Western Urban contexts share something in common with refugee camps.
In 2005, I spent some time in Kenyan refugee camps. These refugees were from Uganda and had been uprooted as they fled from the LRA. The formation of the rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army recruited 5,000 children into the Ugandan government army. My role was not to explore the LRA itself, but the issues related to attachment by families that resettled in Kenya.
As we spent time in these refugee camps, we compiled information and stories about the serious struggle for individuals and families to attach to a new place indefinitely. The issue we investigated was called the “Displacement of Affect.”
The Displacement of Affect, pioneered by Otto Fenichel, is the ensuing influence that an extended season of uprootedness has on the process of rooting.
When people lose their home, sense of place and are left hovering in a displaced state, they experience a “Settlement Identity-Crisis.” Because their emotional muscles for attachment have been suspended, severed, or underdeveloped, their ability to bond suffers. Instead of being natural and healthy, bonding becomes threatening, unfamiliar, frightening, and difficult. The result is an unconscious psychological state that causes one to stay above place.
Without minimizing the struggles of those literally displaced by war, I want to propose that we are experiencing a version of Displacement of Affect in many Western urban contexts.
Atrophy in Rooting
Our culture prizes the quest for Self-Actualization. This has resulted in the furious pursuit to land the ideal job, the ideal partner, the ideal status, the ideal education, etc. It also creates atrophy in the emotional muscles necessary for rooting.
This is why becoming rooted in a particular neighborhood with a particular people feels unnatural and constricting.
The cultural force compelling us to chase down our own dreams has made being present- really present- an underdeveloped discipline. This cultural trajectory has acted like a backhoe digging up the maturation of incarnational attachment. By fortifying our selves we have damaged our capacity to bond.
The result is covert yet ruinous for sustainable missional living.
Tenting to Tabernacling
In church planting, I’ve seen this displacement within myself and others. I’ve seen it in the most passion-filled church planters armed with missional theology. I’ve seen it in the most fiery social justice advocates unwilling to work faithfully on the ground. There is a strong tendency to attempt to build something without grafting and super-gluing to a place.
Like Abraham, we have learned to “tent” and make our “home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country” (Hebrews 11:9.) This is a far cry from being able to “tabernacle,” like Jesus who “became flesh and Tabernacled among us (John 1:14).
Four “Place Connectors”
What follows is a simple schema for navigating a neighborhood.
This tool draws a missional community into a real-time place, shifting our habitual patterns to draw us into the “other”. It facilitates practical, ongoing, incremental submerging into a neighborhood. Whether you’re new to a place or have been living somewhere 20 years, this “Relational Liturgy” will open up new space by plummeting your missional community into a social labyrinth.
The Submerge Schema is intended to be an ongoing instrument in discipleship-processing-pods for reflection and direction in rootedness. A Place-based community will have to embrace their limits and exercise active listening as they go about.
When applied for the long haul, it nudges us below the buzz of marketing, self-promotion, and event-dependence into the vital ordinariness that God’s mission requires in our world.
The Submerge Schema
Province – From Indifference to Partnership
“Leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum” (Matt 4:13)
A province is a manageable section of our city that we take some ownership of. We are limited in our sense of environment. We can only emotionally attach and resonate with a place that has a certain scope and size.
Begin by seeking out who is already doing significant work in our province, no matter the creed and color. Learn to serve them and begin to form solidarity with them. In time, the joys and pains of this place must become our joys and pains.
- What observations have we made about our Province?
- What is beautiful in our place?
- What is the brokenness in our place?
- Who are the marginalized in this place?
Porch – From Independence to Interdependence
“which of the three became a neighbor… the one who treated him kindly, so go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:39)
The Porch is a symbol of our literal residence. A typical home is a realm of personal privacy insulated from the public world.
I’ve learned much from my minority Brothers and Sisters on how to use the front stoop, the lawn chair, the BBQ, the sidewalks, and the front lawn. Inviting the “other” into our home is inviting Jesus into our home. There is something equalizing about sharing food together.
- How do we extend shalom to our neighbors?
- Do I see my home first through the lens of Protective Security or Sacred Hospitality?
- How can we slowly begin to establish a common table?
- What are my fears associated with home generosity?
Pathways – From Repelling interaction to Impelling interaction
“Walking along the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth and stopped to address him.” (John 9:1)
Pathways are the regular routes we take. God’s dwelling is tied to the streets connecting us to each other. We easily become isolated from the places that we meander through, withdrawing into minimal interactions.
The slow discipleship work is to transition from Unconscious Busyness to Conscious Habitation. The pathways we take shape our understanding of the city.
- What roads and routes do we want to take to encounter those in our neighborhood?
- Do we walk? Do we drive? Do we bike?
- Are we open to stopping along the path?
- Are we consistent in our pathways?
- How do we move to astute listening along our pathways?
Pivots – From Consuming Perks to Beholding People
“Jesus passed through Samaria… and Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon. A Samaritan woman, came to draw water. Jesus asked, “Can I have a drink of water?” (John 4:4-8)
Pivots are those places we park. They are the spots where different sorts of people can mingle. They are where relational intersections occur. When you pivot, there are people within arm’s reach.
Ask God to provide both holy interruptions and sustainable habits in these locations. Become a face in the place. Build bridges that travel beyond suspicion to trust.
- Where are you a regular?
- Have you made introductions?
- Can your faith-community collide there?
- What tribes are already hovering there?
- What anxieties are inhibiting your presence?