Do We Live as Citizens or Residents?

by Mark Votava


After living in my neighborhood for ten and a half years, I am finding the value in the idea of citizenship over just being a resident who is taking up space.  My citizenship is calling me to invest in this place I am living.  I am always asking how can I become an expression of love?  This has been a challenge, but also a great gift.

  •  An integration of stability

How else will others see and feel our love if we do not stay in our local community practicing an integration of stability?  We need to learn to live within the diversity that others have to offer us.  We need to learn to see beauty in diversity.  We just might discover that we are not as diverse as we think.

  •  Cooperation, building trust and seeking justice

Our place always begins to reveal our commonalities.  We need to learn skills of cooperation, building trust and seeking justice among our neighbors.  It is the parish we inhabit together as the body of Christ that will teach us these things over time.

  •  Preserving civic virtues

The parish is the foundation of preserving all civic virtues.  Without the parish, without our locality, we have no basis for citizenship.  We lose our lives in fragmentation and dualisms that confuse our love for others.  Without citizenship we cease to live authentic lives.

  •  It is easy to live somewhere as residents not as citizens

It is easy to live somewhere as residents and not as citizens of a place.  Residents don’t care that much about place, citizens do.  Our citizenship is rooted in the parish imagination.  Stability is so hard because we are always pressured to find our identities in economic motives of upward mobility instead of relational motives of genuine care in a place.

  •  The limitations of mobility

The parish imagination is not obsessed with mobility.  The parish imagination sees the limitations of mobility.  By limitations, I mean the fragmentation and loneliness our mobility leads us to.  While most American believe in the freedom of mobility, the parish imagination is teaching us to see our mobility as secondary to our commitment to place.

  •  Enduring in a beloved place

James Howard Kunstler says, “The freedom to pick up and move is a premise of the national experience.  It is the physical expression of the freedom to move upward socially, absent in other societies.  The automobile allowed this expression to be carried to absurd extremes.  Our obsession with mobility, the urge to move on every few years, stands at odds with the wish to endure in a beloved place, and no place can be worthy of that kind of deep love if we are willing to abandon it on short notice for a few extra dollars.  Rather, we choose to live in Noplace, and our dwellings show it.  In every corner of the nation we have built places unworthy of love and move on from them without regret.  But move on to what?  Where is the ultimate destination when every place is Noplace?” 

How can we become citizens in the place we live over just being residents?