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As we confront change, what’s so special about our Place?

Three powerful things happened to me the past week: a tour of the abandoned Keller Manufacturing plant in Corydon, a devastating tornado in Southern Indiana, and The Spirit and Place Festival in Indianapolis. Each has raised the question as to the core value of the place we call home.
As we trouped over discarded machinery parts, broken glass and general factory decay at the Keller plant, I was brushed by the real loss here ‘ the loss of opportunity and hope. Real families, our families, lived off the livelihood earned here. The whistle that blew to call the employees to work in the mornings sounded the call for all townspeople to begin their day. Whether it was wagons or dining tables that came off the factory lines, they were crafted by Harrison County minds and hands as their offering to a world that needed their services. Wagons that took families into town on Saturdays to shop and the dining room tables at which they gathered for the Sunday meal. Generations of our neighbors spent their productive years here in this now quiet and haunting Keller factory site.
There are other jobs to be had, and we no longer need wooden wagons. The cold statistics read: furniture manufacturing has gone overseas. But is there something here that is yet unspoken by a community? What really is the loss of this once dominating force in our lives?
Television news told us of the unthinkable for our part of the world: a violent tornado in November. The pictures of homes turned to splinters, trees twisted and toys and furniture strewn about shocked us. This was not one of those vulnerable islands in the Pacific, nor the shore line of the Gulf Coast. Those were our relatives and friends we saw weeping, our relatives and friends we found had died. All of us cry with the survivors.
There is a collective something that is lost at a time like this. It was like a security blanket that had enveloped us and then was yanked away by an impersonal force that did not care a whit about our well being. We lost the innocence that allowed us to go about our everyday lives believing that jobs would be available, our children would grow up to have good years, and our houses were indeed our homes.
We all hear and read that the world is awash in rapid and explosive change. Our minds wrestle with that reality every day. But these changes ‘ the closing of the Keller company and the devastation of a killer tornado ‘ have drilled right into our collective being whether we know it or not. The voice in our heads and hearts asks us again, ‘What is it about our place on this planet that is essential to whom we are and what we will do?’
For two weeks each year, a festival of the gathered community is held in Marion County, Indiana. It is called Spirit and Place. In the Spirit of our community, Spirit and Place offers public occasions for intellectual conversations, artistic expression, and faith-based reflection. Honoring the Place in which we live, Spirit and Place highlights Indiana’s rich traditions, deepens understanding of community issues, and invites community building and action.
The theme this year was ‘Moving and Staying.’ In all the sessions, there were discussions about our current physical mobility and corresponding inquiries into our emotional and psychological capacity to move on or get stuck and not move. The festival guide says, ‘We can move forward learning how to cope with and grow through change. Transformation can help us move on while allowing us to bring along the best of what needs to stay with us as individuals, as communities and as cultures.’
The question to be asked of our communities in Southern Indiana is, ‘What is so special about our place, our community, that to lose it is of great cost?’ That inquiry prompts us to ask other questions such as:
What makes me feel like I belong here?
What would I miss if I left?
What do I feel is unique about my community?
What about my community draws my allegiance?
What physical things in my community make me feel at home?
What in my community is invigorating?
What about my community makes me feel a part of the past and the future?
What in my community gives me hope for the future?
Answers may come in the form of reflections upon people, spiritual groundings, remembrances of events, ideas concerning heritage, even practical issues such as paying the bills. The importance is that we ask the questions and apply our discussion to our current issues such as the reuse of the Keller manufacturing plant and the rebuilding of lives.
If you were asked the question, ‘Will you be moving or staying?’ what would you want to answer?