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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, November 11, 2004
    The urban and the land
     
    First time in, I reckon, 55 months that I've put in a full day's library study. My first visit to old Bill Gladstone's legacy, St Deiniols, in Hawarden (Welsh border town, home of Madrid-commuter Michael Owen). A good place for concentrating the mind (and eating well, and winding-down).

    I've tasked myself a day a month to try to get to grips with a working urban theology of land. No better place to start than with Walt Brueggemann. His essay "Land, Fertility, and Justice" gave me three biblical categories to work with, re. land-economics-justice-place, which seem to me to apply to the urban as elsewhere: enclosure, covetousness and defilement.

    Journeying today made me think that while most theologies (and other sorts of -ologies) of land tend to emphasise the rural, often in opposition to the urban, in reality the two coexist. My route home - linking Owen's country retreat to this place from where the Rooney clan have absolutely retreated - was virtually all on three-lane carriageways, just forty-five minutes: as long as it can take on a peak-hour bus from here into Liverpool city centre, or as long as it can take a local conversationalist, I guess, to walk one length of Hawarden high street on a shopping day. Hawarden looks rural but like most of Cheshire the town and its people exist, in every sense, on a motorway-airport loop, their farms as industrialised as every other aspect of life.

    In his great book Cities, John Reader says, "the term 'natural' ... is not wholly applicable to the modern countryside - most of which has been altered by human activity" ... but also wants to ask, "to what extent is a city 'unnatural'?" - it is formed from the stuff of earth and is subject, as are all natural things, to decay. The urban-rural dichotomy is false. It's valid to talk about the urban and the land. I'm encouraged in my task. More on this stuff ad infinitum.