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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.


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Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

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.


February 16, 2012  1:42pm

Wright's emphasis is wrong, not biblical. It is liberal theology baptized with Christian jargon. Of course we have an obligation to be responsible and use the earth's resources wisely but here we have no continuing city.


February 15, 2012  2:02pm

This place is temporary, it is passing away. As the author of Hebrews says, “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” We are “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” NT Wright notwithstanding, We are “strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.” “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” The old gospel song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through, my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue”.


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