This morning at Panera Posse my friend and I discuss place. I am not sure how the conversation arises from our ruminations over coffee and bagels at a familiar early-Friday morning get-together to which you have a standing invitation.
Our reflections over the value of place in the human soul come in a discussion about immigrants. We were talking about the status of being a stranger in a land, the federal congress’ bill to Americanize 11 million illegal residents and my friend’s longtime habit of mind living in Birchwood, a part of Hamilton County. He is stuck living there, on family lands, subdivided since his boyhood days there. We talk about the Internet and I mention Martin van Creveld’s book, The Rise and Decline of the State, looking into the future and the time after the U.S., when my children will all be graying and I will be long dead.
We turn to the power of the Internet as against the claims of place. The world of the ether — whether allowing for business transactions and services to publication of alternative news — finds its glory in placelessness, its existence above and through the world of cities and plains and valley roads. Its might is that of a vast marketplace, unfettered by civil magistrates, uncontrolled by authority. On the Internet, people find oxygen by way of news and perspective and political theory. Ideas are free. Religions compete. Christianity stands in bold relief in its argument for the government of God as revealed by the library known as the Bible. Encouraging words bypass old gates, rotted barriers, crumbling statist guardposts.
The mystery of identification
At the same time, my friend Chris Davis, an engineer, and I theorize, this inexorable shifting of “the center” toward the uncomprehending world online drives men to sense more fully their belonging to a particular place. This identification with place is impelled in the human breast as our conceptions of ourselves and the world are influenced by the Internet. The Internet is anti-local, anti-place, anti-territorial; it denies geography and renders it irrelevant. It exhilarates; it expands one’s horizons, opens new worlds. But it is a network, and people’s relations in its orb are for narrow and utilitarian purposes only. The sense of family among, say, among customers of a given public school (which is not a community, but a mere network‡) is greater than such a sense of identification among people on the network.
Our chat arrives next at my desire to account for longing and desire. The longing evoked in our words haunts me because expression eludes me. This task belongs less to one who writes propositionally than to the novelist and the poet. It belongs to the world of music.
I think one way to satisfy this sense of longing to fully see and explain this perception is to refer to a primary claim of Christianity. This claim operates along the line of God’s sovereign will. God’s will affects not just a nation or Bel-Air or the teeming shantytowns that ride atop multuse highrises in Hong Kong, but claims authority along the pathway of an individual life. A divine authority over the individual life brings one the sense that God’s purposes are being accomplished each day, and that mystery is part of the glow and warmth in life for which we are obliged to be thankful. If we are creatures, God is creator. If He is creator, the world is totally personal. Nothing is without purpose. No experience is without outside His sovereign decree. Our place here, here in this city at this hour, is not accident, but part of providence. In God, the maker of all things, we live and have our being, and our place is divinely ordained. God puts me — he puts you — in this place intentionally, purposefully, and he gives it to your soul to bring an identification to you with this place. Nothing in your surroundings, then, is alien. Nothing is estranged. All belongs to you — even the bad and uncomfortable and awkward.
And while Christianity suggests you are grounded in a particular place, among particular people, by providence, you are not to lose sight of a spiritual relationship with God. If everything is wrapped up in place and in man, the longing and desire crescendoes, and becomes almost unbearable.
I’ve seen the world
Done it all
Had my cake now
Diamonds, brilliant and Bel-Air now.
This sense, I believe, the longing in man seeking fulfillment in man alone apart from God, is what the poet and songwriter ‡‡ reveals in “Will You Still Love Me when I am No Longer Young and Beautiful?,” a melody of note this summer of 2013.
‡ See John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down, pp 58, 59
‡‡ Lana Del Rey, “Will You Still Love Me when I am No Longer Young and Beautiful.” This song suggests my argument by positing the contradictory theory outside orthodox Christianity that man is the center of all things, an argument that realizes its own futility and longs for an unattainable god. On another note, the mystery of place is perhaps best satisfied in reference to the concept of “the one and the many.”