orleans. I miss those unique things that make it New Orleans and not Pasadena. To compare places, we must not look at the topical but the memories there, the history, the heritage that creates a place and sets it apart. What makes your particular vantage unique and are you truly appreciating it? Or are you feeling forlorn because it is not the place you hope it to be, a hope created of course not on its own by by comparison to another place?
  • Security – We come to understand our city in terms of the security there. In previous times, this may have meant walls and gates, even a moat and barracks. Over time, as walls came down and globalization became the norm, we now understand “security” as those forces of protection we legislate. Police protection, Community Watch, Homeowners Meetings all focus on somehow insulating “us” from “them.” After a sense, even local festivals and high school sports function as a form of security. They make us feel good about where we live, binding us together and comforting us with the illusion of a cohesive “community.”
  • Economic – In Louisiana, tourism is a big business. Even before Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana had created numerous tax incentives for film and natural resource industries in the major cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans. How a city builds and structures their economy is vital to long-term survival. I will return to this idea later, but I want to share another example about Natchitoches, Louisiana that, after I thought it, fits more into the
  • Spatial – Almost two decades ago, Wal-Mart decided to revamp their stores from “local” to “super.” This meant scouting for a new site they could expand on to include garden, auto, and grocery services. beyond their clothing and electronics. When Wal-Mart began looking for a new site, the Chamber of Commerce and a few other organizations forced Wal-Mart to choose a site away from the highway to “force” tourists to travel through the city for basic supplies. There was only one catch – The majority of other Wal-Mart facilities are located directly on the Interstate highways. In choosing to “force” their economy, they guaranteed its failure. Most tourists have no idea where Wal-Mart is in Natchitoches. They elect to travel an hour away rather than cross the hour through town. Again, how a city builds their economy and where they build their landmarks can guarantee growth or seal the city for premature demise. Natchitoches, in the two decades that have followed this economic and spatial decision, has increasingly become a ghost town.

Cont. in pt. IV where I will discuss the final three lenses: social, spiritual, and theological

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