“Living in a poor urban neighbourhood might bring certain dangers, but raising children in a suburban estate brings its own dangers. It’s just that we don’t rate being raised as a self-centred, egotistic consumer as all that dangerous.” (Michael Frost, “Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement”)
This quote is from a book I just finished. It challenges us to think about what it means to live a faith that is “incarnate” – that is engaged, is present, and exists outside of just our own mind and our ideas. Frost invites believers to remember that faith has hands and feed and skin and bones and that it should, always, be present. And he doesn’t mean “liking” or re-tweeting something on social media. He means loving our neighbour/hood.
The title of the chapter with this particular quote is called “placed persons,” and let me tell you, I underlined that quote and put a big old star by it. I also drew kind of a little box around it. The truth of it hits me in the face as a parent, as a person, and a follower of Jesus. It hits me as a “placed person,” which we, of course, all are.
As a parent how true it is that there is a deep desire to “protect” my child from danger. We want to give them what we are told is “the good life.” And so…
“…We live in neighbourhoods that are simply unwalkable. We allow builders to create houses with facades that look like fortresses, with all the family life tucked away in the rear and surrounded by walls so high that no one can see in. We live, glued to our screens, playing games, checking social media, interacting in the flattened, fragmented world of the Internet…” (page 151).
(And, no, the irony is not lost on me that I’m saying all this online).
And what do we lose? In the big house, in the “nice” neighbourhood we can lose a lot. We can lose community, connectedness, and compassion. We don’t have to talk to people or know people so we don’t… But our house is really nice.
I know a lot of you are not in that situation, and some of you feel bad that you can’t provide your children – or even yourself- “more.” May I suggest that maybe you’re not missing out? That there are losses and gains in every environment and that for every house with a big yard there may be an empty front porch?
I’m not saying that every neighbourhood in the suburbs is without community, and I’m not saying that every urban neighbourhood is flourishing. I’m simply suggesting that as followers of Christ and placed people, we consider and remember how our places can shape us. We can remember how the choices we make about place, and how we will live in those places, can have a huge impact on more than our safety – they can go deeper to our values, our priorities and even our faith.
So, placed people, if you are reading this blog and you happen to like it or see some truth in it, I would love to hear a comment from you. But even more I’d love for you to put down your phone or step away from your computer and go sit on the front step of your house or walk down your street or linger longer in the foyer of your apartment building and put some skin and bones on your faith. Make a casserole for a neighbour, pick up a piece of trash on the sidewalk, say a prayer for the person walking by. Avoid the danger. Not by picking the “right sort of place to live”- but by living the right sort of way where you are already placed.
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I am fortunate to have not ever lived in a neighbourhood where all the life is in your back yard, or on social media. I have lived, with the exception of 6 months, in a very urban environment for the last 30 years. I love this – the feeling of being connected with my community. I love the porches out front were we all shout hello, and talk to each other and watch the world go by on our street. I love being able to walk places and shop, and interact with people on my way. It’s not a scary place, though I have lived in a couple of areas that were considered *bad* neighbourhoods, the current one included. Besides economics, I am just not sure how to survive in the fortress world with garages in the front, and life in a highly fenced large back yard. I hated the 6 months I spent in suburbia, even though there was shopping within walking distance – everybody was just so far away and distant, even those within walking distance.
I hope there are some good ideas in this book on how to deal with that particular situation. All I know is that I am blessed to live with the rest of our eccentrics on our block, where we all have each others’ backs and take care of our own.
The book has definitely be a challenge against the notion that suburban living is the goal. In terms of answers that he gives, his call in general is for all Christians to return to incarnate faith – where we are embodied in how we live our faith – in our neighbourhoods, our work, and all our lives. He suggests moving from “online activism” to truly serving others and integrating spiritual rhythms into our lives to embody our faith in a tangible way.
I, too, live in an urban environment, one that is flourishing. Our house is old, our yard tiny. We deal with a host of issues you won’t see in suburbs such as crime, drugs, homelessness and poverty.
We also have two young children ages 5 and 9. I am so thrilled that they have the opportunity to live in this rich environment. We love our neighbours. We know people from a variety of ethnicities, religions, ages and stages. My kids take diversity for granted. And it is a beautiful thing.
People here have needs so they need each other. Ivory towers cant stand here. We work together as a neighborhood, putting together soccer leagues and hosting community BBQ s. I know more people here than I have anywhere else I have lived in my 45 years.
We also have more opportunity to live out our faith and show God’s love through our actions precisely because we interact with our neighbours daily.
God doesn’t promise safety, he promises love and joy. And we’ve found it in our little house in downtown. Wholeheartedly agree with your post!
You make me want to move to your wonderful neighbourhood, Angela! 🙂 Bless you!!