Paul Tournier’s A Place for You is a book my youth pastor talked about years ago, when I was in college. I read it back then to see what he liked so much, and had only a sketchy memory of it. Wondering what it might have to say to me now that I’m in the wonderful world of middle age, I bought a used copy and reread it.
It’s a very wise book by a very kind, intelligent Swiss psychologist. It begins by discussing the “vagabond complex,” the feeling of looking for a place to belong and never really finding one, and explores the different ways psychology and religion differ in the solutions they offer. Tournier concludes that though the two approaches often conflict, they need to be synthesized on the ground of some of life’s major rhythms:
- the need to find a self, and then to offer yourself;
- the need to find a place, and then to leave your place so you will be always growing.
He uses the illustration of trapeze artists, who let go of one handhold in order to move on to the next one. There is the uncomfortable uncertainty of being between handholds, but ultimately we have to learn to cope with this. The ultimate place, he suggests, is God. He uses lots of case studies as illustrations, and I felt I gained important insights into Scripture, and into the process of maturation, that should help me as a parent. Tournier is a Christian, and his grasp on the totality of the Bible gives him the ability to take in the sweep of its major themes and stories, and some of its contradictions as well.
He identifies a tendency throughout Scripture to localize God, and God consents because humans are creatures of time and space. He meets with us in times and places. But then the idolatrous tendency always makes people try to confine him to a particular manifestation. It was interesting to me, because I see this tendency still. We may not make wooden idols, but we can surely clutch at our pet doctrines and boundary markers.
I also thought the whole idea of historic periods characterized by great, rapid discovery as traumatic was interesting. I’ve never thought of it in those terms, but it’s true. This book was written in the sixties, and some of it was dated; space travel was just beginning, and the communication and transportation advances were dizzying for Tournier and for people of his era. I wonder how he would feel now.
I think there is something to the idea that the deluge of information under which we live does injure our humanity. It’s simply impossible to react and process everything we’re hit with. It’s been years since my husband and I watched the nightly news on a regular basis, and I remember one of the last times was when they showed a segment in which a man had leapt from a bridge to swim away from his pursuers, and they stood on the bridge shooting at him. A scene like that doesn’t belong in a hurried informational segment on the nightly news. It seemed then, and seems still, incredibly callous and dehumanizing to both the people involved in that tragic drama and the viewers expected to watch calmly from their living rooms. We may not be asked to take in that kind of graphic scene on a regular basis, but the impact of information hitting us at all times is every bit as problematic as Neil Postman and others noted years ago. We have to draw boundaries if we want to maintain our sanity.
A Place for You gave me a lot to think about as a parent, too. Tournier says much about repressive religious environments, and here I am, a Christian homeschooler. The last thing I want to do is retard or restrict my children’s development. I’m glad to have this clarification of some of the issues there.
Despite all that the book has to offer, I found much of it to be slow going, and in the end I was ready to move on. I’m not sure what that says about me. But sometimes even books you think haven’t been that exciting end up haunting you in ways you don’t anticipate. I hope that will be the case with this one.
- Holy Discontent
- How to offer comfort