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Suburbia – Designed to avoid community?

What might Jesus say to suburbia today?

Introducing Jake Belder, a fellow Canadian living in Florida right now.

I feel that in many ways suburbia is like the antithesis of how God intended us to live. Where we were meant to live in community, we find rampant individualism. Where we were meant to give of ourselves and our resources, we find greed and consumerism. Where we were meant to serve, we find self-service and pride.

That’s just a couple of examples, but it just seems to be so polar opposite. And I think what troubles me the most about it is how much Christians have accommodated that ideology. I realize there are a lot of factors that drove people out to the suburbs (specifically economic and social issues like crime), and to some extent I suppose it is warranted, but there are also a lot of reasons people came here that are wrong (the mentality of the “other,” the We vs. Them). And Christians followed suit. Enter the whole mega-church nonsense and prosperity gospel junk.

This makes me think about how we have ‘rampant individualism’ because we can.  We’re surrounded by such affluence that we don’t really need one another.

I’m critical of it, even though I sometimes take part in it. The church I attend here is lodged in the suburbs, the seminary is in the ‘burbs, and I live in them too. I can’t avoid it because I can’t afford to live down in the city and commute to school. It’s just too far. So I struggle with it a lot.

Many of my young adult friends, myself included, struggle with this.  We’re aware of the trade-offs.  We want the larger home but we don’t like the commute.  We want to be part of this or that church, school, or group, but it’s way over there.  I wonder if there are more fundamental questions we need to be asking ourselves before we even consider those options, ie. Where is Jesus in all of this?

It’s just so simple. You just don’t get involved in the messy lives of the poor and the oppressed in you’re locked up in your McMansion and your big SUV. You don’t think about it. Maybe you see the World Vision commercials to sponsor a child and send a few bucks a month to help out, but all that does is satisfy your pride. What about getting your hands dirty? Did Jesus just send money to those who needed help?

The problem of suburbia is so far-reaching that it’s going to be really hard to fix. I’ve found it really helpful to listen to the critiques of non-Christians as well because they realize too that suburbia is a serious threat to culture and community. I certainly don’t have the answers. Where do you even begin? I remember driving through Mississauga frequently when I still lived up there. How do you fix that? Just driving through it made it so obvious to me that it was wrong. But what exactly is it that’s wrong, what do we do to build and create community in a vast spread of urban landscape that was designed to avoid community?

I think this is the heart of the issue.  A lot of suburbanites do care about having greater connectivity to their neighbors and to the world, but it seems like the physical and social structures surrounding them makes it so much more difficult.  Where do you start?

Jake’s also got a great post on the local church and community here.

* Contact me if you’d like to write any guest blogs on Solar Crash

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Al October 28, 2008, 11:24 am

    I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Ray Bakke talk about how the church abandoned the inner city and moved to suburbia. It was part of his whole presentation on having a theology of the city, and comes out of his decades of experience living in Chicago’s inner city. If you have a few hours to listen to the sessions, they are available at: http://www.nexia3.com/podcasts.php
    It seems like the church has been at the forefront of ghetto-izing itself. We don’t really want to be a part of the community, so we make our own ‘Christian’ community.
    However, we can make a difference. It has to start somewhere, so it might as well start with me! Get involved with something that is already going on, or start something on your own. Others will catch on, because I think many people (Christian and otherwise) recognize the place we must have in each other’s lives.

  • Parke October 28, 2008, 12:19 pm

    Some good challenging thoughts here:

    The core site (thesubtext.org) is a second look at living out faith in suburbia that I think presents at least some healthy ideas for living a godly life in the suburbs.

  • CS October 28, 2008, 2:39 pm

    “Enter the whole mega-church nonsense and prosperity gospel junk.”

    Check out the work of Justin Peters at http://www.justinpeters.org and be sure to watch the video!

  • Lon November 1, 2008, 3:12 pm

    Thanks for the comments folks. Al, that’s an awesome resource! I’ve read one bakke book, and loved it!

    Parke, i just recently stumbled on thesubtext as well… will need to explore it more

  • Ian Beyer May 20, 2009, 8:58 am

    I think a lot of how suburbia functions depends on where you are. When I lived in Denver, suburbia was much as you describe, with the tall “hate-your-neighbor” fences, and you could live somewhere for years and never know who lives next door.

    Here in the suburbs of Kansas City, it was a complete 180 from what I had experienced 600 miles to the west. Our neighborhood is a close community where we can name off virtually everybody and their kids within a couple of blocks, and look out for each other. And this is a common experience around here. The 6-foot fences (which are far from ubiquitous!) are more for keeping things IN the yard, than keeping things out.

    The affluent suburban megachurch where I work very much reflects this. Community is strong here. Maybe KC is an anomaly. Maybe it’s the BBQ. When the smell of wood smoke and roasting meat permeates the air, it’s hard not to form community.

  • Lon May 20, 2009, 11:32 am

    wow, that is so great to hear Ian, thanks for adding your piece to the discussion! it’s hard to go wrong with the smell of BBQ’s!!!

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