A Piece of Land to Call Our Own

Does one’s identity depend upon a cause and ultimately, a place?  George Eliot examines this among other themes in her book Daniel Deronda.  An oft quoted line (included, for example, as the frontice frame to the movie Gods and Generals) she presses the issue of identity and place:

A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of a native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of earth, for the labours men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge: a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection, and kindly acquaintance with all neighbours, even to the dogs and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort and reflection, but as a sweet habit of the blood . . . The best introduction to astronomy is to think of the nightly heavens as a little lot of stars belonging to one’s own homestead.[1]

John Milton called it Paradise Lost; being displaced from our place in the Garden of Eden.  What was lost, however, will be regained, the ground retained[2].  Not only will believers be fully restored to their original state as “Adam,” but the ground (“adamah”) too will be returned as “the garden of Eden”[3].

From Genesis two we have been rooted to the ground.  We have a place and know our place.  We invest in our place.  Place is property and ownership.  Place demands a boundary.  Place identifies individuality and nationality.  Place must be protected.  Place can be holy or a memorial.  Without a place we are lost, nomads, “a man without a country.”  Because we are linked to a place we will fight for it.

Owning a piece of ground produces thoughtful reflection.  All people should be reminded where they came from (the ground) and where they are going to (the ground).  We are participants with God in managing the creation.  Having a “home” is important to everyone.  Community necessitates a place.  To be in community with others, The Church’s place is to know its place—its setting, its neighbors, its culture, its locale.  For the believer “this world IS my home, I’m NOT just passin’ through,” contrary to the gospel tune.

Established documents at my church, Zionsville Fellowship, Zionsville, IN, explain the concept under the heading “The Church as a Community [first section]”

Community, if it is practical, implies geographical closeness . . . Be careful about moving frequently.  Mobility can be destructive to community.  It has been easy for Christians to fall into the patterns of our secular world, which has little regard for community or continuity.  Present relationships are often sacrificed for another job, house, or new pleasure . . . .”[4]

When I sit out on a clear Indiana night it is as if God has laid out a blanket of stars on black linen.  I have often thought of Eliot’s comment while there.  I think about my place on this earth.  I am grateful for worldwide beauty.  I cherish my country, the United States of America.  I enjoy all the wonders in the great state of Indiana.  And I am a homebody—if I have a choice to go or stay it will most likely mean the car stays in the garage.

Yet there is a restlessness in me for “the new heavens and new earth.”[5] One of my professors in grad school would tell of his great longing to set up a bait shop at the southern tip of The Dead Sea when Jesus’ return would let fresh water flow through it.[6] Maybe I can visit Dr. Knife at his sea and he can visit me my home in Indiana.

Dr. Mark Eckel teaches at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, IN.

[1] George Eliot. 1876, 1984. Daniel Deronda. Harmondsworth, p. 50.

[2] Genesis 28:14-15; cf. 1 Kings 8:34, 40; 13:34; 14:15; 2 Kings 21:8; 25:21; Nehemiah 10:37.

[3] Ezekiel 36:24-30, 35; cf. Jeremiah 31:33-34; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Hebrews 8:8-12.

[4] Zionsville Fellowship, Statement of Belief and Practice, pages 4, 36, 38.

[5] Revelation 21:1

[6] Ezekiel 47:1-10

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