Most of you know I spend a great deal of time reading about “mission,” what with being a Mission Pastor & all. On Mondays, I try to get your thoughts going about stuff I read. Today’s thoughts come from Albert Y. Hsu in his book The Suburban Christian: Finding Spiritual Vitality in the Land of Plenty.
After a season of seeking God where the missus and I told Him we’d go anywhere and do anything He wanted in our new life season (only to have Him take us on an adventure a full-blown 11 miles from the church we formerly served), I was about to become a cliche.
To be fair, I didn’t know I was, but others were pretty quick to point it out. See, I’ve had this romantic idea of how cool it would be to live in a downtown environment. You know. Getting rid of all the hassle of a vehicle and yardwork and meeting all sorts of interesting people and minimalist living in 1,000 square feet in a loft with some view of big buildings and closing each day with cool people having cocktails by the rooftop pool where we all hang out.
So, when the missus and I sold the home we raised our kids in, I climbed on the internet to find one of those very places.
Couple of quick lessons about that:
First, nuances of public transportation range from available times to safety issues and about 38 things in between. Second, no yardwork means you practically have to make appointments for your dogs’ constitutionals. Third, the term “interesting people” encompasses a much broader spectrum of humanity than you may envision. Fourth, minimalist living sometimes means no doors at all, little closet space or no pantry. Finally, you gotta pay big-time to hang out with cool people by the rooftop pool and pastors don’t make that kind of change.
But my motives were beyond wanna-be pseudo-hipster cliches. I wanted to move to the city where the environment allowed us to meet lots of people, to interact with a broader community that didn’t have polite God-nod that seems so prevalent in the suburbs. I truly wanted to find ways to make a difference for the Kingdom in new and fresh ways.
So, we wound up buying a home in the same suburban town just four miles from where we owned the previous one. This also meant that I’d have to take those same Kingdom desires & principles and apply them in different ways.
I’d have to find ways around the front-garage entryways and over 8-foot privacy fences to meet the neighbors. I’d have to put down the weed-eater and be all sweaty on first impressions. I’d have to be intentional about my time to hear the stories and get past the first-glance homogeneity to hear their stories. I’d have to wrestle with all sorts of tension about how much stuff is too much stuff and what it really means to sacrifice.
But my family had been through a transition time of kids leaving and truly reflected on where God wanted us to go and wound up even more certain that this is our place. The added bonus is that my vocation requires that I go to parts of the world to serve, and also use my gifts in the local community as well.
So, when I read this passage from the book, I related deeply to the highlighted the tensions the suburban American Christian faces:
If we aren’t called to go, we must be sure that we are called to stay–not in a passive sense, but to stay with an intentionality of active sending, sharing of resources and participating in global mission even at home.
So too it is with Christians in suburbia, All of us would do well to consider whether God might use us strategically in a different context. But if we conclude that we are called to suburbia, then we ought to do so intentionally, seeking out ways of participating in God’s work and mission in our immediate environment, loving neighbors and caring for the poor, whether materially or spiritually impoverished. The old slogan “Think globally, act locally” is still true. Our mindset should embrace a global perspective of mission and justice, even while we seek out God’s call for us in suburbia.
And a few questions came to mind:
Do we truly consider whether or not God might use us stratetically in a different context?
Do those of us who live in and are of the suburbs live intentionally, seeking out ways to participate in mission in our immediate environments?
Where is that balance between embracing a global perspective and serving our call locally?
Because, I realized that I don’t want to be a cliche.
Not an urban pseudo-hipster one or a suburban middle-aged yard-of-the-month winner with an SUV…
…and I think a good start to avoid either is to live by intent wherever you’re placed and those questions will certainly be as good a place as any.
I realize it’s heady for a Monday morning, but have at it, patrons!