I have been contemplating the significant coupling of community and place as of late. One of the least examined – and probably the most significant – aspects of daily life for both individuals and communities is how their locales form them.
A great myth of modernism have been the universalizing tendencies to push local community life and practice into a monoculture. Under the guise of the universal we’ve lost the nuances of the local. Within this thought, we can and should expect life to be similar in Denver as it is in Syracuse. Or perhaps even within closer proximity, life to be the same in Nedrow (just south of the city of Syracuse) and Liverpool (a northern suburb of Syracuse).
The diminishing of the local gets carried out when we lose the differentiating nuances of particular communities through top-down practices. Instead of finding the shades and tints produced by a place’s cultural artwork which can only be only known from the ground-up, we supplant this patient-inducing work for the ease of assuming. We assume we know what works without knowing the people or the place. In my experience, this is most evident in ventures of “church planting.” Instead of asking how place and community live symbiotically, we rush in never taking notice of the subtleties the answers to that question raise. Not listening only leads to assuming.
Enter Wendell Berry.
I read this today and it stopped me in my tracks. Instead of commenting further, I’ll let you read and soak it in.
For an authentic community is made less in reference to who we are than to where we are. I cannot farm my farm as a European American – or as an American, or as a Kentuckian – but only as a person belonging to the place itself. If I am to use it well and live on it authentically, I cannot do so by knowing where my ancestors came from (which, except for one great-grandfather, I do not know and probably can never know); I can do so only by knowing where I am, what the nature of the place permits me to do here, and who and what are here with me. To know these things, I must ask the place. A knowledge of foreign cultures is useful, perhaps indispensable, to me in my effort to settle here, but it cannot tell me where I am.