Monday Over Coffee: "Local"

Published June 10, 2024 by Greg Funderburk

It’s a little troubling to me that when I get in my car and check my phone, it often volunteers—without being asked—how long it’s likely to take me to get where it thinks I’m about to go. In the morning, it always thinks my destination is work, giving me an arrival time. Okay, fair enough. Later in the day, though, back in the car, based on its distressingly precise knowledge of my behavioral patterns, it might tell me how many minutes will elapse before I find myself at my favorite coffee shop. Still later in the afternoon, again unsolicited, it suggests to me how long my trip home will take. Then, most unsettlingly, each Friday evening, my phone’s screen offers me the expected travel time from my house to the restaurant where my wife and I typically go to eat as the weekend begins.

These little computers we keep in our pockets seem to be implying that we’re all very predictable. And I suppose we are. At least for me, my phone is usually right about my intended destination. It’s true I tend to go to the same places day after day, week after week. We all do. Sure, we head off on vacations now and then. Of course, we travel off the beaten paths from time to time, but on most days, during most weeks, we remain—in a fairly predictable way—embedded within our normal grooves. To school or to work. To the grocery store. To our favorite coffee shop. To a preferred restaurant, or to the places our kids need to be in the midst of the routine of a normal week. And while some of our commutes are longer than others, most of us stay geographically within a pretty limited space, predictably within the confines of the towns, the cities, the neighborhoods in which we live.

Several years ago, I went to a luncheon in which a local lawyer was receiving a big award for making an enormous philanthropic and cultural impact on his city. He was a remarkable person—so remarkable that it seemed, if he had wanted, he could have been a much more famous person, a well-known captain of industry perhaps or a global power-broker making the kind of decisions that ripple out from places like New York or Washington, down to the rest of us. What I recall most clearly from the luncheon though, was that speaker after speaker hailed the honoree for serving his hometown, his own community. He was lauded for his decision to “stay put” as one speaker stated it. He stayed put, she said, where God had placed him.

It’s very odd the way God chose to intervene into history in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus seemed always to be focused on the local—on the people, on the things, on the events, right in front of Him. Surely, God could have intervened in a far different way—in the form of a far different kind of leader, one with more conventional global influence, one with more worldly power in more modern times. Instead, Jesus, in an out-of-the-way place, living without traditional power or wealth, changed the course of history by focusing largely on a small geographic area and on a small number of not terribly impressive people. He transformed the motives and modes of living of His close companions with simple teachings about love and revolutionary acts of grace, immersed in the everyday texture of their seemingly little lives. The focus on the local was what made a difference in the whole world.

While we’re rightfully concerned about things that occur far away from us in the capitals of powerful nations, including our own, and we ought to always robustly support international mission efforts, global poverty-reduction and peace initiatives, and consider everyone in the world as our neighbor, you know who’s definitely our neighbor? Our actual neighbors! Those closest to us. Those with whom we share a locality. Those we encounter day after day in the normal paths we travel. Yes, be concerned with what’s going on in globally-influential centers of power but know also we’re closely following Jesus’ example when we expend our mental and physical energies primarily in the very places we’ve planted our feet, those places where we spend most of our time. The very place where God has chosen to put us.

Maybe, the next time your phone suggests where you’re headed next locally—to school, to work, to the coffee shop—consider the possibility that this is exactly where God wants you to be in order to do the essential work of Christ.

God—May I serve where you’ve put me. Amen.