Jump directly to the content
Where Am I? The Middle-Class Crisis of Place

Where Am I? The Middle-Class Crisis of Place

Craig Bartholomew says staying in one place is key to our spiritual and community health.

Craig Bartholomew, a philosophy professor at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, has been at work on a curious topic. "When people ask what I'm working on, and I say, 'place,' I get a blank stare," Bartholomew says. But examples help. "The home is a place, the city is a place, the university is a place, the mall is a place, and the placial dynamic of all these places must be attended to for people to flourish."

To exist at all, we must be somewhere. And as embodied creatures, we are implaced in specific contexts. Yet in contemporary culture, this aspect of human existence is threatened by what Bartholomew calls a "crisis of place" created by several elements of our technological society. To fully flourish as human beings—and to flourish as entire communities—Bartholomew argues, we need to recover the lost art of placemaking.

On behalf of the City project, Halee Gray Scott recently interviewed Bartholomew about his work, Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today, newly out from Baker Academic.

In your book, you not only provide a biblical and theological discussion of the concept of place, but do so in a way that addresses the crisis of place in contemporary culture. What's the nature of the crisis?

What we are experiencing in our world is a wide sense of displacement, which does not lead to human flourishing. Outside Christian circles, the literature on the crisis of place is huge, but within Christianity, it's only starting to get attention.

Contemporary life roots against this deep implacement through the speed of culture, technology, the automobile, and the state of economics. The middle class is always on the go through places and are not generally deeply rooted in a particular place.

When I travel I have opportunities to see new places, but many are all the same corporate chain stores that we have here in Hamilton. Everything is monochrome. All the houses look the same, and houses are not viewed as homes but as assets. Wendell Berry wrote that "a house for sale is not a home." It is not wrong to move, but if we want to flourish as humans, the house must become a home, not an economic asset.

1234  

Rethinking the $3,000 Missions Trip

Rethinking the $3,000 Missions Trip

When I learned that kids in my city couldn't swim, I started to rethink how much I'd invested in overseas missions.
Furniture Fit for the Kingdom

Furniture Fit for the Kingdom

For Harrison Higgins, building beautiful furniture is not simply a steady job but a sacrament unto God.
Faith in a Fallen Empire

Faith in a Fallen Empire

Detroit's list of maladies is long. But some Christians' commitment to its renewal is longer.
'Daddy, Why Do People Steal from Us?'

'Daddy, Why Do People Steal from Us?'

How I answered the question would prove crucial to addressing racial divides in our D.C. neighborhood.

Comments Are Closed

Displaying 1–5 of 11 comments

Josh H

February 22, 2012  7:53pm

I have to be honest, I am pleasantly surprised at the comments on this post. There's actual dialogue and discussion. BTW, I agree that this is middle class naval-gazing. I get that we feel disconnected, but I am unsure that spending more on our churches and church property is the answer to that.

E Harris

February 21, 2012  7:49pm

I agree with Rick Dalbey. This is liberal claptrap. The author stated "The very things we aspire to—the big suburban plots, the double garage, the two cars—the goals of middle-class life are easily the very things that get in the way of human flourishing." Yet, does not describe precisely HOW these "middle class" concerns are so damaging to "human flourishing." Sounds like he'd prefer a commune to a household with a regular (& generous) nuclear family. If anything, we lack a theology of the nuclear family and its valuable contributions, and a theology of organic church (house church). WE ARE the church, WE ARE Israel. Wherever we are. We are reponsible for planting and raising our families to be well-rounded, wholesome, virtuous, and well-connected servants of God. The best way to be connected is to know those around you, geographically. The inner cities are in decay: precisely because of the splintering of the nuclear family...because the state has replaced the father-role for kids.

S Park

February 19, 2012  5:15pm

I don't know if the author of this article intended for it's title to be as telling as it is, but the "crisis" of place, if there is such a thing, is certainly middle-class. The poor haven't the time or means to be concerned about place, and the wealthy, well, they can be in whatever place they want to be in just a few hours.

Grady Walton

February 16, 2012  8:53pm

As an extreme introvert my eyes glaze over on stories like this. But even I must admit a longing for place, especially in the church where it seems like people pass through like parts on a factory conveyor belt. I was in one church where nearly the entire congregation turned over in five years. Pastors, as well, seem to come and go with the wind. Churches that struggle to find a permanent physical place seem to bleed people each time they move. That can't be healthy. Sure, there are times when it's right to move, but I think we might be too casual about our sense of place in the community.

Kim Pettit

February 16, 2012  3:41pm

It is very interesting to read this article from the point of view of a third-culture person, i.e., one who experienced the crisis of place both at home and away, and who, as a Christian, had to come to terms with the whole issue of place (almost the first question one is asked in the U.S. is "Where are you from?"). Community is not equal to place, but place can and does encourage community and worship and service etc. It would be good to see responses from Christian architects and urban planners...

SUPPORT THIS IS OUR CITY

Make a contribution to help support the This Is Our City project and the nonprofit ministry Christianity Today.Learn more ...