As you can tell from the title of my blog, I live in the Suburbs. In the past I have considered that a negative thing. I used to long for the day that I could move to the city and “be a real Christian.”
In the beginning it was the rampant individualism of the burbs that bugged me the most. I longed for the city, where community seems to be a bit more natural. People actually know their neighbors and they aren’t so isolated. I also began seeing how much the bible talks about the need to take care of the orphan, the outcast and the widow. It seemed to me that one could not really do this living in the burbs. Another issue is that in the burbs, we’re so defined by our possessions and our careers (this is true in the city too, but even more so here). Working at Starbucks for two years just brought this point home even more. I watched people go to work day after day to jobs they hate. Most of them didn’t go because they needed to put food on the table for their family and a roof over their heads. Most of them went so they could have someone else cook their food for them and have a large house with a three car garage. Work a job you hate so you get stuff you don’t need. I wondered if we are a rare breed of people who work, not to survive, but we work to be more comfortable (I think is true).
I began to see all of this and was strongly feeling the call of the city. The best metaphor I found for my feelings about the suburbs was in the movie “The Matrix” when Agent Smith was interrogating Morpheus when trying to get the codes for Zion.
Can you hear me, Morpheus? I’m going to be honest with you. I hate this place. This zoo. This prison. This reality. Whatever you want to call it. I can’t stand it any longer. It’s the smell, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste, your stink. And every time I do, I feel I have somehow been infected by it, it’s repulsive. I must get out of here. I must get free…
Agent Smith, The Matrix
I’d say that suburbia is both a threat and an opportunity for the spiritual lives of suburban Christians. The fact that suburbia is a land of abundance cuts both ways. Suburban Christians have more access to material and spiritual resources, but we’ve become numbed to physical and spiritual needs both at home and around the world. There’s so much potential for suburban Christians to do remarkable, counter-cultural things with our affluence and influence, but there’s also the spiritual danger that we’ll just turn inward and build our own empires rather than seek the welfare of others.
The challenge we face is how to wield our resources strategically to advance Christian mission, champion the poor and the marginalized and advocate for justice and peace.
The article I wrote on this subject recently brought out a lot of my thinking on the subject. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well it has been received but I am fairly sure that it is only the tip of the iceberg. A lot of that paper was pure theory and there wasn’t a lot of “how does this work out in an actual congregation?” thoughts. Of course, when one writes a paper for a contest it can’t be 100 pages long. So, I stuck to the basic theory. Also, when it comes to how this works out in a congregation, we can’t find answers that will work for all suburban contexts. At The Well we are working out some experiments and trying to wade through the mud of what it means to be the church in our context. I believe we are making some very good progress but its a long journey filled with frustrations also.
So, here’s to the joy of learning. I’d love to hear what others are experimenting with and thinking through in regards to this subject…