The important places: I used to picture them somewhere far off, like a dream. There, nameless faces are wrapped up in a flurry of activity not unlike my own, but at the heart of the cities, business or institutions that matter. The places on my television set. People commuting daily over the Lions Gate Bridge into Vancouver, waiting for the elevator to a Bay Street skyscraper’s executive office, warming up on Centre Bell’s ice before Saturday night’s Canadiens game.
My job and place felt insignificant. I was the part-time pastor of a small rural church in Blaine Lake, Sask., and I also worked as an insurance underwriter to make ends meet. I was very grateful for my occupations, which provided food and a roof over my head, but there were days when I felt inconsequential.
Important places had names like Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal. It would be quite something to live or work in these important places, I often thought. I wondered what it would be like to stop by and see the important people at work and play in these places. Then I might feel better by being near, just for a moment.
While I lived in Blaine Lake, I began to consider Scripture’s words about important places. That in the end, the important places will be no more (Isaiah 25:1–2). That for someone like Mary, God has brought down rulers from their thrones (Luke 1:52). That the nations are simply dust in a bucket (Isaiah 40:23–24). And Jesus declares the first will be the last (Matthew 20:16).
I began to see that the important places were, in fact, not the vital locations I thought they were. Instead, the unimportant places are the ones that draw God’s attention. The small towns. The nameless cities. The cubicle buried in the depths of the office. The back pew.
I wrestled with David’s words in Psalm 84:10. I would rather be the doorkeeper where God lives, wrote the king. Yet, this man who found himself at one of the most important places also knew what it was to live as an annoying younger brother in a family of farmers in an out-of-the-way place. A king – with a palace – nonetheless wrote that being with God is the truly important place.
Where does God live?
We know where our lesser deities live: in high-rise condos at the heart of picturesque capitals. Or perhaps, in the nicest house at the end of our street. We have names for where they live, and work and play: the corner office, a sprawling estate, the social club. In those moments when we are truly honest with ourselves, we may wish our place looked a little more like theirs. My humble manse on a dusty small-town road was a decent place to live, but was it important?
Where does God live?
Jesus dwelt in dusty and humble places: with a woman sneaking water from a well in the middle of the day (John 4), with a man who stole for a living (Luke 19), with a boy who couldn’t speak and his desperate father (Mark 9).
With these Scripture passages dogging my thoughts, a move away from my small town changed my perspective on just how important that little place really is. Six months ago, we packed up our family and drove across provincial lines to settle in a slightly larger, somewhat less out-of-the-way place: Medicine Hat, Alberta. Home of the WHL Tigers, birthplace of Medalta pottery.
Since I’ve moved, the unimportant places have become all the more important to me.
Where does God live?
I can see clearly now where God lived in my former home. With the lonely senior at coffee in the nearby residential care facility. With an office oddball running over to the printer in the basement at the insurance company where I used to work. With the toddler (who happened to be my son) having a meltdown in the church nursery.
I lived in these seemingly unimportant places. Yet, God lived there with me as well. In his presence, the places I was least likely to want to go hosted some of the most meaningful moments of my life.
The important places are still far off, like a distant memory. But no longer are they imagined. Now, the faces in them have names and stories I came to know over the course of my life and work within them.
I’m now in Medicine Hat. I wonder where God lives here.
I wonder which out-of-the-way places he calls home in this city. I wonder in what unimportant cranny I’ll stumble across God’s doorstep and hear him say, “I’m glad you came, I live here too, welcome home.”
Kevin Koop is the lead pastor of Crestwood MB Church. He lives in Medicine Hat, Alta., with his wife and their four-year-old son.