Just saw a very simple article on moving into the neighbourhood as an essential step in ‘exegeting’ our neighbourhood as well as the Bible. As a lover of words, this image of reading our neighbourhoods attracts me.  You can find it here.

When we first moved to Bendigo, another church plant also had moved from Melbourne not long before. They wanted to plant a church in the community where we live, and did a fantastic family fun day at a local primary school to let people know who they were. Though they believed in the theory of incarnational mission, none of them lived in the local area. In fact, the nearest home was 5km away! Needless to say, their efforts broke down quickly.

One of the ‘marks’ of the groups in the Seeds network is “Proximity to each other and the poor”. Leaving aside the valid and inevitable questions about the nature of poverty, is such a geographical focus necessary? Does it depend on the community being incarnated into? Incarnating into a CBD workplace won’t work at a geographical level. So, does place matter? At a very basic level I would say it does – simply because a bird won’t shit in its own nest; ie. we will naturally work for the good of the place we live in.

I don’t think geographical (or place-based) incarnation is in absolute necessity; Jesus wandered all over the place and let’s face it, most people these days are hardly anchored to a bit of land these days, if they ever were. But let me argue briefly for it anyway.

Encounters In poor communities where car transport is limited, place-based incarnation is crucial to the unplanned and ‘intentionally natural’ encounters with people. To get to know someone, planned encounters only go a little way because real relationship occurs when we see people in unexpected situations and times.

Jeremiah the prophetExilic theology In Jeremiah’s famous ‘letter to the exiles’ (Jeremiah 35??) he exhorts the people of God to work for the good of the place they have been exiled to. While it seems an encouragement to resignation, I believe it gives us the encouragement  to be re-formers of our neighbourhoods. And to do that, I believe we need to be there when we don’t plan to be.

Means and ends If our vision of the reign of God is, as mine is, individuals-in-community relating in a Christ-like way to people, land and God, then we are bound to the land. We cannot be faithful to this vision without being bound to some land ourselves. Means and ends need to be, and in fact are always, identical.