One other facet of localism that should serve as a criterion for the way we use the word is the willingness to accept constraints on individual freedom so that the community might flourish. I might accept the constraint that I may not buy my neighbour’s farm in the interests of expanding my own freedom (and that of my cows, say), because then I might lose my neighbour in the process and thus damage my community. Being local involves affirming what belongs and resisting that which is not, at least to a degree. This is best dealt with in one of Wendell Berry’s best essays, Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community.
We tell children to “live beyond their wildest dreams”, to accept no constraints on “what they can achieve”, and to “be all you were meant to be” and this language has got into the church. How do we square that with this?
But we don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another. Indeed, you already show your love for all the believers throughout Macedonia. Even so, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you to love them even more. Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. (1 Thess 4 9-12)
This is a way of living that has the love of brothers and sisters at its heart. In order to maintain that love, it looks like Paul is here encouraging a settledness (to Christians in an urban port community) and a willing acceptance of a yoke that would curb their natural ambition for the sake of the community that they are striving to love. It has echoes in Blaise Pascal’s famous dictum that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone”.
Even William Williams of Pantycelyn, the Welsh revivalist and hymnwriter, at the end of a long life reflecting on his ministry, old age and the drawing to a close of his ministry said “I have in my life travelled thousands of miles on horseback; today I can barely fetch water across the room. The Lord’s name be praised”. (I remember this quote from my youth, but cannot find it anywhere, so I might be making it up!).
Being local, somehow, has a quietness about it, that Paul, Pascal and Williams all allude to, maybe because when constrained we cannot be anything else but local. Thoughts?