I was born in South Carolina. Soon after, my parents moved our family back to their home state of North Carolina. Three years later, we moved to Savannah, Georgia. Five years after, we packed up and returned to North Carolina. My parents divorced almost immediately upon arrival, and for the next ten years, I ping-ponged back and forth between my mom’s home in North Carolina and wherever my dad was living at the time – Little Rock, Arkansas, Wichita, Kansas, and eventually North Carolina. During that time, I went to seven different schools from Kindergarten to 12th grade. Since graduating college, I have lived in Mexico City, Mexico, Houston, Texas, Washington, DC, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Though I now own a home in Shreveport, Louisiana now, I spend almost as much of my time on airplanes between Haiti, Costa Rica, Uganda, Ecuador and Russia, as I do in Louisiana.
Why am I giving you this biography, you may be asking. I tell you because I had a very hard time reading Social Geographies: Space and Society by Gill Valentine. The book read like a dry textbook, and the author overwhelmed me with a variety of topics: body modification, homelessness, neighborhood and cyber communities, the workplace, fear of crime, policing, gentrification, whiteness, leisure activities, citizenship and nationalism. Thankfully, there were guides at the end of each chapter to break down the thoughts and theories and provoke pondering; however, my favorite parts of the book were the glossary defining key words and a guide to how to do a project in social geography. The appendix, in particular, will be helpful for our upcoming project! But I digress.
Valentine opened with the statement that social geography is the study of social relations and the spatial structures that underpin those relations. He stated that space is a central organizing concept within geography. He spent entire chapters in his textbook on the perceptions of “home” and “community,” and yet I had a very hard time connecting with his opinions. While I do not doubt many have negative connotations of “home” and “community,” we all know by this point in our journey together that I see everything with a “glass half full.”
Back to my opening story. Why did I tell you my history? As you read, I did not have the picture-perfect childhood with a stable nuclear family. But at some point I had to make the intentional decision to let my situation shape me negatively or positively. Perhaps that is when my “glass half full” attitude began. “Home” became my youth pastor’s house, my grandmother’s house, the church sanctuary, and a cabin at Quaker Lake Camp. Though I identified each place by the name of the structure, home was not a building; home was where my heart was and where I felt loved and accepted. The Quakers call their church buildings “Meeting Houses.” This is to clearly differentiate between the building and the church family of faith. The building is brick and mortar; the church is the people. That principle has served me well, especially in recent years. No matter where the move took me or where the airplane landed, people, not geography, make the place home. If “the home is supposed to be a place where family members participate in communal activities, socialize and share their feelings,” then I have a home in Haiti, in Russia, in Uganda, and in Shreveport. The world is my home!!
Maybe that is an overstatement, but I associate the idea of “home” with the idea of “community.” If community is “a positive social relationship embracing a sense of shared identity and mutually caring social relationships,” then I have built community with partners in ministry all over the world. The consistent underlying theme in my “homes” and “communities” is a feeling of unconditional love. Though we may not always agree, and though we may not have similar worldviews or come from the same backgrounds, we have created community and family. Jesus commanded his followers to love one another. I love my partners in ministry around the globe as if they were family. I love the relationships in which Jesus serves as the foundation.
Perhaps the missing ingredient Social Geographies is the notion of Jesus, koinonia, the fellowship of believers, and creating community in a small group by inviting individuals to live life together. Because of Jesus, I am at home amongst a family of believers no matter the location or the culture. Thomas Kelly wrote in A Testament of Devotion, “When we are drowned in the overwhelming seas of the love of God, we find ourselves in a new and particular relation to our fellows. The relationship is so surprising and so rich that we despair finding a word glorious enough and weighty enough to name it.” “Fellowship” may be word to describe this feeling, but based on the thoughts this book evoked, I would also add “home” and “community” to the mix.
Some would rather become entrenched in differences and minute details. Members of a family don’t always get along. They don’t all have the same thoughts and ideas. But that does not mean they must give up their individuality and opinions to be part of the family. We can celebrate differences, in a culture of unconditional love, and learn from honest, mutual acceptance.
 Valentine Gill, Social Geographies: Space and Society (Harlow, England: Routledge, 2001), Loc. 249.
 Ibid., Loc. 271.
 Ibid., Loc. 2178.
 Ibid., Loc. 2765.
 Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992), 51