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Placemaking

by the Rev. Scott Walters, Rector

As I moved into my new office at Calvary and got the computer set up, I decided I should cull the website shortcuts I keep. They pile up over time. But as I did, I found a few links I didn’t recognize. One took me to instructions for making your own moss shower mat. I’m not making this up. A shower mat. Made of moss. As in the green stuff that grows on the north sides of trees in damp climates. There’s a website about how to make one. And someone on my computer apparently wanted to return to it regularly.

I suspect this was the doing of one of my children. Oddly enough, as different as Alden and Kate are from each other, I could imagine either of them taking an interest in moss shower mats. Now you know something else about the Walters family, I guess.

But am I the only one who’s never heard of moss shower mats? Am I the only one who wonders who thought this was a good idea? Our labor has been to keep things from growing on the bathroom floor.

As we keep nesting and settling into our new house in Memphis, I continue to be fascinated by the human instinct for “placemaking.” Placemaking is a term planners use to the process of reimagining a neighborhood or even a city by considering all the different aspects that make a place feel compelling and vibrant to the people who live in it or move through it.

Creating a shower mat that reminds your feet of the time you bathed outside in a forest near Seattle one time (no judgment here) is a small and quirky way we might shape the environment our bodies move through day after day. I propose it’s an act of micro-placemaking.

The theological implications of all this may not be abundantly clear to you. But the earliest (and, I’d argue, most persistent over the centuries) heresies that early Christians struggled with were forms of Gnosticism. Part of the problem with gnostic ideas was that they could be intensely exclusive. Only the chosen few received the secret knowledge (or “gnosis”) from God about the mysteries of the universe. The rest of humanity was in the dark.

But just as problematic was the gnostic tendency to diminish the goodness of the body. Many saw the human soul as sadly trapped inside a bodily shell that was nothing but corruption and evil. Only in death would the soul be freed from its unfortunate temporary dwelling.

Jewish and Christian theology (at its most faithful, at least) was much less interested in separating bodies and souls so neatly, in part because when God created, God called all created things as good. And that God-given goodness extends to bodies, yours and mine, whether or not they look or feel or perform exactly like we wish they would right now. It is through our bodies that our hearts and minds and souls are formed. We’re to care for them. And we’re to care for the bodily experiences of others.

The theme of our Christian formation offerings for the coming year is “A Sense of Place: A Base for Pilgrimage.” During the fall, we’ll concentrate on place, wondering together how we are shaped by the places we inhabit, our buildings, our neighborhoods, our city. And we’ll explore what a Christian community might have to offer, making the places where they live and worship more just, more inclusive, more life giving, and sometimes just more fun. We’ll launch out from those places as pilgrims in the spring.

I hope you’ll join these conversations on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. There are no plans as of yet for moss shower mat workshops, but we hope your reflection on how Calvary makes God’s love visible in downtown Memphis will begin to include the simple truth that you and I are also being shaped by the physical world our bodies step into every single day. And as we embrace this truth about what it means to be human, we trust it will shape the ways we believe God calls us to look outward beyond our own bodies, our own homes, our own church building, and wonder what we might be called to do to make our place a little more into the image of the just and merciful kingdom of God. 

Posted by Robyn Maudlin at 2:26 PM