Spirit Alive: Do You Really Know Where You Live?


Food for the Soul: Do You Really Know Where You Live?

Recently, I was visiting Portland's famous Powell's Bookstore and ran across an amazing find. It was a book entitled Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas by David Banis and Hunter Shobe. No, the book is not titled Portlandia. It is Portlandness. And it is a book filled with a variety of maps outlining different ways you can look at the city. As the authors say: "A cultural atlas provides people with a new cartography, a new way of understanding places. A cultural atlas reveals previously hidden constellations of social relations. It challenges and develops people's geographic imaginations. It allows different stories about places to be told, largely by maps, at scales from the personal to the city limits to the global." I have known Portland since I was a small child growing up on the west side and have lived in the Greater Portland area for much of my life, so I thought I knew a lot about my city. But this book had maps of things I'd never even considered before.

There were sections called Sounds of the City and Tales from Outside the Doughnut Hole. There was information on the invisibility of homelessness and how Third Graders Illustrate the City. There was information on Farm to Market and Redlining and Gentrification. Wow! There was a lot I simply didn't know, so I decided to buy the book and read it before all our global guests arrive here in May for General Conference. Then, if I'm asked something about Portland by one of your guests, I'd not only know about public transportation, arts, music, culture, rainfall, and roses, but I'd be knowledgeable about things such as bio-diversity, environmental-consciousness, ethnic imprints, microbreweries, urban wildlife, and food cart density.
This book looked at my community in ways that opened up new worlds to me and made me think about Portland in a whole new set of ways. It made me think: Do I really know my community as much as I think I do? Perhaps I need to do some more exploring! Maybe, as Alexandra Horowitz says in her book On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, I have "amateur eyes," even in relationship to where I live my life. In Horowitz's words: "You missed that. Right now, you are missing the vast majority of what is happening around you. You are missing the events unfolding in your body, in the distance, and right in front of you."

So even if you don't live in Portland....and even if you aren't going to be a volunteer during General Conference in May, this book poses an interesting and universal question for all of us to consider:
Do you really know where you live...whether that place is Salem, Astoria, Bend or Boise....St. Helens, Heppner, Madras or Burley? Do you really know your community from a variety of vantage points?
In their classic book Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets, John Kretzmann and John McKnight remind us that communities are more than their needs and problems. They are also made up of gifts and assets. In their words: "Each community boasts a unique combination of assets upon which to build its future. A thorough map of those assets would begin with an inventory of the gifts, skills and capacities of the community's residents. Household by household, building by building, block by block, the capacity mapmakers will discover a vast and often surprising array of individual talents and productive skills, few of which are being mobilized for community-building purposes."
If you really want to get to know your community more deeply, there is no better place to begin than this: When you look at your community, what assets do you see? I'd venture to say that if you don't see all the levels of assets that are present there to start with, it will be difficult to say that you really know your community very well...let alone understand all the maps and stories that make it the special place that it is!
Blessings on your journey,

Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. It seeks out where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities.