The art of being (mis)placed

I was kindly asked to contribute an essay to Christianity Today's "This is Our City" project in response to Nathan Clarke's short film that featured installation artist Craig Goodworth. I'm including here an excerpt from my essay, the film itself, a "land" poem by my friend Aaron Belz, and a "guerrilla art installation" in Riga, Latvia that I wish I could have been a part of. It goes without saying that I was honored to be included in a project that impresses with every output (on cities, say, like Portland, Detroit, Richmond, and Phoenix, to which my essay is attached).

The art of being (mis)placed
"... Sometimes you leave your hometown in order to find your place elsewhere. Sometimes you leave your place of birth only to return years later and find that you belong there after all. Or more grandly, as Kathleen Norris puts it, 'A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.' Here is where you belong. Here is where you will stay put. It is your place and it is ourplace together....

My confession? I feel misplaced in my current city. While I know plenty of people who thoroughly love Durham, North Carolina, I fluctuate between total ambivalence and intense aversion to the city. It is a city that irritates me almost daily. After living here for three years, I have made my peace with the fact that Durham will be the first city in my life that I will be happy to leave....

But artists come along and perform an invaluable service. For those of us who feel a tenuous or adverse relationship to our places of residence, artists help us to see that, in fact, God is happily at work here, quietly making grace happen in unexpected ways, gently rebuking our stubborn refusal to see that salvation and sanctification are occurring in this place—this street, this humidity, this church, this grocery store, these people...."

(Aaron Belz)

Tilling Charles Reznikoff’s back yard
Brought up a dozen lions andseveral patches
Of wildebeest hearts.

The home itself sat lively in endless shadow,
Its picture windows gazing half-wittedly
In five directions.

Inside, a phone sang triumphantly,
The sole technological hormone driving
Countless blushing shutters.

But my errand had to do withgrass,
So I sat and thought alone in endless shadow,
Speaking to myself

On the bed of wild violet that formed a border
Between Charles Reznikoff’s back yard
And my own,

Making no sound. Making no sound.
Making no sound. As I stood to look around,
Verbs fell everywhere.

His awkward roof repelled them blankly,
Staring wakefully over the wild, half-witted yard
That formed its bed.

Downfall morphed into downpour, and of a sudden
Cartoon-like animals emerged from thickets,
Surrounding that home,

And I must have looked like a startled duck,
Trees above my head whippingmadly,
A car pulling up.

Such a schedule had been in my mind,
Such a tedious map, that could not even hear
The writer at work.


Unknown said…
Wow David. An honest confession can be liberating. It is interesting how I struggle with being (mis)placed as well. Yet mine is a bit different since I am still in my hometown. All the while knowing that God is still going about his business whether I recognize it or not...thank goodness.
I am trying to be present with my eyes open to my surroundings even though I long to be somewhere else. My wife shared some words of wisdom with me via Pinterest of all places. It was a print that she pinned that said "be where you are, not where you think you should be."
Easy to read, a challenge to live out.
Jason, thanks for these kind words. I'll admit it's one thing for me to write an essay at a certain emotional remove from my daily experience; it's perhaps the easier thing to do. It's quite another thing to muddle along from day to day with the real and all-pervasive feeling that either I won't change or my place won't change enough to put me in a better mood.

I do feel deep sympathy for folks who struggle with things like these, and I appreciate you sharing a bit of your experience.

God bless you as you seek to remain faithful to the place he has set you in and may Pinterest keep surprising you with hopeful words.

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