WALKING EPIPHANY in [name of your neighborhood/city]

In Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God, author Bobby Gross reminds us that the liturgical season of Epiphany brings the themes of light to a culmination.  In Advent we cry out with Isaiah for the pople who walk in darkenss to see the promised light.  In Christmas we celebrate the coming of that Light in the birth of Jesus.  In Epiphany we recognize that the gift of Light is for the whole world as illustrated by the arrival of Magi from the East to the Jewish home of Mary and Joseph.  

Throughout the daily readings in the Epiphany lectionary, we follow the early life and ministry of Jesus as He is revealed as the Son of God, appearing as light to a dark world.  He is the very God shining forth, manifesting the glory of God.  Oftentimes the accounts are private affairs (Transfiguration), other times public (Wedding at Cana, Baptism).  All of them take place, though, in the places Jesus lived and worked, within the context of his relationships of family, friends, and followers -- the sick, possessed, poor, celebrating, drinking, seeking, religious, fearful, apathetic, discouraged neighbors.  

Jesus often follows these revelations (or “epiphanies”) with the command to “Go and tell”.  

“The one who shows himself to us asks us to make him known to others. The one who declaires, ‘I am the light o fhte world,’ says to us, ‘You are the light of the world.’ (Bobby Gross)

Lastly, two cultural practices I’m wanting to re-create for this blog series:  the Blessing of the Home and the Beating of the Bounds.  They are not universally practiced, but intrigue me in our own attempts to live the visible life of Jesus-followers in our own neighborhood.

Prompt 1: Local ground

The likeliest path to the ultimate ground leads through my local ground. I mean the land itself, with its creeks and rivers, its weather, seasons, stone outcroppings, and all the plants and animals that share it. I cannot have a spiritual center without having a geographical one; I cannot live a grounded life without being grounded in a place.

Scott Russell Sanders

Staying Put

If I walked around the block in your neighborhood, what would I see (hear, smell, etc.)? Show us some of the "creeks and rivers, weather, seasons, stone outcroppings, plants and animals" that share your neighborhood. Put another way:  If you were asked to coordinate a walking or biking tour of your neighborhood, what would you include in the tour?  Also, how would the season of the year affect your itinerary?

Prompt 2: God's household

Life, breath, food, companionship -- every good thing is a gift from the abundant providence of God. The kingdom of God, this great economy, is embodied in the world when God's people respond to God's provision with gratitude, sharing God's gifts generously with others. The word economy reminds us again that creation is God's household; we are tasked with sustaining it and keeping it in the order God intended. It should be a place where all humans and all creatures are loved and honored and where generosity is commonplace.

C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison

Slow Church

What are some ways your neighborhood is generous to each other?  Put another way, what are some of ways your neighborhood naturally loves and honors others?

Prompt 3: To suffer with

To be an American is to move on, as if we could outrun change. To attach oneself to place is to surrender to it, and to suffer with it.

Kathleen Norris

The Cloister Walk

What are some common things you and your neighbor suffer because of where you live?

Prompt 4: Homegrown economy

Losing local businesses to national chains stores is by no means inevitable. Indeed, the growth of chain stores has been aided in no small part by public policy. Land use rules have all too often ignored the needs of communities and undermined the stability of existing business districts. Development incentives frequently favor national corporations over locally owned businesses. Increasing numbers of communities are rewriting the rules around a different set of priorities that encourage a homegrown economy of humanly scaled, diverse, neighborhood-serving businesses.... Active decision making at the local level and a creative approach to zoning can provide a powerful arsenal for defending community.

Stacy Mitchell

The Home Town Advantage

Are there are any signs of a "homegrown economy of humanly scaled, diverse, neighborhood-serving businesses" in your neighborhood?  If so, tell us about them.

Prompt 5: Salt and light

The way of being salt and light is a role (a part and position) that Christians are called to in the world.  It is a role that requires us to take up a place in our world, at work, at school, and in the neighborhood.  Christians are called to imagine another world, and to do so by living amid the divisiveness, alienation, suffering, and violence, as well as the good things, the loves and hopes of where we live now.... However, we are called to make a home that is not established on our own authority and perfection, but instead is set on the foundation of repentance, forgiveness, mutual care and correction, and reconciliation.

David Matzko McCarthy

The Good Life

In what ways have you been or do you hope to be salt and light in your neighborhood?

Prompt 6: Practice resurrection

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,

vacation with pay. Want more

of everything ready-made. Be afraid

to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.

Not even your future will be a mystery

any more. Your mind will be punched in a card

and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something

they will call you. When they want you

to die for profit they will let you know.

Are there any cultural practices in place so that your neighbors are able to get to know each other?  (associations, community centers, annual block parties, newsletters)  

OR

Do you live in a neighborhood where neighbors naturally get to know each other?  If so, what are some of the things they do to make that happen?

Prompt 7: Life on foot

Walking is the beginning, the starting point. Man was created to walk, and all of life's events large and small develop when we walk among other people. Life in all its diversity unfolds before us when we are on foot. In lively, safe, sustainable and healthy cities, the prerequisite for city life is good walking opportunities. However, the wider perspective is that a multitude of valuable social and recreational opportunities naturally emerge when you reinforce life on foot.

Jan Gehl

Cities for People

What are some different methods of transportation your neighbors use?  What would be needed for more people to be able to enjoy your neighborhood on foot?

Prompt 8: We need art

We need art, in the arrangements of cities as well as in the other realms of life, to help explain life to us, to show us meanings, to illuminate the relationship between the life that each of us embodies and the life outside us. We need art most, perhaps, to reassure us of our own humanity.

Jane Jacobs

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Does your neighborhood boast any community artwork (maybe even monuments or historical markers)?  What's the story it tells?  

OR

How about any artfully imaginative houses, yards or places of business in your neighborhood?

Prompt 9: Dim light and shadow

How much more mysterious and inviting is the street of an old town with its alternating realms of darkness and light than are the brightly and evenly lit streets of today! The imagination and daydreaming are stimulated by dim light and shadow. In order to think clearly, the sharpness of vision has to be suppressed, for thoughts travel with an absent-minded and unfocused gaze. Homogenous bright light paralyses the imagination in the same way that homogenisation of space weakens the experience of being, and wipes away the sense of place. The human eye is most perfectly tuned for twilight rather than bright daylight. Mist and twilight awaken the imagination by making visual images unclear and ambiguous.

Juhani Pallasmaa

The Eyes of the Skin

What does light look like at different times of the day in your neighborhood?

Prompt 10: Place

Place is space that has historical meanings, where some things have happened that are now remembered and that provide continuity and identity across generations. Place is space in which important words have been spoken that have established identity, defined vocation, and envisioned destiny. Place is space in which vows have been exchanged, promises have been made, and demands have been issued. Place is indeed a protest against the unpromising pursuit of space. It is a declaration that our humanness cannot be found in escape, detachment, absence of commitment, and undefined freedom.

Walter Brueggemann

The Land

What historical meanings -- stories that have "established identity, defined vocation and envisioned destiny" -- are told about the place where live?  

OR

What sort of declarations are made in your neighborhood as a "protest against the unpromising pursuit of space"?

Prompt 11: What is important

The availability of places where we are invited to stop and enjoy our rest provides a tacit reminder of what is important. If these places invite us to stay because we are consumers or producers, we will learn to see ourselves as valuable only insofar as we contribute to the economy. If our public spaces are ugly or inconvenient, we learn tacitly that our value as human beings is minimal.

Eric Jacobsen

The Space Between

What sort of public "rest stops" are available in your neighborhood?  Are they used well or barely noticed?

Prompt 12: Imaginative act

What I see behind my eyes changes what I see in front of them; my imagination shapes my perception so that I must look not once but twice at the world to see it whole. Walking down the street, I see a wild-looking character sitting on the steps of the library. His gray hair is matted. His dense beard covers the slogan on his grimy T-shirt. His small darting eyes are as volatile as a hawk's. I look once and think "drifter." I look twice and think "John the Baptist," and in that imaginative act my relationship to the man is changed.

Barbara Brown Taylor

The Preaching Life

Give us a tour of your neighborhood as an "imaginative act" the way Barbara Brown Taylor describes her encounter with the wild-looking character sitting on the steps of the library in the quotation above.

OR

How has your place shaped your imagination about what's possible for your life?  What possibilities has it opened up?  What limitations has it created?

Prompt 13: Worthy of our affection

We don't have to scatter building blocks of our civic life all over the countryside, impoverishing our towns and ruining farmland. We can put the shopping and the offices and the movie theaters and the library all within walking distance of each other. And we can live within walking distance of all these things. We can build our schools close to where our children live, and the school buildings don't have to look like fertilizer plants. We can insist that commercial buildings be more than one-story high, and allow people to live in decent apartments over the stores. We can build Main Street and Elm Street and still park our cars. It is within our power to create places worthy of our affection.

James Howard Kunstler

Home From Nowhere

What "building blocks of our civic life" are located within walking distance of your home?

Prompt 14: Hometown

Well, no cannonballs did fly, no rifles cut us down

No bombs fell from the sky, no blood soaked the ground

No powder flash blinded the eye, no deathly thunder sounded

But just as sure as the hand of God, they brought death to my hometown

They brought death to my hometown, boys

They destroyed our families’ factories and they took our homes

They left our bodies on the plains

The vultures picked our bones

So listen up, my sonny boy

be ready for when they come

For they'll be returning sure as the rising sun

Now get yourself a song to sing and sing it 'til you're done

Yeah, sing it hard and sing it well

Send the robber barons straight to hell

The greedy thieves who came around

And ate the flesh of everything they found

Whose crimes have gone unpunished now

Who walk the streets as free men now

Bruce Springsteen

"Death to My Hometown" from Wrecking Ball 

What institutions or events are perceived to be at blame for bringing death to your hometown?  

Prompt 15:  Subversive Christianity

Build houses in a culture of homelessness. Plant gardens in polluted and contested soil. Get married in a culture of sexual consumerism. Make commitments in a world where we want to always keep our options open. Multiply in a world of debt. Have children at the end of history. Seek shalom in a violent world of geo-political conflict and economic disparity. This is Jeremiah's word to the exiles. This is Jeremiah's subversive word to us. And in this vision we just might see, with Jeremiah, "a future with hope" (Jer. 29:11). This is what it means to work and wait for a miracle. This remains at the heart of a subversive Christianity.

Brian Walsh

Subversive Christianity

Where do your neighbors hang out when they are not inside their homes?  Front porches?  Backyards?  Town parks?  

Prompt 16: Foreigners As Neighbors

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Pope Francis

from "Pope Francis' Address to Congress" on Sep. 24, 2015

How does your neighborhood embrace foreigners? Are there organizations set up specifically for that purpose?  What other signs of “immigrant” culture can you find in your neighborhood?

Prompt 17: Try to Find Something

The general purpose of the present economy is to exploit, not to foster or conserve. Look carefully, if you doubt me, at the centers of the larger towns in virtually every part of our country. You will find that they are economically dead or dying. Good buildings that used to house needful, useful, locally owned small businesses of all kinds are now empty or have evolved into junk stores or antique shops. But look at the houses, the churches, the commercial buildings, the courthouse, and you will see that more often than not they are comely and well made. And then go look at the corporate outskirts: the chain stores, the fast-food joints, the food-and-fuel stores that no longer can be called service stations, the motels. Try to find something comely or well made there.

Wendell Berry

"Compromise, Hell!" from Orion Magazine

What have the old, “good buildings” become in your town? What buildings still reflect “comely and well made” origins?  What do the “corporate outskirts” look like in your neighborhood? Can you find something “comely or well made” among the outskirts?  

Prompt 18: Take action

As rapid urbanization continues, one thing is clear: Human, economic, and natural resources will only become more strained as we continue to grapple with global climate change and the diminishing returns of globalism. We have to do more with less -- doing being the operative word.... Ultimately we challenge you to take action where it might matter to you most: in front of your house, on your street, or in your neighborhood. After all, if we can't work collectively -- fellow citizens, government leaders, or both -- to make these places better, we'll certainly have a hard time doing so at any larger scale.

Mike Lydon & Anthony Garcia

Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change

In what ways are your neighbors doing more with less in order to grapple with global climate change? How are you, your street or your neighborhood taking action to alleviate the straing on human, economic and natural resources? How about your local government?

Prompt 19: Houses become homes

Houses become homes when they embody the stories of the people who have made these spaces into places of significance, meaning, and memory. Home is fundamentally a place of connection, of relationships that are life-giving and foundational. And that connectivity includes the past, for homes are shaped by memories of important transitions, events, and experiences. Once these stories are forgotten, there is no home to return to because there is no place, or even potential place, that could be shaped by those stories.

Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh

Beyond Homelessness

How does your neighborhood make spaces of significance, meaning and memory?  How does your neighborhood preserve and embody it’s own story?

Prompt 20: Liked so much as this place

Ma hummed softly to herself while the iron smoothed all the wrinkles out of the little dresses. All around them, to the very edge of the world, there was nothing but grasses waving in the wind. Far overhead, a few white puffs of cloud sailed in the thin blue air.  Laura was very happy. The wind sang a low, rustling song in the grass. Grasshoppers' rasping quivered up from all the immense prairie.  A buzzing came faintly from all the trees in the creek bottoms. But all these sounds made a great, warm, happy silence. Laura had never seen a place she liked so much as this place.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House on the Prairie

In your own neighborhood, when do you have the sence that you’ve “never seen a place you liked as much as this place”?  What does it sound and look like in those moments?  Where are you walking when you feel this way?