Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sojourners: "Jesus of the Cul-de-Sac"

The July 07 issue of Sojourners magazine has a fine article by Valerie Weaver-Zercher called "Jesus of the Cul-de-Sac," in which she probes the challenges and opportunities of the suburban landscape, especially as it relates to discipleship, poverty and justice issues. I was interviewed by the writer and we had a good chat about our respective suburban journeys. Here's an excerpt from the article:

Even if certain distinctions still exist, "every place—city, country, suburb—is more diverse than we generally like to imagine," says Al Hsu, author of the recent book The Suburban Christian. The increasing complexity of the metropolitan terrain, along with its sprawling ubiquity, raises disturbing questions for Christians who live there. If where we live forms who we are, and if where we live is largely commercial, alienated, status-driven, and car-dependent, is it even possible to be a faithful Christian here? Was my 20something instinct correct: that justice-seeking Christianity can only be practiced in the few remaining places that are either clearly "wilderness" or "city"?

Hsu doesn't think so. He and the authors of two other recent or forthcoming books on Christianity and the suburbs (David Goetz in Death by Suburb and Will and Lisa Samson in Justice in the Burbs) suggest that suburbia, while potentially dangerous to one's faith commitments, can also be, in Hsu's words, a "crucible … [in which] to learn the Christian disciplines of self-denial, simplicity, and generosity." Each of these authors examines answers to the question that Will Samson articulated in a recent interview: "What does it mean to be followers of Jesus after the death of the suburban narrative?"

This story of suburbia, forged in post-World War II optimism about economic betterment, security, land ownership, and social mobility, holds mythic power in Americans' imagination. People move to the suburbs for a host of reasons, but the move almost always represents a "spiritual quest," according to Hsu, with suburbia as "the setting for the fulfillment of people's hopes and dreams." Several generations into the experiment, some suburbanites aren't buying the story anymore. It didn't take Desperate Housewives to convince Americans that the suburbs are often sites of profound despair, social alienation, and hollow status-seeking; many suburbanites were figuring it out for themselves.

The article goes on to explore how Christians can seek to live faithfully in suburbia. I was particularly struck by this quote from Jenell Paris: "Living in the suburbs can be an exercise in humility," she says. "It is an unremarkable place to live. Your attempts to care for struggling people may get fewer accolades from fellow Christians [than people who work in the city]." And despite the many secular jeremiads and critiques of suburbia, a distinctive that Christians bring is hope. Because Christians have a theology of redemption, there is hope for the suburbs, just as there is hope for the city and hope for the country. May our suburban neighborhoods be visibly transformed by that hope.

No comments: