I was visiting a church with a friend this past Sunday. Unlike our home church, this one is just up the road, a few minutes away...in the suburbs.
We arrived early having given ourselves more than enough time to get there (no doubt a years worth of habit driving into the heart of Hollywood every Sunday morning) and were lingering in the back of the church talking with our friends. I was introduced to a lady, a new to LA transplant, a Mom, a wife, and a social worker. Currently she lives in the valley, and she expressed to me her great desire to be out here with us in the suburbs. To me this was humorous. Here I was, a reluctant suburbanite, wishing I was in the city, attending my church in it's heart and there she was, not necessarily LA proper, but closer than I to it's nucleus, wishing this suburban slice of paradise was hers. I offered encouragement, reminding her Christ put his ministry in the city and not in it's safe and tidy surrounding areas but she wasn't biting. She explained to me she wanted safe neighborhoods, clean streets, and good schools for her son; but of course then in the morning she would drive back out to the Valley to do the work of Christ. I was a stranger to her, and so I nodded politely as if all of a sudden that made perfect sense to me. But it didn't.
Compartmentalization.That's the word that came to mind. No, I don't think Christians who want to live in the suburbs are a bunch of compartmentalized believers who only want to give and to live unto the Lord what they deem and when they deem, but I do think it's a very natural tendency of this sort of christian and I do think many aren't even aware of it. Nor, I should add, do I think Christians should abandon the suburbs and live only in large metropolitan areas, though more probably should.
Spoiler alert: I love cities. I am of that sort, that weird group of people who get energized by a downtown, who think public transportation is the greatest thing ever, and who would rather have a picnic in an over crowded city park than a bbq in ones own backyard.
Never the less, here I am, a stay at home mom living in one of the best suburbs of LA. I don't have to worry about locking my car doors at night or my children getting approached by someone peddling pills at the playground or finding pornography laying in the street or explaining why that man is dressed like a women or why the old guy keeps mumbling inappropriate words to himself. But I do wonder if that's not the problem.
Many flee to the suburbs to get away from the filth of the city, to raise their children safely and wholesomely. However, as believers Christ has commanded us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, teaching them (Matthew 28:18-20); we are to be the salt of the earth, a light in a dark world (Matthew 5:13-15); we are to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:20); we are to feed the hungry, take care of the poor (Matthew 25:31-40); we are to preach the gospel to the poor, heal the broken hearted, preach deliverance to the captives, and to the blind, sight (Luke 4:18). We, as followers of Christ, as His disciples, should not set out to attain the most comfortable life we are able to find, or make. Our life, and that of our families should be in total pursuit of His word towards us and the world around us. We are not to pick and choose that which best suits the ideal perception of life, but in contrast, we are to leave everything behind and follow Him. He calls for radical obedience, not stifled compliance. If we knowingly set out to live somewhere void of such opportunities, or a lesser degree of them, to make Him known than we are in direct disobedience of His calling towards us as His disciples.
For some of us though that is not the case either because that is not our intention of living in the suburbs or because perhaps the suburbs are where God has brought us, where jobs have landed, or where family units have been established. Some of us in fact would rather be in the city with the grit and the grim, where sin looks like sin and the lost look lost. In the suburbs however it's like a house of smoke and mirrors. Perfect people with perfect yards and perfect yoga clothes and horrible music and film preferences. We don't know how to relate. We don't know how to peel the veneer. There is no unifying force like a social heritage, or a collective culture. However, we do have Christ. How then do we as Christians live radically in the Suburbs???