“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.