Monday, April 17, 2006

The Brutal Suburbs

Out of Ur asks, does the suburban lifestyle undermine our mission as Christians?
Many voices are beginning to say that the lifestyle of the affluent suburbanite, while heralded for 50 years as the fulfillment of the American dream, may actually be detrimental to the Christian life and mission.
David Fitch goes on to say,
...the suburbs are built for the idolization of the affectionate family as the end and purpose of all life. The problem? When the family becomes another form of life separated from God and the church, it too becomes another form of self-imploding narcissism.

By idolizing the family, suburbanites may become focused on consuming more stuff to create the perfect home and family. There is nothing but contrived affection left to keep the home together. And children who learn they are the center of this universe from parents actually develop characters that believe they really are the center of the universe.

After decades of this suburban lifestyle America is left with families split by divorce, kids leaving in rebellion, and millions on various drugs to relieve the emptiness as the idolized family turns out to be a myth. Apart from the personal destruction the suburbs can bring, suburban isolation also poses a real problem for the spreading of the gospel.
Do you agree? Is it more difficult to live the life of a Christian in the suburbs?

7 comments:

Greg said...

>> Do you agree? Is it more difficult to live the life of a Christian in the suburbs? <<

In my opinion, wherever you live will present its own unique challenges. I also don't agree that a family in the suburbs is more likely to "idolize the family" than a family living in the city (or out in the country for that matter).

Westy said...

I also don't agree that a family in the suburbs is more likely to "idolize the family" than a family living in the city or out in the country...
Why do you think families choose to live in the suburbs?

Greg said...

>> Why do you think families choose to live in the suburbs? <<

I dunno. It depends on which family and which suburb we're talking about.

I'm curious, what are your thoughts? =)

Oneway said...

If I may, I agree with the little that Greg did say, ha.

I used to be a huge basher of the suburban culture, but the reality is that a mature Christian will admit that, in general, the suburbs offer the most to a family.

The fear of "idolization of the family" is absurd to me. Individuals should be aware that Jesus may divide their families, but safeguarding families is a fine societal goal.

Westy said...

It depends on which family and which suburb we're talking about.
I'm curious, what are your thoughts?

There are certainly vast exceptions to any rule, however, I think that most families decide to pursue a life in the suburbs because they perceive that as the 'best' place to raise a family. They want the best schools, a yard, a big house, and a safe neighborhood. What does that leave out, however? It leaves your calling from God out. The reasons most people give are very self-focused. "What's best for ME is ____." Or more precisely, they want what's 'best' for their kids. Where can I raise my child to be as high-achieving as possible? But are the markers of high achievement that parent is shooting for what matters to God?

Idolization of family is a very real and valid concern. We're talking about families choosing what they think is best for their family, rather than what God does. Are safety and a big home high on his list? How is choosing to live _______ helping you meet God's call and will for your life? How is living in a nice suburban location helping you raise kids who are radical about pursuing Christ? If we're elevating the importance of our family and its achievements above our relationship with God, it has become an idol.

The problem, though, is not really the geography. It's the mindset. And if you're surrounded with people of a particular mindset, it easily affects you. The problem is not the big home, but the meaning you attach to it.

Says David Goetz, author of Death by Suburb and Wheaton resident, "There's this assumption that either you're owed what everyone else has or you only have to work a little harder to get it or there's something wrong with you because you don't have what your neighbor has. It's so twisted."
You can read more on this topic in an article featuring Mr. Goetz here.

Misplaced priorities are a human problem. But are they more prevalent in a place where the pursuit of material success is highest? That seems to be what Mr. Fitch and Mr. Goetz are arguing.

Oneway said...

>>Misplaced priorities are a human problem. But are they more prevalent in a place where the pursuit of material success is highest?<<

If we are going to make broad generalizations, the yuppie scene in Chicago is easily skewered. Here you have the epitome of selfishness, with college graduates wasting dollar after dollar on a bloated cost-of-living. There's no thought given towards raising children, with all of the coffee shops to explore.

At the other end of the spectrum is the ghetto, where evangelical churches encourage people to consider staying in order to help the community. The humbler solution is to teach more people to leave this poisonous environment.

>>"There's this assumption that either you're owed what everyone else has or you only have to work a little harder to get it or there's something wrong with you because you don't have what your neighbor has. It's so twisted."<<

Please. Look at the swamped sidewalks during the lunch hour downtown. It looks like a J Crew catalog threw up. How about the Lexus that sits on the glass-scattered streets? Covetousness is everywhere.

>>How is choosing to live _______ helping you meet God's call and will for your life?<<

Valid question. Safety is a valid goal a man should have for his family.

Westy said...

Covetousness is everywhere.
I agree. The argument here is that it may be more prevalent in affluent suburbs (and the north side of Chicago) than is optimal. To choose to locate oneself in an area such as this, it seems, should require a calling rather than serve as the status quo.

Safety is a valid goal a man should have for his family.
Why?