A great post by Canadian-in-exile and fellow-blogger Jake Belder:
I don’t walk much. It’s not that I don’t like to—quite the opposite, in fact. But I live in the middle of the sprawling suburbia of the Orlando metro area, and I have no motivation to walk around here.
There are a few different reasons. For one, I can walk for a mile here and feel like I haven’t gotten anywhere. Everything still looks the same—the same houses, strip malls, scattered clumps of trees. There’s no variety. It’s monotony, par excellence. It’s boring.
When I still lived in Canada, I used to love walking around the big cities. I would jump at the chance to take a walk through downtown Toronto. At one point before I moved here I had to go for an interview for a visa in Montréal. I drove up with my dad and we spent several hours just walking through the heart of the city.
Even in my hometown of Hamilton I would love to walk around. For a year, a friend of mine from school lived at the corner of Queen and Hess. Within a five minute walk of his house were numerous restaurants, coffee shops, pubs, churches, stores, and a mall. Even in the dead of winter, late at night, we would grab a cup of coffee and just walk the streets. There was life there; people, crowds, talking, laughing. Even the cars driving by felt alive.
That all goes away in suburbia. Walking a suburban street is a profoundly lonely feeling. You are often the sole person on the miles and miles of sidewalk. When there is the occasional dog-walker out there, they only go because the dog needs the walk. And even then, though it is only you and the other person in the middle of a square mile of concrete and cookie-cutter housing, you walk by with your eyes on the sidewalk or off in the opposite direction. Though cars speed past you almost endlessly, for all intents and purposes, they could be unmanned. And when they pass, the silence is louder than the noise. It is cold, heartless, empty, and lonely.
I know it’s easy to harp on the problems of suburbia, but as Christians we need to think about these things because it presents a serious challenge to us as the Church. What do we do with it? Here we see the epitome of this individualized, consumerist, and fragmented culture. When you’re out there alone walking an empty sidewalk, you feel that intensely. We’ve built it because it reflects our society’s values. But in the end we’ve built our own prison, and we willingly lock ourselves up.
Our challenge here as the Church, in principle, is no different than any other place—we are to be the incarnate presence of Jesus Christ and to make His love known to those around us. But how we are going to do this in a place that has hedged itself in with thick stone walls (both figuratively and literally) is the big challenge. For those of us that live in this context, we need to think and pray and get creative.
In Jesus we have all that is needed to build a community of love and hope amidst the emptiness of suburbia. So how can we turn that lonely walk down a concrete strip into something meaningful and alive? It will take a lot of creativity and ingenuity to work with what we have and to infuse life into what seems so lifeless, but it can be done. And this is our challenge.