It may be generational, this affinity I have for certain places. After all, I grew up in a far more insulated South, before the swarm of people followed the corporations down here. As a native Maconite, I predated (now departed) Brown and Williamson, YKK, and Geico. There was a mall, and it's name was Westgate - the first air conditioned indoor mall in the South.
I learned to love the hills of Middle Georgia, live oak trees, red clay, and Nu Way wieners. I believed the wrong side lost the War of Northern Aggression, that FDR did more to help my family than anyone before or since, and that when your country called, you didn't run to Canada. The South, where the past, as Faulkner so famously put it, wasn't past. The land mattered, because it was tied to people. Family and friends had come and gone before you there.
God picked us up and moved us to a place that was unknown to any of us - Valparaiso, Florida. I'll be here 9 years in July, serving as pastor of New Hope Baptist Church. For the first seven, we lived in a two story home in "Old Valparaiso." That's the area here that has so many streets named after northern places, because old Valparaiso was a winter watering hole for Al Capone and his buddies, among other people. I LOVED living down in old Valparaiso, where the water was near. I used to walk our dog along the shoreline and would see eagles, ospreys, dolphins and all manner of God's creatures. It lowered my blood pressure and lifted my spirits.
When I think about other places to live, my thoughts are always shaped by what I've known in Macon, and now here. I've never really understood how you can pick up and move so often without leaving a piece of your heart behind.
Last night we met with a sister church of another denomination to talk about what we could do together in our little corner of the world. They're actually a bigger church than we are numerically. Great guys, doing a good job. But as we shared around the table it was obvious that the three guys from New Hope, who actually LIVED IN VALPARAISO, knew more about the people around them than the guys who drove in for church. And it seemed to me - the people who lived here, had more passion about seeing it become better.
That's okay, we'll win them over. :) Valparaiso is a place we love, full of people who may need the help of the people who follow Jesus just to get by. We're trying hard to foster that "parish" mindset that says to our members, God put us here and this is our Jerusalem. First here with our time, energy, and passion, then outward from here to the ends of the earth.
Building bridges, changing lives. Yeah, place matters.