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Voices from the Summer Institute: Nick Liao

June 4, 2010

This week, over 150 Christian pastors, community activists, professors and others have gathered here at Duke from near and far to ask the hard questions of what it means to find signs of hope in the places where they live, work and worship.

As a new migrant to the west suburbs of Chicago, I come with my own questions about “place.” Having moved over five times in the last five years, my life feels increasingly defined by a peculiar placelessness.

In his new book The Wisdom of Stability, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove incisively names the pathology of my generation: transience. It’s a vision of the good life that has twenty and thirty-somethings perpetually on the move, uprooting themselves from their churches and neighborhoods in search of better career opportunities, educational advancement and urban adventures.

A product of this hyper-mobile culture, my life in the past five years has been a series of disruptive relocations: short-term missions trips, an urban ministry internship, a stint at divinity school, a cross-country move for a job. I’ve hardly lived anywhere long enough to plant deep roots, and certainly not long enough to retain steady companions for the journey of reconciliation. What hope is there for someone like me?

Last week, I catch a glimpse. Over coffee, I meet with a pastor of a multiethnic church plant on the south side of Chicago. It’s a congregation I have an interest in joining. I want to ask him about the places he’s been, but quickly notice that he wants to talk instead about where we are— in particular, the neighborhood of Bronzeville.

As he explains the history of the neighborhood, tracing its boundaries on a map with his finger, my surroundings slowly come into focus. This is a place with a complicated history, something one might easily miss if they didn’t stick around long enough to pay attention.

The Scriptures counsel us against the flightiness of modern culture, suggesting that we may in fact be fleeing God. After all, the risen Lord is often most powerfully encountered in community—in the everyday rhythms of becoming intimately familiar with a place and its people.

So as I listen to the deeply rooted wisdom of these leaders this week, I am thinking about what it might mean to dig my heels in for once and stay. It’s probably worth a try.

About the Author: Nick Liao is a recent graduate of Duke Divinity School and former student associate at the Center for Reconciliation. He is currently Sales and Marketing Manager for IVP Academic, an imprint of InterVarsity Press. He writes occasionally at Call & Response, a Faith & Leadership blog.

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