Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wrestling With the 'Burbs

Great discussion surrounding the previous post by Jake! For many of us involved (seeing that we predominately live in, or come from, the wealthy suburbs) I think grappling with the American suburban lifestyle is one of the more critical tasks that Shane’s book compels us to do.

To build on everybody's thoughts from the previous post... Jake, I completely resonate with the rub that you feel about the suburbs after digging into Shane’s thoughts. Jamie & Justin, your points about being individually purposeful, no matter our environment, are very well taken. I’d like to try to flesh-out some of this conflict created by the suburban culture with some quotes from the book:

"Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." And perhaps for the first time, those were no longer empty words that I hoped would come true someday. They became words we are not only to expect to come true but also to enact. ...it was so close to what I saw in the early church: a people on the margins giving birth to another way of living, a new community marked by interdependence and sacrificial love. (87).

As I’ve mused about what makes the suburbs difficult, this thought by Shane has really stuck with me. In my observations, the prevalent (& marketed) suburban lifestyle is heavily marked by autonomy and self-gratification... a stark contrast to the kingdom described above that is "...marked by interdependence and sacrificial love."

We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor. (113)

It’s no wonder that the footsteps of Jesus lead from the tax collectors to the lepers. I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end. (114)

Laurie, I appreciated your thoughts on the ranging forms that poverty takes on in a person’s life. I, too, have experienced that the lavishly rich are often (unknowingly) desperately poor, yet I find it important to distinguish between the causes of these varying forms of poverty. In the physically poor, we see causes ranging from racist-cultural limitations to gender injustices to addictions to social persecution to individual failures, etc. For the rich-yet-spiritually-bankrupt, we see causes such as pride, self-indulgence, willed-ignorance, distorted sense of self, etc. And, I’ve concluded that my task in building the kingdom is to counter all of these causes with my love and my life.

Just as many of you have said, this is why we find the suburbs difficult. Because it’s extremely challenging to stay focused when we’re surrounded by a culture that tells us that if we make a lot of money, then we should spend a lot of money, that newer and bigger is important, that life gets better with more stuff. I fear that if we convince ourselves that we’re in the ‘burbs to minister to the rich-yet-poor, then we run the risk of justifying to ourselves that it’s OK for us to live, spend, eat, and drive like the culture we’re trying to subvert... that it’s OK for us to do these things because we’re trying to shine the light of love... but how’s that really working out? (I know this is where I've often found myself...)

[This post is getting kinda long, so I’ll wrap it up.]
All of this to say, while I believe that living in the suburbs and building the kingdom is certainly possible, I think it inherently takes an incredible daily resolve to subvert the Affluenza that surrounds us because it is so damaging to what we're advocating. And this daily action MUST take place among the interdependence of community, and this has to be founded on sacrificial love.

So, maybe we should shift the discussion here to what this subversion in the suburbs actually looks like (anybody read Justice in the Burbs ?... I’d like to). Jamie, you mentioned living without a car and having multiple families under one roof as some counter-cultural ideas. What else? Let’s get a bunch of doable ideas out on the table…

*Photo Credits - Flickr Dave and uncultured

3 comments:

jamie said...

I love the quote about the need to know the poor. That really challenged me to go out and get to know people who are in my community yet struggling. I think every Christian should know at least one homeless person.

Laurie said...

here's what we do:
We lead the way OUT. We've obsessed about getting the church IN; now it's half past time to go OUT. Join what's already happening in the community. I've never lived in any city that didn't have something goin on with the poor, under-resourced, disenfranchised population...even the wealthy beautiful La Jolla, CA. There we got homeless guys leading the worship team because they'd been fed and healed and touched by the Spirit of the Living Jesus.
So, here I am in Walmart exec. country, NWA, where shopping is primary entertainment for the wealthy bankrupt. I look for a way into the emptiness that is glossed over by the buzzing veneer of too much activity. AND, I have my eye on the other side of the tracks...the enormous immigrant population. How do I get in there? Aha! A crisis pregnancy center is looking for volunteer counselors. Right into the heart of the family that barely speaks English, lives on beans and rice, and cries out for some sign of hope in a foreign land. "Here we go, Jesus; I can't wait to see what you'll do!"

Nardrod said...

This is the first thing that came to mind. So, good idea or not, here goes...

I have met quite a few interesting people that are involved with a group called North West Neighbors here in Pasadena. To make a long story short, the NW area of Pasadena is pretty 'tough'. Gangs, drugs, crime, etc. These Christian folks go out of their way to live in geographic proximity and to serve their neighbors in NW Pasadena. This incarnational (a word?) stuff is pretty inspiring and very Jesus-ish.

However, there are a few people involved with NW Neighbors that don't live in NW Pasadena. They serve and live in more of an urban setting. These people also inspire me. I met one a few months back that lives on the average national income, which is pretty difficult to do in CA, and gives the rest away to charities that he is involved with. I also know a couple that make a lot of money, but also chose an extremely modest lifestyle, giving what I guess to be over 50% of their income away.

It is important to remember that all of this post was prefaced by the fact that these people are involved in a powerful and self sacrificing ministry, and that they live among the poor and at a distance. The key is that their hearts are always with the poor and marginalized.

Being practical, therefore, I suggest that we challenge our idea of sacrificial giving. I've been re-reading 'Rich Christians in an age of Hunger' and some of the giving practices in that book will seriously challenge the soul. Perhaps that is what we need.

BTW - I'm writing this tired, late (for me), and without editing, so don't hold it against me!

Much love - The Nard