(Read Going home: Part One)
Yesterday, I rejected the premise of Dr. Seuss’ book “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” in favor of taking seriously the places from which we come. While the majority of that article was dedicated to my own personal, lived experiences (and thus too subjective to be rigorously scrutinized), even as I wrote it, I was aware of some of the potential negative implications of it.
My argument, removed from its subjective confines, is that where we come from is not coincidental to God’s providence in our lives and, maybe, is due a bit more consideration as it pertains to our pursuit of faithfulness.
I can see, however, how my argument can be extended to accidentally perpetuate jingoism or tribalism or nativism. We already live in a country with more patriotic fervor than religious zeal (go ahead, cite a major movement of rejecting a sports league because the players don’t pray before their games … I’ll wait). What I’m proposing – with its investment in particular communities or regions – could easily slip into not only the acceptance/appreciation of one’s formative location, but the rejection/reviling of anyone else’s.
Of course, this would be a slippery-slope argument, which are always dubious in nature, but even if I grant the validity of such a critique, I am not claiming that broad community isn’t possible – or even preferable – beyond one’s own people and place. Rather, the meansin which this community is formed will differ from the ways in which it currently does.
Presently, the rejection of jingoism is more positively understood as an embrace or celebration of diversity. We have been told that any number of previous, grave social and spiritual ills (the Atlantic slave trade, the rise of Nazism, patriarchy, homophobia) could have all been avoided if we had celebrated diversity rather than clung to our hegemony. Under such an education, my call for a return home sounds very much like a grasping at homogeneity – and this is to be rejected lest we give rise to yet another grave social and spiritual ill.
Yet if we lay aside the woulduva/coulduve/shoulduva argument, why are we told to celebrate diversity?
We celebrate diversity for diversity’s sake, I fear. Our reason for celebrating it is, we’re told, bound up in the very act of celebrating it. There can be little, if any, critical examination of this process. As you cast off the shackles of home (and any of its pretensions or prejudices), the reasons for being unshackled will become clearer. “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” doesn’t tell why the protagonist (“you”) is going, only that he or she is going … and that’s enough. I fear our celebration of diversity (which extends from an emotional need to avoid repeating past ills, as well as a pathetic, post-traumatic mea culpa) falls into just such a trap.
From the perspective of my approach, the delight in one’s place and people does not come at the cost of rejecting others. Indeed, if we are to truly celebrate diversity, we need thick places from which we each come, because without which, we will bring nothing to our cultural exchange.
This is precisely what fails to happen when we’re defined less by where we’re from and more by where we’re going. We may achieve equality, but we’re equal only in our striving forward and our rejection of the past. Such an equality may come at too great a price and may prove vapid once achieved. Thus I contend that any real celebration of diversity necessarily requires deep roots and a strong sense of home. It is also, precisely this that is being robbed from a generation who has been told to seek identity and self in “Great Places!”
A more robust and mature critique of my position would cite the global unity that we ought to find in Jesus Christ. Indeed, we are bound together across both time and place. Such a critique rightly asks what place the particular has in the cosmic.
This is a delightfully more interesting question and is not laden with any of the entrapments of diversity qua diversity. It is, simply put, a theological question; not a sociological one.
The universal Lordship of Jesus – as well as the foretold coming Kingdom in which we are all brought together in unity, as one whole body – does not preclude an emphasis on the specific. Indeed, God privileged a particular time and place in the incarnation of Jesus. That Jesus’ life had to take place within the shadows of the Temple makes sense given that he is the Jewish Messiah (for even if he came to a diaspora Israel, their very status as diaspora reveals the presence of the absent Temple), but its precise moment of history – under Roman rule – is not mandated by any logic. God chose a particular place, time and people in which to become incarnate.
It is God’s prerogative to choose a particular and God seems to do so with no threat to the universal. I would commend that my interest in the particular is not meant to extend any further than God’s own. Because of the incarnation, particular places are able to hold the divine. If we believe that the Spirit dwells firmly in each of us where we are – or where two or more are gathered – then we confirm that this is still true today.
Furthermore, there is absolutely no reason to believe that though it is the One Spirit that dwells in each person who lives in each place that this dwelling is just replicated equally, like grade school worksheets run off a mimeograph machine. Indeed, the truest celebration of diversity is the acknowledgement that our differences are an extension of the immensity of God. Thus as we embrace the uniqueness of God’s Spirit in our lives, which includes the place in which this Spirit has placed us, we are best situated to celebrate our diversity in the most theologically rich and faithful ways possible.
Ultimately, our embrace of our social location, even with whatever limitations that come along with that may be, is part of our being embraced by the God who put us there in the first place. Let us be restored to this sort of embrace by God as we embrace from whence we came.
JEFFREY A. SCHOOLEY writes from his social location of a small, Midwestern, predominantly white location with full acknowledgement of its limitations and a fuller acceptance of its importance to how he does theology and ministry. If you want to share more about your particular location and its intersections with diversity and globalism, please write to him at [email protected]