Choosing Cleveland

By: Sarah Morrison

Have you ever read a book that seemed to know you? A book that took a deep breath and came to life, that travelled to your brain, searching its wrinkles, then reappeared to have a conversation? I found that book for me: Christie Purifoy’s Placemaker.

As Paul and I have pursued more openness about our circumstances in revitalization, as we’ve meditated on our purposes here, we’ve had clearer vision than we’ve ever had before. We’re blinking away the sleep and tears in our eyes. Despite the challenges before us, we love the Church ferociously. We’re doing everything we can to see her dressed with worth and clothed in vitality. We have to be realistic about what we’ve gotten into, though. And being realistic requires us to look at the bruises and wounds, to account for her close brushes with death. It requires us to look at our hands and ask “to what length are we willing to go?”

Purifoy shepherds her words, herding them to tell the story of placemaking, the act of rearing Heaven on earth to the best of our fumbled efforts. She tells the story of the power of the Gospel in the bright places as well as the dark, the places full of life and the places full of death. She tells a story with which we are too well-acquainted. 

My eyes became a spring when I read the line, “I know this place. I love this place. I want more for this place.” Paul and I didn’t grow up here. In fact, we’ve only lived here for three and a half years, but as the wooden placard above our kitchen sink indicates, Ohio is certainly our home. When we bought our house, I imagined the small feet that would one day run though the hall. I imagined the ways to maximize our square footage for out-of-town family to visit. I imagined a future, a bright one. A permanent one. As time has gone on, my love for the city of Cleveland has only grown stronger (though she certainly gives me sass during the winters). In just a few short years my roots have shot down through the bedrock at the speed of lightening. I know and love and pine for this place, our place, to have more. 

Paul and I have watched as churches open and shutter their doors. We recently heard of someone who has left; a fellow planter gone without a sound or ripple. I realized how hushed it is when a church dies. How heartbreaking that is—a limb torn off through storm or drought, somehow silently. Like a tree falling in the woods, does a church make a sound if none are around to hear it? Many times, too many times, my lips have formed the sentence, “Isso-and-soeven here anymore?” What a shame it is to so silently lose our co laborers. No crash cart. No long beep on a heartrate monitor. No rush, no emergency efforts. Just silence. Closed doors. Displaced believers. Naturally, when Christie writes, “Fruitfulness is sometimes the result of great effort, and sometimes the gift of no effort at all.” I feel its reverberations in my bones. I don’t look down upon those who’ve left this city for greener grasses. I look down on us, the Church, for not yelling this message. For not repeating it.

It’s hard to feel like our home isn’t rejecting us, like a body rejects a transplant. I don’t see much fruitfulness here. I don’t see shoots of hope, promises of trees one day. I often feel like a splinter in the heel of Cleveland, being pushed out despite my will to stay, rejected as a part of the body. So imagine my comfort with Christie says, “Quite often, the right place is, for a season at least, the place where everything is harder, the place where we feel least at home.” Imagine my solace when I come to terms that I am not alone in feeling blistered by a place I woefully love. Imagine the conversation that happened between my heart and those typeface words, words that seem pressed into my heart. 

Imagine my comfort when the author speaks to the refusal to let places be mereplaces, when she says, “Sometimes, placemakers make new. Build fresh. Start from scratch. But most of the time, they repair. They restore. They protect. Sometimes, placemaking is nothing more than the refusal to unmake.” Places are something to be shaped and something that shapes us. They ought to be stewarded, cared for, and constantly restored. Imagine these words breathing wind under my wings in that moment, encouraging me not to unmakethe space in which I’ve dwelt. Suddenly my heels dug deeper into the earth where I’ve been put by God. With reading these words I remembered our first love and longing for Grantwood Community Church: to make new, to restore what was broken, and to be a part of something beautiful.

As I wrote this, there was a fly in the blinds. I twisted the plastic rod to open the slats and let him out and when I did, I saw the bright red buds of the sugar maple trees in our front yard. I saw the sun. I’m reminded winter doesn’t last forever. 

In light of many telling us to pack up our bags, in light of our circumstances seeming to reject us, in light betrayals, heartaches, hunger pangs, storms, and famine, I will echo Christie Purifoy’s words, “I will choose to stay. I will plant my desires here, and I will not walk away. I will try to live like a forest tree. I will cast my seeds and cast my seeds and cast my seeds of love.” We will continue planting seeds of the Gospel here that may not produce fruit for decades. We’re making a place, pruning and creating room for the kingdom of God to sprout up all around, even it if remains unseen. We’re tending to our plot; the place God has entrusted to us. Cleveland, we’re doubling down. Choosing you.

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