The Challenge of Suburban Living

WOW, check out this article recommended by Hamo written by Scott Birkhimer.I am passionate about being Christ to my suburb but constantly perplexed as to the complexities and nuances of this type of living and the varous distractions that abound here in suburban Australia. In this article (Matty B cut and pasted it for our group onto 26 pages 12 font spaced in a word doc, so it’s a goodie!) Scott B nails, or at least begins to nail down some of the key issues, challenges and directions for suburban ministry. I love some of his conclusions regarding sabath, communion and generosity. I would have to say much of this summary harkens back to the last half of one of my best reads of 2005, by Mere Discipleship by Lee C. Camp.Anyway, I have cut and pasted some of what I considered to be some of the juicy chunks for your to play with if reading it all is just too much for you to handle today – BUT – I would say, to not read the full deal over here, you are missing out.Quotes -The power of choice exercised in pursuit of happiness has resulted in an increasing isolation, as happiness becomes defined in terms of economics, namely the ability to pursue safety and comfort through the acquisition of goods and choice of environment / neighborhood.andThe pursuit of happiness may be the central concern of the suburban ethos, but the economic sphere provides the system of meaning in which the question of happiness is asked. This means, simply, that the way in which suburbanites think about happiness is primarily defined in terms of economics. And, consequently, the stories that we tell, the metaphors that we use, the very structures of our thinking are constantly being shaped by economic forces – marketing, employers, merchants, educators, and so on. In short, human worth is derived from the ability to produce and consume. Through the surrender of our imaginations to the Market, we become little more that units of production or members of a market segment – mere cogs in the wheel of commerce.The stories that are told that give shape to the suburban ethos are, interestingly enough, primarily stories about lack. The irony is biting – the affluent are being told that they need more stuff to find fulfillment, and the story is being accepted and owned.andThe Christian tradition, and the Jewish tradition from which it grew, offers a key practice that in and of itself critiques the dominance of the economic sphere. I am, of course, thinking of the practice of Sabbath keeping. Sabbath places bounds on the economic realm – it declares, on the one hand, that we are free from service to the Market, and on the other, that we are dependent on God. Sabbath breaks the rhythm of producing and consuming that defines life in suburbia and carves out sacred space in keeping with the praxis of God Himself. Is it any wonder that Sabbath is so rarely practiced, or that we who struggle to practice it are so much at the mercy of the Market? Keeping Sabbath is part of what it means to be human – to rest, to worship, and to be free from the domination of the Market.andRather than submitting to the will of the Market in its incessant drive for production and consumption, we should instead look to be economically responsible, being content with less, and seeking to use our resources in the way of the Kingdom – not in service to self, but in service to others. That, naturally, leads to the second practice – generosity. Besides being a practice deeply rooted in the Christian faith tradition, generosity can become the means by which we share our power in service to others. We give away the power of choice by enabling others to do the same, and in doing so, we identify more closely with the generosity demonstrated by Christ towards usandEschatology gets a bad rap these days, and frankly, for good reason. Most of what seems to get attention anymore sounds like horoscopes and tea leaves – and I think I’m being quite generous with that description. And let’s be honest – Left Behind is an eschatology for the suburban ethos, marketing machine and everything. Why are we surprised that a theology that’s all about escape and comfort – let’s be honest here – should appeal to such a large segment of American Christianity?I’m suggesting that we recover a true, robust, and deeply Christian eschatology, one that has its roots in the Old Testament promises of a New Creation and looks forward to mercy, justice, and shalom reigning forever.I want to hear about death passing away, about all things being made new, about oppressive empires being toppled and the poor and oppressed being lifted up. I want to hear about the restoration of the Image of God in humanity and about our final return to our true purpose. I want to hear about the restoration of right relationships between us and God, each other, and Creation itself. I want to hear, not about our escaping to some home far away in the clouds, but rather about home coming to us, right here, in the middle of the mess that we’ve made, when God takes what is broken and restores it to what it was intended to be all along. Christian eschatology is not about escape – it is about the Kingdom’s fullness finally breaking into the present, resulting in the restoration of all things as they were always intended to be.andA recovery of a robust theology of the Eucharist would do much for churches that minister in suburban contexts. It has to become more than crackers and grape juice to us. The Lord’s Table represents so much of what suburban culture does not. It celebrates our unity in a way that specifically critiques a culture of isolation. “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf,” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10, and we would do well to remember that and celebrate it. In addition, more than any other element of our shared practice, the Eucharist is an eschatological tradition.andBut, I must ask, how small is that leap from the gospel as often articulated in twenty-first century American evangelicalism? If the gospel is personal, spiritual, and eternal – as opposed to cosmic, holistic, and present – then, I’d suggest, we’ve left a lot of room for other answers to the problem. The gospel of personal relationship is really no threat to the gospel of suburban existence – they can coexist peacefully, as should be patently obvious to anyone paying attention. So I can enjoy the pursuit of happiness now, so long as I don’t offend God, and get to heaven when I die. It’s the perfect suburban life.God’s actions through the biblical narrative are always about calling a new people to practice redemptive living – to participate in a new way of being human, in opposition to the ways defined through sin and curse. How we tell this story makes all the difference – I can’t emphasize this enough. Part of what we need to be doing as missional people is creating dissonance and dissatisfaction among our friends and neighbors so that we can realize together that the problem is bigger than can be solved by a nice house and an SUV.See what I mean?For Local Perth/Australia conversation on this article why not join in here with Hamo.

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