Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart … write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.(Deuteronomy 6.6–9)
To be human is to be placed: to be born in this house, hospital, stable (according to Luke), or even, as in the floods in Mozambique in 2000, in a tree. It is to live in this council house, semi-detached, tower block, farmhouse, mansion. It is to go to school through these streets or lanes, to play in this alley, park, garden; to shop in this market, that mall; to work in this factory, mine, office, farm. These facts are banal, but they form the fabric of our everyday lives, structuring our memories, determining our attitudes. How, as Christians, should we think of them? Are they a proper subject for theological reflection? Here and there great theologians, notably Aquinas and Calvin, have glanced in this direction, but the built environment forms no locus in theological ethics except insofar as it has dealt with land and property, and with the city as a metaphor for community, or our final destination. It is in ethics that theology has engaged with the concrete – with war, economics, work, sexuality. Why not, then, with the built environment? We are invited to do that by the very terminology involved. Paul constantly urges his congregations to ‘edify’ one another. The word ‘edify’ comes from the Latin aedificare, to build.