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When neighborhoods gentrify, residents can be physically displaced as well as psychologically displaced. This psychological displacement can occur even if the resident is not physically displaced. In this article, Keith E. Starkenburg and Mackenzi Huyser explore the significant impact that neighborhood changes have on one’s attachment to place as expressed through the concept of Christian belonging. They develop a theology of place, rooted in Christian perspectives on belonging, that informs thoughtful conversation and action in gentrifying neighborhoods. Keith E. Starkenburg is Professor of Theology at Trinity Christian College, and Mackenzi Huyser is Executive Director of Chicago Semester.

Craig Bartholomew, in a recent survey of biblical, philosophical and theological sources in relation to place, claims that re-engaging place-making in our contemporary moment requires multiple “conceptual resources for place-specific-making.”1 In other words, if Christian approaches to place are to have practical bearing, they must both utilize concepts from “discipline-specific knowledge” and work in a conceptual “ecology” born from the crossing of disciplines. 2 This article represents a result of this collaboration and one contribution to this conceptual ecology, exploring belonging—or place attachment—from a Christian perspective and through the lens of a gentrifying urban neighborhood. The article considers various social-scientific approaches to belonging in order to offer some description of how changes in neighborhoods can challenge, sustain or enhance that belonging.

More particularly, the central thesis of this article is twofold. First, it argues that a theology of joining, drawn from the work of contemporary theologian Willie Jennings, demonstrates the limits of some social-scientific perspectives for describing belonging and displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods – limits that arise especially when theological concerns are marginalized. It also argues that a theology of joining, without relinquishing a continuing dialogue with social-scientific perspectives on place, can specify more fully what happens when belonging and displacement occur. The article supports this thesis by providing brief overviews of literature on gentrification and place and locating two social scientific approaches to place attachment and belonging within the larger literature. The project then outlines a basic theology of place that is germane to gentrifying urban neighborhoods, and draws together the social scientific and theological approaches as they bear on the challenges of belonging in gentrifying urban neighborhoods. It offers a new way of thinking about belonging and place that can inform our Christian perspective on engaging in and with gentrifying urban neighborhoods.

Urban Renewal, Revitalization, and Gentrification

Urban renewal, revitalization, and gentrification are processes that have historically had an impact on the landscape and composition of neighborhoods. While each is based on the general notion of neighborhood redevelopment, they carry their own stories and histories. Undergirding these histories, and at times the driving force behind the actions of urban renewal, revitalization and gentrification, is race. In this section we will briefly introduce the histories of each to provide a general understanding for some of the factors that have influenced neighborhood change in urban areas.

Urban renewal efforts began in the United States in the early 1950s. Prompted by federal legislation and the desire to remove unfavorable conditions in urban areas and to create new opportunities for large institutions (such as universities and medical centers) to claim land, these efforts cleared large tracks of homes. In the late 1970s cities began new efforts to focus on revitalizing urban neighborhoods. Often initiated by mayors of large, urban cities, the goal was to reverse the damaging impacts of the quest for suburbanization. The neighborhoods that were most often selected for urban renewal and revitalization efforts were largely comprised of people of color.3 And these efforts by the federal government perpetuated racial isolation and segregation for Blacks living in these urban areas.4 They were, in fact, part of a sustained approach to segregate people racially from one another through laws and public policy that had begun nearly a century earlier.5

In more recent decades, gentrification has prompted change in urban neighborhoods. The term “gentrification” was actually coined by researcher Ruth Glass in the 1960s in her discussion of the process of changing neighborhoods in London.6

Since that time numerous researchers have offered definitions of gentrification, often incorporating underlying perceptions of the positive or negative impact of the process. While Glass’s original description of the process clearly stated an element of physical displacement for the working class and an overall change in the social character of the neighborhood, the former has recently been disputed, with the emerging definition of gentrification as simply, “the process by which decline and disinvestments in inner-city neighborhoods are reversed.”7

While each of these movements and efforts carry a history and invoke images for those who hear them, they each are associated with outcomes—positive according to some and negative according to others—that have impacted the landscape and composition of urban neighborhoods, particularly for people of color.8 And as briefly mentioned above, one of the more hotly debated issues in all of these efforts is the issue of relocation and displacement. Marc Fried, in his groundbreaking research on the displacement of residents in the West End Neighborhood in Boston, outlines the detrimental effects of the loss of place.9 His work guides the continued research on these displacement outcomes for many residents living in changing neighborhoods.

The purpose of this article is not to debate these displacement and relocation outcomes, though they are important to address, but rather to engage a different question, from a Christian perspective, that has been largely overlooked in the research on gentrifying urban neighborhoods. Namely, the significant impact that these neighborhood changes have on one’s attachment to place as expressed through the concept of Christian belonging.

Defining Place and Belonging

Many have weighed in on the definition of place and belonging from varying vantage points. Aristotle refers to place as “the innermost motionless boundary of what contains.”10 Philosopher Edward Casey describes place as “what takes place between body and landscape.”11 Place is often distinguished, then, from space, which usually means some sort of abstraction from place – perhaps it is a mythical abstraction with Plato or a geometric and economic abstraction in our current context. Researchers Low and Altman describe place as “a space that has been given meaning through personal, group, or cultural processes.”12 Gieryn proposes a framework for defining place, arguing that three components are necessary: geographic location, material form, and investment with meaning and value.13

Place attachment, “the bonding of people to places,”14 is also a widely diverse field of inquiry. For our purposes, place attachment and belonging will function synonymously, each having to do with a particular reception of a place. The history of the English word “belong” gives some points of orientation to belonging. In Middle English, its verbal forms and predecessors have functions similar to contemporary usage. But its predecessor in Middle English also functioned as an adjective.15 As an adjective it meant “equally long, corresponding in length.” The word “belong” may thus build on a metaphor of length. Words and meanings belong together; a sister belongs to her brother; the long-suffering of love belongs to the happiness of humankind. With regard to place, then, belonging has to do with how an individual or community’s identity corresponds to or fits with a place. Interest in the concept of belonging began in the late 1950s and early 1960s with phenomenology, in order to explore issues in the relationship between environment and behavior.16 A diverse social landscape and increased focus on issues related to use of space, emotionally-driven connections to specific places such as sacred places or homes, social issues of homelessness and mobility, and loss of connections to place via family disruptions and alienation prompted continued attention on the concept of place attachment.17

Researchers Schumaker and Hankin in their review of the literature and theoretical underpinnings about the concept of place attachment note the widely different viewpoints about the concept.18 Their rationale for these varying viewpoints stems from the diverse fields and disciplines that the concept of place attachment crosses. Low and Altman emphasize the necessity of gathering multiple viewpoints in an effort to bring consensus to a definition of place attachment and subsequent theoretical development.19 While Kaplan describes how each different perspective offers an important contribution to the field of inquiry,20 Schumaker and Hankin note that the concept “often ‘falls between the cracks’ among disciplines.”21 Despite these challenges, Schumaker and Hankin locate three constant underpinnings in the field of inquiry. These are: “Individuals can become attached to their sociophysical environments; there are differences in levels of attachment across individuals, groups, and locales; and the strength of this attachment has important implications for both the individuals and their environments.”22

Social-Scientific Frameworks for Place Attachment

This section will briefly outline the theoretical underpinnings of work done on place attachment or belonging. This will provide a conceptual intersection with a Christian theological perspective on belonging, as it bears on gentrifying urban neighborhoods.

Scannell and Gifford offer a synthesized framework based on the multiple and varied constructs of place attachment. This framework has three dimensions: person, psychological process, and place. The person dimension describes the attachment individuals or groups have to a particular place through memories or shared historical significance.23 The psychological dimensions that undergird these individual and group attachments to place include the components of affect, cognition, and behavior.24 Affective connections to place are often described as emotional bonds. These bonds have been researched with regard to changing neighborhoods.25 They also have been explored with regard to ideas about belonging in and through one’s place.26 Finally, place dimension focuses on physical and social components. Here again, ideas of belonging emerge in the literature with a strong focus on the social dimensions of this attachment to place. Research on community attachment is often cited with regard to these social dimensions. When centered on a “community of place” or some level of attachment “to the social group that the place represents” it more closely aligns with the underlying notions about place attachment.27

In the early 1980s, based on his research with the elderly in a rural setting, Graham Rowles developed the concept of “insideness.”28 He later built on these ideas to explore development of the concept of a sociospatial support system.29 Rowles’s theoretical work lays the groundwork for Dale Anderson’s work on the geography for belonging,30 and together these theoretical explorations lead us to our work on Christian belonging in place.

We begin with exploration of Rowles’s work on insideness. This notion of insideness is shown through how one is bonded to place. It is marked by the “reluctance to leave” a place and is expressed at three different levels of involvement: physical insideness, social insideness, and autobiographical insideness.31 Physical insideness is the participation in the everyday activity of a place. It is the physical knowledge of and awareness of the place. For participants in Rowles’s study this was shown through regular visits to church, daily walks to the post office and store, or the inability to leave one’s home. It was also evident at a deeper level through bodily awareness based on the level of familiarity with a place and how this allowed one to continue to negotiate the place. One of Rowles’s participants described this awareness as being “on your own stomping ground.”32

The second level to insideness is social insideness. This level of insideness was expressed in how participants described a “sense of belonging” as evident in their relationships with friends, through shared values, and shared norms of behavior.33 Those who showed a high level of social insideness had greater social capital in the community. This could be a result of age or longevity in the community, or as a result of one’s contributions to others in the community or with community groups. High levels of social capital allowed participants to continue to reap the social benefits of this status despite challenges that might have pushed them outside.34 These challenges were evident in Rowles’s research, if for example, a member had a deteriorating condition which no longer allowed him or her to participate actively in community activities.35

Finally, autobiographical insideness is a deeper characteristic and level, which encompasses commitment and rootedness in place. This commitment and rootedness comes from one’s participation in the “evolving history” of the place. Rowles’s participants described this as “a mosaic of incident-places which together constitute a ‘lived-in’ place.” This “lived-in” place is deep and significant as it “conveys a sense of ongoing affinity and forms a repository of personal identity.”36 Rowles acknowledges that it is challenging to grasp fully this level of insideness and rootedness. He describes an example of it from his interactions with one participant as they drove through the community and she described all of her memories from the places they passed. As these memories and descriptions were voiced, Rowles noticed that they did not accurately reflect the updated landscape where they were traveling. These memories, however, were vivid and the places where they occurred were still there. He describes it in this way:

Each (participant) has a heavy historical investment in this place. Each has created an environment richly differentiated as an array of places laden with personal meaning in relation to a life history. Over the years, each one of them has become more and more a part of the place to the point where it has become an autobiography – literally an extension of self.37

In later publications, Rowles argues that autobiographical insideness is highly personal and is closely related to one’s sense of self.38 It is important as it allows expression of one’s identity through the infusion of meaning into places. This expression is crucial for three reasons. First, even when places have undergone significant changes, autobiographical insideness “preserves an ongoing sense of belonging within a place.” Second, it offers a continual reminder of the important contributions that the individual made to the place. And third, it gives “continuity between what has happened and what can be passed on to the future.”39

Finally, Rowles expresses significant concern about place attachment given the changing landscape of our places and the changing norms associated with stability in place. As our norms change, he argues, we ignore the importance of autobiographic insideness. Without strong levels of autobiographical insideness we lose a place of deep meaning and open the door for trauma and other ill effects related to well-being. He acknowledges that as these norms become greater in influence, physical insideness may be limited. The damaging effects, however, of the loss of autobiographical insideness will need to be countered with models of support.

Further exploration of the role that social support plays with regard to place was outlined in Rowles’s continued work and his conception of sociospatial support systems.40 This theory builds on his previous work, but furthers that work by exploring the ways the participants in his study experienced sources of support. Rowles explains that his participants benefitted from significant sources of support both, as he terms, explicit and implicit forms of support. Explicit support came through formal, structured support services such as a senior centers, health clinics, and transportation systems. They also came through support from family members, neighbors, and one another. Much more of the support received by Rowles participants came, however, from implicit sources. The first aspect of implicit support is “the reassurance that stems from awareness that this is a place in which one knows and is known by others.”41 And the second stems from Rowles’s ideas about autobiographical insideness and the social support that this brings. One of Rowles’s participants has difficultly explaining the “sense of comfort” that visualizing her children playing in the yard and the occupying of rooms by family members in her home brings. Of this, Rowles says, “It is something she takes for granted. Yet, the ability of a place to act as a cue and to trigger the resurrection through reminiscence of the social auras enhances well-being.”42 He concludes by noting that while the ability to identify sources of support is important, it is crucial to realize and attend to the geographical manifestations of these sources of support. From this conclusion Rowles creates a hierarchy of spaces based on their level of intensity. In order of significance, these are the home, the surveillance zone (visual field from home), the vicinity (up to 1⁄2 a mile from the surveillance zone), the community (approximately a 2-mile radius), the sub-region (a 25-mile radius), the region (a 250-mile radius), and the nation (over 250 miles). From this framework, Rowles develops the theory of a sociospatial support system where sources of support are tracked based on their geographical location. Each of Rowles’s participants had a varied system based on their personal situations and unique location. Rowles offers this theoretical framework as an opportunity to explore what social supports might be important to come alongside and support the populations with which he is concerned.

Anderson draws on Rowles’s concept of sociospatial support systems to develop the idea of the geography of belonging. She uses the words “social support” and “belonging” interchangeably, a point she attributes to social scientists in their use of the word and ideas of “belonging to other people through our social ties with them.”43 In the introduction to her work she also argues that the significance of this work is tied directly to human well-being.44 Other researchers echo the importance of belonging to one’s well-being.45

In her research with a sample population of adults in Quebec, Anderson seeks to understand better if her sample population feels a sense of belonging to their neighborhood and how ideas of place and space affect one’s social supports. As a result of her findings, she develops a framework for what the geography of belonging encompasses. Anderson names this framework “the modalities of a geography of belonging.” This framework includes three modalities: networks, properties of the person, and milieu. Each modality has several characteristics of expression which Anderson calls “attributes.” Anderson notes that these three modalities do connect with one another but the intricacies of these relationships are not yet possible to explain. In addition, connections and overlaps also are evident within the modalities and the characteristics of these modalities. Anderson specifically notes that “the place in which one resides will in part shape who is available to be part of the support network, just as the availability of kin in particular places will in part shape how supportive those places will be.”46

The network modality has two components: kin and non-kin. This modality is framed within a kin/kinship continuum. The parameters of this continuum are kindred of recognition at one end and kindred of communitatis at the other end. Kindred of recognition are those who are recognized in situations but not those who are emotionally close to the individual as described in the kindred of communitatis. The supporting characteristics of this modality include the frequency of contact, the type of contact, the functional exchanges of support which take place, and the reciprocity of these support exchanges.

The milieu modality has four characteristics: proximate space and distant space, transportation and accessibility, place insideness, and culture. Proximate spaces are those places that can be easily reached, and distant space are those places which are more difficult for an individual to reach. The difficulty of reach depends on the individual and his/her circumstances. The second characteristic builds on the first in measuring the relative simplicity of travel to a place. Anderson found that the actual distance was a factor in the simplicity of travel with less distance being preferred, and this was where sources of support were found. Anderson’s third characteristic was place insideness, and she positions this in line with Rowles’s initial conception of sociospatial support systems. She also notes that the length of time in a particular place seemed to strengthen one’s kinship of recognition and thereby his/her social insideness. Finally, the culture and norms and customs of the place have an impact on the support networks and social support systems that one might build. Anderson gives an example, based on an interview with one participant, who noted “we don’t do that” (in this particular location) with regard to interacting with her neighbors.47

Finally, the “properties of the person” modality is central to the framework as it impacts one’s networks and the milieu. Within this modality, seven characteristics are present. These include: stage of the life-course, need or desire for social support, availability of kin, geographic mobility, attenuating factors (good health, high income), choice, and the essence of being human. The stage of life-course explores the developmental stage of the person and to what extent that impacts their support network. An individual’s need or desire for social support also has an impact on their support network and the extent of this network. This expression of need or desire for social support may vary based on particular life circumstances and expectations for support during these times. The availability of kin also determines to what extent individuals will reach out for support, and the geographic mobility of individuals will determine if those in the support network can be reached physically. Attenuating factors are those that play some level of role in one’s support network. Anderson found that these relate to the health of the individual, the income level, and other life circumstances. Choice is also an important characteristic in this modality. Individuals are able to self-determine many situations in life and he/she will make decisions that have an impact on his/her support networks. The final attribute is “the essence of being human.” Anderson concludes that this essence of being human goes beyond the general notions of well-being, as interpreted through a psychological and physical lens, rather discovering that human beings have an innate need for proximate contact with others who are “cherished most deeply.” This discovery, according to Anderson, implies something deeper about our humanness and she encourages “theologians, metaphysicians and cosmogonists” to explore and identify these dimensions.48 We took this call for further research as an opportunity to explore the dimensions of Christian belonging in place.

A Christian Theology of Belonging

In this section, we outline a basic Christian theology of place and belonging, in order to intersect with the social scientific perspectives outlined above. We pay particular attention to belonging as an individual and communal activity of remembering and joining, which will provide the most important points of intersection with the social scientific perspectives on belonging as we use these lenses to describe the dynamics of belonging in gentrifying urban neighborhoods.

Peoples and Places Belong to God

In contrast to social-scientific treatments, theological approaches to place do not begin with human being or activity. Instead, theological approaches attend to how places are what they are due to divine being and action. For example, Psalm 24 declares that “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” (24.1). The psalm also declares a warrant for that praise: “for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers” (Ps. 24.2). In this psalm, the earth belongs to God because of a particular action: God’s creation of it. Yet Psalm 24 is a liturgical song, likely having its origin as an entrance song for processing with the ark into the temple.49 As such, it is not meant to point serenely to God’s action. It is meant to celebrate that “the earth belongs to God and is therefore gift.”50 But in Psalm 24 it is a way to recognize the unique importance of a particular place, the temple, Mount Zion. While the Holy One accesses the creation anywhere, that universal access is centered on the temple, described as “his holy place” (vs. 3) where Israel can “seek the face of the God of Jacob” (vs. 6) because it is where the “King of glory may come in” (vs. 7, 9). On the other hand, the centering of God’s presence in the temple allows God’s people to recognize and encounter God’s life in the rest of creation. This is the import of Mt. Zion, such that “God is actually at home in Jerusalem … his rule extends literally over Israel, but Zion is simultaneously an evocative symbol of his reign over his whole creation, over all the nations.”51 To celebrate God’s presence in the temple is to celebrate God’s creation and presence to the rest of creation.

It is important to recognize that this theology and practice is set within variegated historical dynamics, dynamics that challenge how the Triune God’s centered and universal presence is received by God’s people. Irreducible from this vision of belonging are the peoples that belong. As Israel comes to Mt. Sinai some 90 days after being delivered from Egypt, Yahweh declares: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself … you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exodus 19.4-6). Israel belongs to God not only because it is God’s creature, but God has delivered this people and covenanted with this people for the sake of all other peoples. They are the people that belong to God for the sake of other nations: they are “a priestly kingdom,” the people “through whom the creator will bless his creation once more.”52 Given the importance of the community in the Hebrew Scriptures, Walter Brueggeman argues the Old Testament, with regard to land and place, is “primarily concerned with the issue of being displaced and yearning for a place.”53 Indeed, he identifies two basic movements in the biblical portrait of place. God’s people, situated within God’s action, are constantly moving from landlessness to landedness in fulfillment of God’s promises or from possession of land to landlessness.54 The Old Testament situates itself within these dynamics in order to address itself to how God’s people can receive the land as a gift—instead of attempting to secure and grasp the land—through the many permutations of these two dynamics. For example, Brueggeman points out that the temple dedication in I Kings 8-9 recognizes the danger of using the temple as a way of providing unfettered “support of the regime” and thus undercuts this temptation by contextualizing it within God’s way of accessing all of creation and the conditional nature of God’s promise of land and place.55 It is only to be received as a gift, by conforming the life of the people of God to God’s presence.56 Yet, Christian approaches to place must reckon with the reality that “the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the center of the biblical narrative and must also be so for a theology of place.”57 Indeed, the centering of God’s presence and God’s universal access to creation depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures is an anticipation of and participation in the way that God newly concentrates God’s presence by becoming a creature.58 As the Gospel of John puts it: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1.14). Yet this newly concentrated divine presence in Christ is not a “deterritorializing of the promise” given to Abraham, counter to some proposals.59 Instead, Paul wrote that Abraham would be “heir of the world” (Rms 4.13).60 The inheritance of Abraham and his descendants in Christ is this world, this creation. It is this world, this creation, that the book of Revelation depicts as the New Jerusalem, “a megasized analogue of the holy of holies in the tabernacle or temple … the focused center of God’s presence on earth.”61 There is indeed no temple in this city. However, God’s glory is invested in the resurrected Christ, in order to be refracted through him into the city (“its lamp is the Lamb,” Rev. 21.23) and for the benefit of the nations who come to the city in pilgrimage and tribute (Rev. 21.24). If places—all places—belong to the Triune God because God creates them, even more so does the creation belong to the Triune God because God becomes a creature in order to re-invest his glory in this creation.

John Inge has drawn many of these theological motifs together by defining place theologically as “the seat of relations or the place of meeting and activity in the interaction between God and the world.”62 Neither location nor people are more fundamental to the reality of place because it is a relation that happens between them as that relation responds to divine action. Inge’s focus is holy or sacramental places, places where God “chooses to make himself known to humanity in and through particular places.”63 This does not mean that holy places are the only places. He writes, “God chose some places for self-revelation to people, just as God chose one place for the incarnation … it is not that God has chosen some places in preference to others, but that holy places point to the redemption of all places in Christ.”64 In other words, holy places are places where God’s redemptive act in and for a place reveals him to be the Triune Lord of that place and all other places. Mt. Sinai, the temple, but most fundamentally the body of Jesus Christ himself, are places that open human beings to their meaning and the meaning of all other places. As we will explore in more detail below through Willie Jennings’ work, in the face of displacement, the resurrected Christ sends the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and beyond, and so this blessing of Israel and the church finally becomes tangibly received and exchanged by the nations. Beginning with Pentecost, the nations are finally empowered to come to the light of Jesus Christ which refracts into all places.

As indicated earlier, it is important to note that theology significantly qualifies a social-scientific approach to belonging. Given that place-making happens in the relation between the Triune God, a location, and a people, it cannot simply be a reality in individual or group identity. Human identity is shaped in location because a place is made what it is by God’s creative and redemptive activity in a location with a particular people. The activity of human beings can either participate more deeply in that activity or fail to conform to God’s life, contributing to meaning of a place in either fruitful or sinful ways. For example, neighborhoods create a unique “insidedness,” in Rowles’ terminology, because God creates, redeems, and perfects in and through places. In Rowles’ terminology, the people of a place have an insideness with God as they have an insideness with others in a place. For example, people can be in a place not simply because they moved there or were born there, but because God has sent and placed them there. Human beings can also displace one another, failing to recognize how God has placed others and how others share an insideness with God (we will describe displacement below, through Willie Jennings’ terms). When Rowles mentions that a person in his study has a sense of comfort from visualizing her own children playing in a house or yard, that sense of comfort results from God’s placement of that family. This reality can become more explicit when someone also expresses the autobiographical significance of worship being offered in a place, but, as we saw above, all places belong to God because God is active in all places. Even if the divine action is not recognized, divine action still creates, redeems, and perfects in and through places and the people that inhabit places.

Belonging as Remembrance and Joining

Given that belonging is a response to and participation in Gods revelatory action, what are markers of that response? Two aspects of belonging are particularly important in changing neighborhoods. First, belonging involves remembering in accord with God’s action in a place. As the literature of memory studies suggests, memory is not a cognitive duplication of past events. Memory “condenses and compounds elements from the flux of experience into economical memory artifacts, creating cognitive scripts that give individuals and the groups to which they belong dispositional orientation to the world.”65 Remembering a place is not trying to retell everything that happens. Remembering a place is about formulating narratives or artifacts which hold together a vast amount of happenings. In part, that means remembering a place as a location to which God commits God’s self in the cross and resurrection and in the whole sweep of God’s action—as narrated in Scripture—that culminates in those events. Even more, it means formulating narrative and artifacts which narrate how God has worked in a particular place. The point of such work is that “memory can enable us to live also but not exclusively in the past. We can live in the past but not by it.”66 That is only possible when our memory is able to recognize, in and through the memory of Christ and the memory of God’s action in a place, that “what matters is … our being under and with God. If it was under and with God, then it is so today and tomorrow.”67 Memory, then, is a way that identity, for groups and individuals, is held together within God’s life. Thus, to remember God’s commitment to a place is to remember who one is.

Remembering God’s action in a place is also a matter of cultivating change that can give witness to God’s action. One brief historical example would be the shifts that took place in early Roman Christianity with regard to burial. The catacombs of Rome, at least by the third century CE, show Christians redrawing burial space. While Romans would bury cremated remains, Jews refused cremation and practiced inhumation instead.68 Christians followed Jewish practice, due to what historian Robert Wilken calls Christianity’s commitment to the “sanctity of the body” and a particular sense of the communion of saints.69 We can see through inscriptions that the catacombs—shaped as they were—were a way of changing space so that the space could be a way of witnessing to what God in Christ had done in that place.70 Consider a few examples: “Zosimus, peace be with you”; “Lord Jesus, remember our daughter” (referring to “the dear and well-loved Siricia”); “On 20 March I, Parthenius, took my refreshment in God, as we all did.”71 The first two examples are prayers for Christians by Christians, indicating that that place was marked by God’s activity in those persons. These two inscriptions quite literally mark the space, shaping the space in light of that divine activity. The third inscription is particularly important. The reference is clearly to a meal in the catacomb, probably a funerary meal as was common.72 Either way, the inscription is not about the dead who were buried in the catacomb, but about the living who ate together in the presence of the bodies of other saints, and whose lives were marked by the presence of God in that particular place. In other words, the inscription indicates that those who ate there somehow belonged to that place, given what had happened there.

This brings us to a second dimension of belonging: joining. It is important to note that the catacomb markings of the Roman church were remembrances of other people who were participants in God’s action in a place. Given Inge’s matrix as well as the geographical theory outlined above, belonging is also a social relation.

The work of theologian Willie Jennings has elaborated on this relation, especially in light of the implications for race. Jennings argues that modern “racial imagination … draws its life from copying a centered existence between animals, landscape and peoples.”73 In other words, racial ordering that arose in late medieval and modern colonialism is a means of driving a wedge between communal identity and the land they inhabit. Peoples no longer have to be identified by or identified with a particular place – they are simply different shades of black and those who are different shades of black can be used or educated by those who are white due to supposed black inferiority or lack of black development.74 In other words, blackness is a falsely homogenized identity that is only made possible through forced displacement. Before the slave trade, there were no blacks. There were only those who came from particular places and whose social systems took their cues from those places. Jennings argues that a cultural condition of this way of understand- ing human identity is the intransigence of supercessionism in Christian theology and culture. He “crudely” defines supercessionism: “the church replaces Israel in the mind and heart of God.”75 Due to supercessionism, faithful Christian identity becomes radically unmoored from the land and people of Israel. Israel is what it is because it lives with the gift of a particular tract of land. If Christians—meaning usually European Christians—have replaced Israel such that to be a faithful follower of the Creator is to be a Christian – that may also mean that a particular tract of place is no longer identifiable with God’s people. Given supercessionism, place becomes optional for Christian identity, thus making expansion of property—colonialism—seem perfectly legitimate for Europeans. This allows the “positioning” of Christian identity “fully within European (white) identity and fully outside the identities of Jews and Muslims.”76 At the same time, according to this supercessionist ideology, removing blacks from their place for the sake of their Christianization becomes more plausible since blacks, like whites, would also not depend on their location for their identity. Without recognizing that Jews and Christians are now identifiable together in connection to particular tracts of land, including the land of Israel/Palestine, their own land becomes simply a commodity instead of a location where they have been placed in God’s economy.

In opposition to this dominant Western theological imagination, Jennings sketches a Christian theology and culture in which the difference between Israel and Gentiles becomes a means of communion, a means of joining. The book of Acts, especially Pentecost in Acts 2 and the new relationship between Peter and the centurion’s family in Acts 10, depicts “the joining of bodies and lives in the worship of the God who was witnessed by Jesus” such that life is lived “in submersion and in submission to another’s cultural realities.”77 Jews and Gentiles can now belong to each other, and they can belong to each other just as they belong to their own people precisely because “the kinship network in Israel would be profoundly qualified. Jesus came first – not husband or wife, not mother, father, sister, brothers, not familial obligations and demands, not cultural conventions and not social responsibilities.”78 Jennings carefully and forthrightly claims that this is not about living in parallel; the resurrected Christ who pours out the Holy Spirit introduces “a new reality of belonging that drew together different peoples in a way of life that intercepted ancient bonds and redrew them around the body of Jesus and in the power of the Spirit.”79 While one’s inherited kinship is never lost in this communion, this communion will reorient and reorganize the history and identity of a people for those that belong to Christ and to God’s people. Jews will now eat with Gentiles and vice versa.

What is the warrant for this redrawing of identity, in which peoples maintain their identity only as they are joined to others with identities unlike their own? In short, the God of Israel gathers together in Christ what God has done in and with Israel. Considering the Exodus and the settlement of Israel, Willie Jennngs claims that “YHWH repositioned the importance of land for Israel.”80 Land is not a fundamental source of life, despite appearances. Even less, the gods of the land or those who rule any particular land are not to be worshipped or served or receive deference as those they provide life. Neither Pharaoh nor the Canaanites nor their gods are what they appear to be. No, instead, for Israel, “God stands between them and the land, constantly showing divine sovereignty over the land as its creator.”81 The Creator—YHWH—is the giver of life, not the land, not Pharoah, not the gods of the land, not the Canaanites who happen to live in the land. Jennings even goes as far as to say that “YHWH, not the land, defines their identity.”82 Given that Israel is indeed God’s people, and all people participate in Israel’s history (and thus do not replace Israel), God’s gift of land to Israel is simply God announcing a “divine claim from the land of Israel on all land and all peoples.”83 In other words, God does not simply stand between the land of Palestine and the people of Israel; God stands between any land and its people. The land of Israel and all other lands belong to YHWH, its creator. Thus, in Christ, belonging to a place and people is definitively redrawn, reoriented, requalified, redetermined, to use Jennings’ vocabulary. Israel’s mission to bless the nations is not accomplished by replacing Israel or Gentiles. Gentile cultures and Jewish cultures are both what they are because of their belonging to certain places. Thus, neither people nor places are to be replaced or displaced by other people and places. Instead, for Jennings, the reality of God’s people is a “joining to other peoples exactly in and through joining their lives on the ground.”84 Jews and Gentiles are meant to be joined. Places and people are to be joined, not replaced or displaced. Places and peoples are to be preserved, renewed and reoriented in testimony to God’s action in Christ.

Gentrifying Urban Neighborhoods and A Theology of Belonging

Following Jennings, then, urban neighborhoods that are gentrifying are faced with potentially displacing peoples instead of joining them.85 Jennings’ vision is particularly important in this regard, because it recognizes and even celebrates that neither places nor identities shaped in belonging to them are static.86 Instead, the idea is that “a life-giving collaboration of identity between place and bodies, people and animals” would occur along with “the possibility of new identities bound up with entering new spaces.”87 Absolute resistance against gentrification is neither possible nor healthy.88 Given Rowles’s articulation of insideness, displacement is not fundamentally a matter of a change in the people or physicality of location. As Rowles noted, persons often experience insideness long after the physicality of a place has changed. Given Jennings’ work on belonging, displacement is what occurs when a people joined together in a place become disjoined from the new cultures that constantly make and remake a place in modern contexts. Jennings’ work puts displacement on a broad canvas, including both those who are pushed out of neighborhoods due to patterns of gentrification or a kind of social displacement as we will see below.

A good example of the possibility of displacement comes from a study of the Heartside neighborhood in Grand Rapids, MI.89 In the late 1800s this neighborhood was known for its prominence in the furniture-making industry. Its prominence continued until the Great Depression left the neighborhood in economic decline. Racial tensions in the 1960s and deinstitutionalization of mental health facilities exacerbated the issues in the neighborhood and left a large portion of residents who were single, unemployed males and low-income families.90 Over the last 30 years this neighborhood has been shifting from a population of largely low-income residents and the social service agencies that serve them, to a neighborhood that now includes renovated housing, streets, businesses, and entertainment options of various sorts.91 In response to their feelings about these changes, many of the low-income residents report significant social support from their peers and social services agencies, and also report feeling positive about the changes in the neighborhood.92 Yet, they also report new divisions in the neighborhood. One resident mentioned that on Friday nights you could see “the upper-class on one side” of a street and “the less fortunate are on the other side.”93 Another resident reported noticing visitors to the neighborhood turning their heads away from him or crossing over to the other side of the street when he was near.94 As one resident put it directly, “there’s a division between the two.”95 Note the contrast between the approval of the changes in the physicality of Heartside and the discomfort the long-standing residents feel as they traverse their own neighborhood. They still some experience physical insideness, in Rowles’ terminology. But their social insideness—their sense of a shared values and behavioral norms—is diminishing.

The diminishment of their social insidedness is related to the network modality that Anderson formulates. Heartside residents do mention that the new visitors are not part of what Anderson calls kindred of recognition. They simply recognize fewer people on a regular basis. This may diminish their sense of belonging somewhat. But, given that many expressed appreciation with regard to the changes, it is perhaps more likely that the diminishing sense of belonging has to do with changing behavioral norms. For long-term residents of Heartside, the kindred networks have been very supportive on multiple levels. As one resident put it, Heartside is a place where “[Residents] always tell you where to find food, find new clothes, get new clothes, where to go get an ID if that’s what you need … they help, they tell you where to go. It’s cool. It’s alright. They help you. ” Now, fewer and fewer people are recognized, and they dress differently, and show evidence of having more money than long-standing residents. Most significantly, many residents expressed that they were “not welcome” in the new restaurants.96 Indeed, one resident thought that a double-standard for behavior was in place: “These people have money, so they are, you know, bringing in money to the community, so it’s okay for them to be loud, be obnoxious and to disturb a lot of the people that live down here and are less fortunate.”97 As Anderson identifies, belonging happens within a network of relationships, some of which are more supportive than others. Belonging does not mean that every relationship carries with significant social support, but it does mean that behavioral norms are shared in a particular place. New visitors and residents will undoubtedly change behavioral norms, however. Indeed, as noted, the residents of Heartside talk about their sense of belonging in the neighborhood as it changes, they do not suggest that visitors should not be included or that no changes should be made. Thus, in the face of change, how does belonging work? How is social insidedness maintained and nurtured?

Jennings’ theological work is particularly important at this stage. In Jennings’ terminology, the long-standing residents have a diminished sense of social insideness—a sense of displacement—because of a lack of joining. Again, many long-standing residents were happy with structural “improvements.”98 However, the new residents and visitors to the neighborhood do not appear to be well-joined to the culture and habits of the more long-standing residents, and vice versa. They are not submersed and submitted to one another’s cultures, as Jennings puts it. There is a sense that the long-standing residents have to submit to the new visitors and their expectations, but few of them experience new visitors submitting to the practices of long-standing residents. Instead, there is a division between the two. There are two different expectations for how to behave in the neighborhood, and fewer and fewer people are being recognized. And those that are not recognized by the long-standing residents do not function as sources of support. Lastly, Jennings offers that mutual submersion and submission will, in the long run, allow for new identities to be formed. But there is little possibility of these kinds of new identities being formed, given the absence of this kind of joining. Thus, the long-standing residents are experiencing some level of displacement.

The Heartside neighborhood, while an example of a gentrifying urban neighborhood, has significant protective factors that have slowed the impact of resident displacement seen through gentrification. These protective factors include the numerous social service agencies, many of whom provide shelters, and other housing opportunities in the neighborhood that remain available to those currently in the neighborhood through rent-controlled leases.

From the angle of the physicality of a place, gentrifying neighborhoods are also faced with replacing the physical form of a place instead of joining new forms to old. As we noted above with regard to the catacombs, this is particularly important for the nurturing of memory. Insideness is largely a function of individual and social memory, and it does not require the static physicality of a location, as Rowles’ work and the Heartside study confirm.

However, if the social service agencies and the kind of housing available to the long-standing residents of the Heartside neighborhood were to be replaced, then that appraisal of the physical changes may not be so positive.99 These are the kinds of situations in which political resistance may occur. Geographer Michael Crutcher, in his study of the struggles around the Treme in New Orleans, notes that long-standing residents are in favor of re-investment that preserves the culture of a place along with its buildings. But architecture will “trump” culture, he notes.100 In other words, changing the physical location will change how people relate to one another in the place. Preservation can actually be a problem, as it is in the Treme where preservationists bent on preserving a building in a particular form can undercut the current culture of a place (in that context, live music). Instead, the goal of physical change has to be the kind of joining that Jennings mentions. As Barth mentioned above, one of the goals of remembrance is the empowerment of a lived continuity in individuals and groups. For Barth, the action that must be sustained is faithful witness to God in Christ. A condition of that sort of Christian witness, though, is the capacity to bring forward a culture with the memory of where it has been. How can the Christian community confidently provide a witness to how God has acted in neighborhoods if there is little memory left to interpret?101 That means joining memories. Replacing structures through demolition or preservation, if done without carefully working to carry on the memory of a place in its current residents, will eventually erode memories instead of joining them. Joining memories in changing neighborhoods is thus a way of conforming social action to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even though Jennings does not draw this connection, it is important to recognize how Jennings’ interpretation of Pentecost is implied by Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Lands and peoples are to be joined, not replace or displaced because, as Thomas Torrance has pointed out, the resurrection grounds the reality of the creation in God’s own life. The resurrection shakes off any sense “that man’s actuality as man, as creature in a creaturely world, is ephemeral, that he must vanish away with all the changes and chances of fleeting time.”102 Resurrection brings a fundamental transformation of creation in which God’s glory in Christ thoroughly evidences itself throughout the creation, bringing creation to an end that transcends its own created boundaries. However, in that transformation, resurrection is “the final affirming of the creation”103; and the resurrection “affirmed the reality of God’s creation even for God, as well as the reality of God for the creation.”104 The resurrection, then, is God’s final commitment, final claim to land and peoples as they have been created. Land and peoples are indeed transformed in and through the resurrection, but their unique histories and identities are never lost. In the resurrection, people and places are preserved in their being transformed. Conforming to this pattern is also the challenge for changing neighborhoods.


In accord with Jennings’ interpretation of Pentecost, the joining of peoples happens because their relationship is fundamentally mediated by God’s self-revelation as the one to whom all lands belong. Thus, without places and peoples nurturing memory of common belonging to God, it becomes difficult, and, on an eschatological scale, impossible for joining to be sustained. What fundamentally binds a place together, in light of God’s self-revelation in Christ, is God’s involvement as creator, redeemer, and perfecter of creation. The transformation of creation happens because the creation cannot be what it is meant to be without that redemption. As Paul puts it, the creation awaits a freedom from its “bondage to decay” (Rms 8.21), which happens as the children of God are ultimately revealed. Thus, those who work on belonging should find ways to find ways to nurture common memory of God’s action in a place. Forging a common memory will be quite difficult work, given that the groups will often belong to a place through conflicting narratives of a place – as seen in the Heartside neighborhood above. But, that is precisely where Christian habits of truth-telling, patience and confession are necessary and vital.105 That is the work of Christian witness, at its core.

However, even when such a witness receives mixed reception, there should be a confidence that working on joining peoples and places can have an effect even when divine lordship is not accepted. Good examples of this are the truth and reconciliation processes that have been undertaken in order to deal with massive cultural traumas, processes that reach across religious lines.106 While it is best not to think that creation can be “complete in itself and can be defined without reference to the history of redemption,” the work of the Holy Spirit can enable ways of being that can approximate but not duplicate that redemption, including truth and reconciliation processes or other similar efforts that work to join people and places where displacement is a problem.107 We can distinguish between the “general providential action of the Spirit” from the “more specific indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.”108 Theologies of natural law, common grace, or even creation in someone like Karl Barth, testify to God’s faithfulness to the created order (although each of them do this in very different ways) – a faithfulness that continues to bind the created order together, even when creatures do not bind themselves to the life of the Triune God. Even so, those who work for belonging, given that the creation is what it is as a sign of God’s glory most fully revealed in Christ, should work for ways of joining places and peoples that are at least interpretable in light of the divine signification in creation.109

Leaders, neighbors, and friends living in or observing neighborhoods undergoing change are important persons to engage in this call of joining of peoples. While there is much to critique in the processes and outcomes that exist for so many residents living in rapidly changing neighborhoods, there are also several practical models of individuals and groups that have engaged in this work faithfully for years.110 The impact that these groups and so many others not often recognized make to the joining of persons and human well-being are significant and much can be learned from the practical ways this is lived out through these models of Christian life in community.

As noted at the beginning of the article, our central thesis is that a theology of joining both demonstrates the limits of some social-scientific perspectives for describing belonging and displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods and can specify more fully the dynamics of belonging and displacement without eliminating social science as a dialogue partner. This theological framework can be used to shape thoughtful questions about belonging and place as specific neighborhoods are undergoing change. Questions such as where one sees opportunities for memory keeping and memory making for the purpose of memory joining in these neighborhoods and how God’s redemptive work might be best realized for people and both built and institutional/societal structures through the process of neighborhood change. Additional explorations are needed with regard to how to join peoples and places in pluralistic contexts while also acknowledging divine action as the basis for belonging. A particular challenge has to do with undertaking and conceptualizing practices that can identify wrongdoing and injustice in place-making and displacement and work as a means of doing justice and seeking reconciliation between cultures where these acts have occurred.111 All of these additional questions must seek to find ways to recognize both the reality of human belonging, such that belonging to a place is part and parcel of what it means to belong a people, while also recognizing that human beings find themselves located within constant change, both warranted by God’s action and resistant to God’s action. Our hope is that we have been able to make a contribution to the scholarship on gentrification, in light of these realities.

Cite this article
Keith E. Starkenburg and Mackenzi Huyser, “A Christian Perspective on Belonging: A Case Example of a Gentrifying Urban Neighborhood”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 47:3 , 239-262


  1. Craig Bartholomew, Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 247.
  2. In part, this article is a work of contextual theology, or what Reinhard Hutter calls a “discourse practice” of the church that seeks to be “perceiving and judging how specific doctrines inform particular contexts in which the church finds itself and what kind of challenge particular contexts raise for the communication and presentation of particular doctrines.” See Reinhard Hutter, “The Church,” in Knowing the Triune God, eds. James Buckley and David Yeago (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans: 2001), 44.
  3. W. Dennis Keating and Janet Smith, “Neighborhoods in Transition,” in Revitalizing Urban Neighborhoods, eds. W. Dennis Keating, Norman Krumholz, and Philip Star (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1996); and Jon C. Teaford, The Rough Road to Renaissance: Urban Re- vitalization in America 1940-1985 (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990).
  4. Yale Rabin, “The Persistence of Racial Isolation,” in Urban Planning and the African American Community: In the Shadows, eds. June Manning Thomas and Marsha Ritzdorf (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 1997).
  5. Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of how our Government Segregated America (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017).
  6. Ruth Glass, “Introduction: Aspects of Change” in London: Aspects of Change, ed. Centre for Urban Studies (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1964).
  7. Lance Freeman, “Displacement or Succession? Residential Mobility in Gentrifying Neighborhoods,” Urban Affairs Review 40 (2005): 463.
  8. For a review of the literature related to researched gentrification outcomes, see Rowland Atkinson, “Does Gentrification Help or Harm Urban Neighbourhoods? An Assessment of Evidence Based in the Context of the New Urban Agenda,” ESRC Centre for Neighbourhood Research Paper 5 (2002).
  9. Marc Fried, “Grieving for a Lost Home,” in The Urban Condition: People and Policy in the Metropolis, ed. Leonard Duhl (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1963).
  10. Aristotle, Physics, 212a20-21.
  11. Edward Casey, Getting Back into Place, 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 2009), 29.
  12. Concepts of place attachment can be found in Setha Low & Irwin Altman, “Place Attachment: A Conceptual Inquiry,” in Place Attachment: Human Behavior and Environment Advances in Theory and Research, eds. Irwin Altman and Setha Low (New York, Plenum Press, 1992).
  13. Thomas Gieryn, “A Space for Place in Sociology,” Annual Review of Sociology 26 (2000): 463-96.
  14. Low and Altman, “Place Attachment,” 2.
  15. “belong, adj.” Oxford English Dictionary. 1887. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 3 August 2015.
  16. For a historical background on the emergence of the explorations into place attachment, see Low and Altman, “Place Attachment.”
  17. Ibid.,” 2.
  18. Sally Schumaker & Janet Hankin, “The Bonds Between People and their Residential Environments: Theory and Research,” Population and Environment 7 (1984): 59-60.
  19. Low and Altman, “Place Attachment,” 4
  20. Stephen Kaplan, “Affect and Cognition in the Context of Home: The Quest for Intangibles,” Population and Environment 7 (1984): 126-33.
  21. Schumaker and Hankin, “The Bonds between People and their Residential Environments,” 60.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Leila Scannell and Robert Gifford, “Defining Place Attachment: A Tripartite Organizing Framework,” Journal of Environmental Psychology 30 (2010): 1-10.
  24. Ibid., 3.
  25. Fried, “Grieving for a Lost Home.”
  26. Maria Giuliani, “Theory of Attachment and Place Attachment,” in Psychological Theories for Environmental Issues, eds. Mirilia Bonnes, Terence Lee and Marino Bonaiuto (Aldershot: Ash- gate, 2003); and Sara Ahmed, Claudia Casteneda, Anne-Marie Fortier, and Mimi Sheller, eds., Uprootings/Regroundings: Questions of Home and Migration (New York: Berg Publishing, 2003).
  27. Scannell and Gifford, “Defining Place Attachment,” 4-5.
  28. Graham David Rowles, “Growing Old “Inside”: Aging and Attachment to Place in an Appalachian Community,” in Transitions in Aging, eds. Nancy Datan & Nancy Lohmann (New York: Academic Press, 1980).
  29. Graham David Rowles, “Place and Personal Identity in Old Age: Observations from Appalachia,” Journal of Environmental Psychology 3 (1983): 299-313; and Graham David Rowles, “Geographical Dimensions of Social Support in Rural Appalachia,” in Aging and Milieu: Environmental Perspectives on Growing Old, eds. Graham Rowles & Russell Ohta (New York: Academic Press, 1983).
  30. Dale Anderson, “The Geography of Belonging: Place, Proximity, and Social Support” (University of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Unpublished Dissertation, 2003).
  31. Rowles, “Growing Old,” 157.
  32. Ibid., 159.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Additional literature could be explored on the topics of bonding vs. bridging social capital; see Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2000).
  35. Ibid., 160.
  36. Ibid., 161.
  37. Ibid., 162.
  38. Rowles, “Place and Personal Identity.”
  39. Ibid., 308.
  40. Rowles, “Geographical Dimension of Social Support,” 111-30.
  41. Ibid., 117.
  42. Ibid., 118.
  43. Anderson, “Geography of Belonging,” 1.
  44. Ibid., 2.
  45. Gordon Jack, “The Role of Place Attachments in Wellbeing,” in Wellbeing and Place, eds. Sarah Atkinson, Sara Fuller, and Joe Painter (Abington: Ashgate Publishing, 2012); and Jennifer G. La Guardia, Richard M. Ryan, Charles E. Couchman, and Edward L. Deci, “Within-Person Variation in Security of Attachment: A Self-Determination Theory Perspective on Attachment, Need Fulfillment, and Well-Being,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 79, (2000): 367-84.
  46. Anderson, “Geography of Belonging,” 198.
  47. Ibid., 197.
  48. Ibid., 194-195.
  49. Claus Westermann, The Living Psalms (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 277.
  50. Timothy Gorringe, Theology of the Built Environment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 58.
  51. Bartholomew, 81.
  52. N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 263.
  53. Walter Brueggeman, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise and Challenge in Biblical Faith, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 2.
  54. Ibid., 15-16, 67-68, 169-70, and throughout the text.
  55. Ibid., 81.
  56. Norman Habel builds on Brueggeman’s work, identifying six different ideologies of land and place in the Old Testament (Norman Habel, The Land is Mine [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995]).
  57. Bartholomew, 245.
  58. This way of putting the matter is similar to how Hans Boersma describes common patristic modes of relating the Hebrew Scriptures to the events and realities opened in the New Testament. He writes the following about the church fathers’ approach to scripture: “they were convinced that the reality of the Christ even was already present (sacramentally) within the history described within the Old Testament narrative”; “the coming of Christ is the hidden reality (the occulta) of the Old Testament narratives, invisible in the text of the Old Testament when it is read all by itself” (Hans Boersma, Scripture as Real Presence [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017], 12, 15).
  59. W. D. Davies, The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994, reprint 1974), 179.
  60. James Hester observes that Paul “does not say that Abraham and his descendants will inherit the World to Come, but that they are heirs of the world” (James Hester, Paul’s Concept of Inheritance [Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1968], 81). Mark Forman has picked up and expanded Hester’s arguments in light of developments in Pauline scholarship, especially work in the wake of E. P. Sanders and reading Paul as a critique of imperial theology. See Mark Forman, The Politics of Inheritance [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011].
  61. J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and New Earth (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 171.
  62. John Inge, A Christian Theology of Place (Burlington: Ashgate, 2003), 52.
  63. Ibid., 86.
  64. Ibid., 100.
  65. Alan Kirk, “Memory Theory: Cultural and Cognitive Approaches to the Gospel Tradition,” in Understanding the Social World of the New Testament, eds. Dietmar Neufeld and Richard DeMaris (London: Routledge, 2009), 58.
  66. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/2, trans. and eds. G. W. Bromiley, T. F. Torrance, et al (London: T & T Clark, 1957), 539.
  67. Ibid.
  68. While there is much debate about reasons for the shift in Roman culture from cremation in the mid to late first century CE to inhumation in the fourth century, the predominant mode of burial for Jews in late antiquity was inhumation. It is quite possible that catacombs were a development within Roman culture of previous kinds of burial, which then became convenient for Jewish and Christian practice of inhumation and other ways of commemorating the dead. See John Bodel, “From Columbaria to Catacombs: Collective Burial in Pagan and Christian Rome, in Commemorating the Dead: Studies of Roman, Jewish and Christian Burials, eds. L. Brink and D. Green (Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), 177-242. For more on late antique Jewish burial practice in Rome, see Leonard Rutgers, The Jews in Late Ancient Rome (Leiden: Brill, 1995). For Jewish burial practice in Palestine in the first century CE, see Byron McCane, Roll Back the Stone: Death and Burial in the World of Jesus (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2003).
  69. Robert Wilken, The First Thousand Years (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 48. Wilken’s first claim is confirmed by Eric Rebillard’s recent study of Christian burial in late antiquity. Rebillard writes that “when Christians had to defend their preference for inhumation, in a society where creation remained, or had been, the norm for a long time, they did not stress their belief in the resurrection, but the respect for the body” (Eric Rebillard, The Care of the Dead in Late Antiquity, trans. Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings and Jeanine Routier-Pucci [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009], 88). Bernard Green confirms Wilken’s point about the communion of saints: “The catacombs were never a place for the living to take refuge but they were a place where the living could gather in union with their dead in prayer and ritual meals” (Christianity in Ancient Rome [New York: T & T Clark, 2010, 186]).
  70. See Robert Wilken’s claim that “the first palpable sign that Christianity was beginning to occupy public space was the construction of a Christian cemetery in Rome” (Ibid., 47). For a survey of the scholarship on the origins of early Christian art, see Robin Jensen, Understanding Early Christian Art (New York: Routledge, 2000), 8-31.
  71. The first two examples are from Robert Milburn, Early Christian Art and Architecture (Oakland: University of California Press, 1991), 36-37. The last example is from James Stevenson, The Catacombs: Rediscovered Monuments of Early Christianity (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1978), 164.
  72. For treatments of Christian funerary meal practices, see Robin Jensen, “Dining with the Dead: From the Mensa to the Altar in Christian Late Antiquity,” in Commemorating the Dead, eds. Brink and Green, 107-44.
  73. Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 289.
  74. Ibid., 35-38.
  75. Ibid., 32-33.
  76. Ibid., 33.
  77. Ibid., 266. It is important to recognize, as described above, that the Jew-Gentile distinction is not identical in form to the racial distinctions that emerged in the late medieval/ early modern colonialism based on skin color. Jennings is presenting an ecclesiology that critiques this sort of racial ordering while also providing a more just picture of how cultural differences could and should be bridged.
  78. Ibid., 264.
  79. Ibid., 269.
  80. Ibid., 255.
  81. Ibid.
  82. Ibid, 256. Jennings is more careful on another occasion about ordering identity: “If land is absolutely crucial to the identity of a people, then God stood always ‘in the way,’ as it were, between Israel and its desire for land, reordering its identity first in relation to the divine word and then to the land” (Ibid., 212).
  83. Ibid., 257.
  84. Ibid., 290.
  85. The angle of vision in the following section intersects with Mark Mulder, Shades of White Flight (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015). Mulder’s work concerns the social conditions that allowed for the suburbanization of seven congregations of the Christian Reformed Church in North America in the 1960s and 1970s. He identifies three factors which contribute to this white flight: the fissiparous history and culture of the churches, the lack of ties to place in these ecclesial cultures, and a church polity that is weighted toward the authority of congregations over larger bodies (143-46). With regard to the role of place in this story of white flight, Mulder concludes, “though these churches had a conception of place, they often manipulated it to make it more comfortable for themselves” and that “they had strong, cohesive in-group ties, but no bridging ties” (93-94). Our work would offer another suggestion for a point of analysis and research: these churches may not have regarded themselves as belonging to those particular stretches of land and, in light of Jennings, did not perceive the work of the Holy Spirit as enacting joining, mutual submersion and submission between cultures.
  86. Timothy Gorringe comments that “the need to cater very large numbers of refugees, caused now not just by wars and economic displacement but by climate change, is likewise an absolute priority. Local identities have never been static, in any case … somehow, we need to create for ourselves both open place, at the same time as open place (Theology of the Built Environment, 76).
  87. Jennings, 63.
  88. Bob Lupton, “Gentrification with Justice” by Faith Online: http://sites.silaspartners. com/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID323422_CHID664014_CIID2235910,00.html and Katherine Hankins & Andy Walter, “’Gentrification with Justice’: An Urban Ministry Collective and the Practice of Place-making in Atlanta’s Inner-city Neighborhoods,” Urban Studies 49 (2012): 1507- 1526.
  89. For a more complete history of the city of Grand Rapids specific to the experience of African Americans who settled there after the Great Migration, see Randal Maurice Jelks, African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Grand Rapids (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2006); and Todd E. Robinson, A City within a City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids MI (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013).
  90. Mackenzi Huyser and Judi Ravenhorst Meerman, “Resident Perceptions of Redevelopment and Gentrification in the Heartside Neighborhood: Lessons for the Social Work Profession,” Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare XLI (2014).
  91. Ibid., 6-8.
  92. Ibid., 11-13.
  93. Ibid., 16.
  94. Ibid., 16.
  95. Ibid., 17.
  96. Ibid., 15.
  97. Ibid., 14.
  98. Ibid., 13.
  99. Indeed, some of the social service agencies in this neighborhood have been considering whether moving to another location is the best way to respond to the changes. See Mackenzi Huyser and Judi Ravenhorst Meerman, Organizational Strategy in a Gentrifying Neighborhood,” Administration in Social Work 38 (2014): 448-58.
  100. Michael Crutcher, Treme: Race and Place in a New Orleans Neighborhood (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010), 126.
  101. See Sarah Schulman, Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination (Oakland: University of California Press, 2012) for an argument about how displacement has made the remembrance of the history of AIDS difficult.
  102. Thomas Torrance, Space, Time, and Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976) 80.
  103. Ibid., 58.
  104. Ibid., 80.
  105. Jennifer McBride’s recent argument that the church’s stance in the modern context must be one of confession and repentance is particularly important in this regard (Jennifer McBride, The Church for the World: A Theology of Public Witness [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012]).
  106. In terms of theological sources see the well-known works by Desmond Tutu (Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness [New York: Doubleday, 1999]) and John De Gruchy (John De Gruchy, Reconciliation: Restoring Justice [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002]). From a political science perspective, the work of Daniel Philpott is crucial. See especially Daniel Philpott, Just and Unjust Peace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
  107. John Webster, Barth’s Ethics of Reconciliation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 64.
  108. David Stubbs, “Practices, Core Practices, and the Work of the Holy Spirit,” Journal for Christian Theological Research 9 (2004), 27. For more on this, see also David Stubbs “Kuyper’s Common Grace and Kelsey: Polishing a Reformed Gem,” Journal of Reformed Theology 10 (2016): 314-39.
  109. For more on this theme, see Keith Starkenburg, “Inheriting the world: Heavenly citizenship and place,” Review and Expositor 112 (August-September 2015), 390-402.
  110. See, for example, the extensive work of leaders who founded and continue to lead efforts of the Christian Community Development Association.
  111. These are huge issues, but it may be best to enter these dynamics through the lenses of the history of Natives peoples and the practical rejection of their belonging to places, as demonstrated by the takeover enacted by European powers. The doctrine of discovery is at the center of this question. See Robert Miller, et al, Discovering Indigenous Lands: The Doctrine of Discovery in the English Colonies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

Keith E. Starkenburg

Trinity Christian College
Keith E. Starkenburg is a professor of theology at Trinity Christian College and an ordained minister of the Reformed Church in America.

Mackenzi Huyser

Trinity Christian College
Mackenzi Huyser is a former Professor of Social Work and Dean for Faculty Development and Academic Programs and current Executive Director of the Chicago Semester at Trinity Christian College.