I live in a suburb, but I'm really not that far from "the city," as we say in these here parts. It's a 10-15 minute drive to get to the midtown and downtown areas of my city. So I don't feel terribly suburban.
Just a few more miles south, though, and we're talking SUBURBS. They're pretty. They're immaculate. They're rich. I used to want to live there. Good schools. Safety. White picket fence. Everything within reach. But the two trips I made down there this week left me feeling a little empty. "What are they hiding," I wondered, "with their wealth and fancy cars and big houses?"
Because we all do that, you know. We hide our insecurities with something. Money. Sex. Power. Work. Drugs. The more I learn about God, the more I realize just how broken and messed up I am. How broken and messed up we are. So I know those manicured lawns and subdivisions - as pretty as they are - are just a front. And I feel deceived, almost. They're messed up but pretending they aren't. And my heart breaks as they deceive themselves.
Contrast that with the city - the urban core. It is raw. It can be dangerous. It is old and decrepit. It's messed up and falling apart. Sometimes it is downright ugly. Buildings in decay. Gang shootings. Drug deals. Unaccredited schools. Broken homes and broken hearts. It is real and my heart breaks for the reality they face. But in some odd way, I rejoice in the real-ness. They seem more willing, in the city, to face things head on, rather than hide from them in the 'burbs.
(And I know you can live in the city and still be hiding from things. And you can live in the suburbs and not shy away from life. I am speaking in extremely general terms only.)
My church is really big on "the good of the city." Every sermon closes with "for the glory of God and the good of the city." I've been having a hard time with "the good of the city" part. Not because I don't desire the good of the city. I do. I'm just cynical. I've lived here my whole life and I wonder sometimes if the church - made up of a lot of people who didn't grow up here - is fully aware of the task ahead of them when it comes to serving Midtown. And I would cling even tighter to my comfortable suburban living, where I live close enough to the city to engage with it, but far away enough to not have to take on the messy task of actually living there. I'm a cheater. It's true.
But what I'm learning is that I can't give up on the city because it seems hopeless. And I can't cling to the suburbs because that's not where my hope is. And the more I learn about myself and who God is, the more beautiful the urban core becomes, for it is a mirror to my own soul - broken, falling apart and badly in need of restoration. And the more beautiful the suburbs become, because they are a mirror to my own soul - empty but full of idols and badly in need of life. God has grace for both city and suburb. And it is a thing of beauty.