This may seem a bit obvious, but Chris and I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the suburbs lately. Its obvious (obviously) because we live and are planting churches in a suburb of Fort Worth, TX.
A couple months ago we both read a book, Death by Suburb, that we felt addresses many of the issues that we and our community deal with on a regular basis. Toxins like the temptation to for every relationship to be transactional - based on an exchange of goods, services or some perceived benefit. We get our coffee from a drive-thru worker, not a person; we buy our groceries from a corporation and pay a cashier...no names required. Even our interactions with our Christ Journey family runs the risk of becoming transactional - I call you because you volunteered to read Scripture on Sunday or because you are a House Church Leader, not because I wanted to see how your doctor’s appointment went yesterday. That reminds me, I want to call somebody about their doctor’s appointment yesterday....
...Okay I’m back.
Transactional relationships, the inability to slow down, the temptation to define ourselves by what we do or have, the compulsion to have someone else's life - to compete with our neighbors and define ourselves through “immortality symbols” such as new minivans, community service activities, successful kids, etc, - none of these things are unique to the ‘burbs, but many have unique expressions in suburban life. And we deal with all of them in one way or another.
Of course, our work here in Burleson is interesting in that we aren’t in an exclusively “typical” suburban area. There are sprawling McMansion neighborhoods to be sure, but there are also still plenty of “small town” and even “rural” areas, many of which found in the same zip code.
As we’ve continued to engage this suburban idea in our studies and conversations, we’ve come across some very helpful resources, including this article in Newsweek magazine (thanks for the link Chris!)
I couldn’t help but think of my time in the New Orleans area when reading that article. I typically say New Orleans when folks around here ask where we were in Louisiana. But to the locals, we were well outside of NOLA...we were on the Northshore. New Orleans is situated around the Mississippi River but is also held in place by Lake Pontchartrain (the huge oval shaped water feature on the southeast corner of a LA map). Across the 24 mile Causeway Bridge there is a growing “bedroom” community made up of several towns: Mandeville (where we lived), Madisonville, Covington, Lacombe, Abita Springs...and plenty other small communities.
MANY people drive across that bridge to the Southshore every day. New Orleans would be in serious trouble if it were not for the North Shore. And yet the various discussions of urban renewal and even church planting typically ignore or show mild neglect to the residents of St. Tammany Parish.
The Newsweek article addresses the reality that as the popularity and availability of suburban life increases, so does the existence of social concerns which many suburbanites tried to leave behind. One quote in particular said it well:
The end of the (traditional) suburbs was inevitable. Hopeful, mobile Americans may once have thought they could leave behind the pressures, demands and compromises of city life. But social concerns inexorably follow society.
One of the things that Chris and I have wanted to be very intentional about in our Navigating the Suburban Wilderness series is to avoid telling people they should move to the country OR to the city.
It seems that these options are often held up as the true choices for the person who doesn’t want to become a Stepford wife...or husband. “Move to the country and get back to your roots!” “Enjoy small town values with people you can trust.” “Experience the land again.” These are all great things - I come from the country and enjoyed these aspects of my upbringing.
“Return to the cities and stop ignoring the poor!” “Jesus wouldn’t live in the burbs, he’d be in the city where the oppressed and forgotten live.” “If you want real character and personality, you have to experience city life...suburbs are too sterile.” There is a deep pull in my heart for speaking for the voiceless, seeing the invisible and breaking the chains of injustice. And its hard not to like areas like Sundance Square in Fort Worth...
But make no mistake, Jesus is not merely a resident of the city or a friend of the rancher. Jesus is the one who has come near and is the companion of humanity - not just a certain cross-section. Anywhere there are people there is opportunity to know their names - not just in small towns. If you won’t meet your neighbor in the burbs, you aren’t likely to learn the names of shop owners in a rural town either. If you haven’t spoken up for the needs of the oppressed in the suburbs (refer back to the Newsweek article if you think they don’t exist...or better yet, visit Harvest House, Heart for the Kids, or talk to just a couple random people and ask them their story) then why would you be more likely to do the same in the city?
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that there are people who feel a special calling to show solidarity with the urban poor and I am so glad they are willing to answer that call. There are plenty of people raising their families is small towns, and that is great. But you don’t typically have to go any further than your own neighborhood to find opportunities to love those who are unloved and share hope with those who are trapped in despair.
I believe that the burbs are going to continue to become more and more complex and diverse. We believe that the Kingdom of God is breaking in even here and the Lord Jesus is seeking to proclaim freedom for the captives, even if their prison bars are picket fences and their sentence is self-imposed.