I admit up front that the high temperatures and humidity have gotten the better of me, and I'm already in a coffee shop blogging after about three and half hours of walking. So analysis of actual neighborhoods and conversations will be shorter than previous posts. Also, those following this blog may have noticed no Tuesday posts the last two weeks. I was in Iowa on vacation two weeks ago, and at a Stephen Ministry Leader Training conference in Dallas last week, two trips I (wisely) didn't want to signify on a public blog.
Today I wasn't sure where I would tread. I took off through our neighborhood to the southwest of the church, re-treading a street I've walked a couple of times, but then turned one block up into a well-manicured and quiet residential area. I walked up two different cul de sacs, and suddenly realized I was turned around in my own neighborhood. Walked Stanton, which I thought would take me to either Rollings Hills or College, only to find that I had gotten completely turned around and was back up on Old Wire Road when I finally emerged from the neighborhood. I still don't quite understand how the streets are laid out in this neighborhood. The hills disguise some turns and corners, I think.
If you just read the above paragraph, but are not from Fayetteville, you are probably as confused as I was while walking. However, this is an unremarked aspect of true peripateticism. If you are learning a place not from a bird's eye view, but on the ground, you will get lost. It's part of the game.
In fact, just last night I was reading a book the title of which might surprise you, Ivan Illich's In the Vineyard of the Text: A Commentary to Hugh's Didascalicon. Yes, I'm actually reading a book with that title, and it's awesome! Trust me.
Ivan writes, "The child's mind [in medieval Paris] was trained to build the memory mazes, and to establish the habit to dart and retrieve in them. Remembrance was not conceived as an act of mapping but of psychomotor, morally charged activity. As a modern youth, from childhood on I was trained to the Baedeker. As a mountain guide I learned to decipher maps and photographs before venturing into the rock. Decades later, when I first arrived in Japan I purchased a map of Tokyo. But I was not allowed to use it. My host's wife simply refused to let me map my way through the city's mazes by looking at them, mentally, from above. Day after day she led me around this, and then that corner, until I could navigate the labyrinth and reach the destinations without ever knowing abstractly where I was. Reference work before the table of contents and the index must have been much more like this kind of mapless orientation for which our modern schools disqualify us." (37)
I have tried purposefully on each of these walks to not see a map of the neighborhood I'm walking before I walk it. I do not have a "bird's eye view" in mind, even though, given the quality of Google maps, it would be easy to do so.
Instead, I experience, in the body, the twists and turns of the landscape. And today I even got lost. Having gotten lost, I decided to take that as a hint from God, so I walked the neighborhood I'd turned to by mistake, including a small side street behind the Jehovah's Witness, Strawberry Lane (Oh, and I tried to stop in and visit Oak Manor Christian Church, which was a beautiful grounds to walk around on, but no one was there). Thus far I had only chatted up some construction workers working on a street on Stanton, but on Strawberry Lane one woman was out planting a new flower garden, in the heat of the day, and I paused to compliment her on her diligence. She mentioned that if you water plants, you can plant most anything, even in the heat. Then she offered me a glass of cold water.
Surprisingly, in all my walking, this was the first person who had ever offered a glass of water. I happen to be of the same mind as this woman, and always offer guests a glass of water or some other beverage, but in all my walks in Fayetteville, she was the first person to do so. One bank I visited three weeks ago gave us bottles of cold water, also very kind.
We stood in the shade of her garage and talked about the neighborhood. Apparently, it had actually been a strawberry field before being converted into a housing unit by developers. This is a small neighborhood I drive around each day to get to preschool or church. A pleasant and neighborly conversation.
Got back on my walk, and fielded a call from a member of our church who had a question about 1 Timothy 2:11, concerning women keeping silent in church and their teaching authority. Without going into the details of the conversation itself, I note that while talking on a cell phone, you stop noticing anything at all about your surroundings. I hung up right as I arrived at my own house, then reviewed in my mind's eye the walk I had just accomplished over the last 15 minutes. Whereas the walking prior to the cell phone conversation was vivid, and I could picture individual yards, turns, streets, etc. the walk while on the phone was all focused on the conversation itself. Clearly you can get from place to place while on the phone, but you don't notice the places very well. The conversation itself, however, was worth the time and inattention to street detail.
[for those now wondering what I might have said about 1 Timothy 2:11, here's my short version. 1) Women do not need to keep silent in church, and they have full authority by right of their baptism to teach and preach. 2) Blah blah blah about context, historical development, relative importance of various parts of Scripture over against each other. 3) The bible is not Christ--it is the cradle in which Christ is lain. If something in Scripture seems against Christ, go with Christ, not with Scripture. 4) If you have more questions, read Pastoral Epistles with Philemon & Jude, The (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), which winsomely addresses gender issues in these letters better than anything I've read]
Okay, back to the walk. I decided today was a good day to visit some important neighbors--my own family. So I stopped in for some lunch, held the baby for a bit, kissed the rest of the family, cooled off in the air-conditioning, and then set off walking again. On the return walk to the church, I took a detour through a neighborhood I had not yet walked, a brand new development just north of the church, Flint Creek. These are houses I always see the tops of because they are on the other side of the fence from the bike path I take to work. It's funny how neighborhoods are. A place on the street in this neighborhood is actually only about fifty feet from the bike path, in order to get there without transgressing yards and fences, I have to walk about an eighth of a mile.
You'll notice I haven't talked with many people on this walk. That's because no one was out! Wisely, they were inside, in the AC. However, even when I don't meet people, I do pray for each house I pass and those who occupy the house. And the walk clears the head. There's really nothing for clarity like a walk. Additionally, I started re-thinking my rule about not knocking on doors. I think for the time-being, this summer, I'm not going to be knocking doors, but now that I know the Flint Creek neighborhood, and it's on my mental map, some time down the road when we want to really reach out to our neighborhood as a congregation, perhaps door-to-door, I'll know the neighborhoods that might be especially fruitful to visit, and be able to create a walking and canvassing plan. So there's value in walks even when they don't include conversations.
Stopped back at church long enough to cool a bit and pick up my bag, then headed for Mama Carmen's. Met a neighbor with a flat tire named "D" and chatted him up for a while. He was waiting for a friend headed over to the house with a spare. Then started walking, only to be offered a ride by Anita from our church. Since I don't turn down invitations while on these walks, I accepted, so had the chance to ride with her to the coffee shop (Thanks Anita!)
And now here I sit in Mama Carmen's blogging and avoiding the heat. Praise God for air-conditioning. I may start a new Tuesday schedule. Instead of "walking" the neighborhood" I may "sit" the neighborhood.