Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Suckers or Succor? Saints, Cities & Home - Part 2

Suckers or Succor? Saints, Cities, and Home
Part Two  - For Part One, please click here

Big cities can be fun.

Not just as places to visit, but to live.  Indeed, a lot of young singles and older empty nesters are discovering just how fun city life can be as they re-populate the downtowns of America's great urban centers.  Places like Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and even Dallas that were written off - not too long ago - as being irrelevant wastelands of socioeconomic decay, but have been revived into trendy residential and entertainment districts.  Places that have improved so much, people no longer look at you like you're crazy if you tell them you're thinking of moving there yourself.

Yet, how much gets accomplished if, when suburbanites move back to the cities, they resettle into the same types of cloistered lifestyles similar to how they lived back in the 'burbs?  It's one thing to move back downtown with altruistic visions of urban pioneering, and quite another to simply red-line your life once you get there, like banks did to racially-integrated neighborhoods in the 1960's and 70's.  America's creative class has led the charge in rediscovering our cities, and evangelicals who enjoy an edge to their worldview may dig the decrepit warehouse districts that have been repurposed for postmodern existentialism, but how much does the need to satiate our "fun principle" actually re-segregate new urbanists from the urbanists who've been there all this time, only aren't rich enough for the fancy new appellations?

So far, all our new urban pioneers have done is colonize some of our more liberal cities into hip grunge playrooms for bacchanalia and assorted, sordid types of disestablishmentarian lifestyles that mimic our now-vintage sexual revolution.  Without getting vulgar, let's just say that the types of sexual experimentation taking place among many new urban colonists represent behaviors we evangelicals have spent more than a century sending missionaries overseas to convert.  Disenfranchised urban Americans may be the most obvious mission field in this endeavor, but frankly, it's probably a toss-up between them and the creative classes who've beaten us to the urban frontier.  

It's not even like the secular re-urbanization that has started taking place is really changing the world for the better.  Knocking back a few hand-crafted beers in eclectic brewhouses, scarfing down overpriced hamburgers in a retro diner, dancing the night away in former factories with acoustics similar to a steel drum, and paying dearly for coffee so murky and bitter its flavor is nonexistent certainly help a city's tax base.  But how does developing a whole new urban culture around rock music sung by any untrained waifs who can put together an "indie" band for an audience - who've just arrived from a tattoo parlor down the block - create a wholesome, family-friendly, community-enriching environment?

Especially the type of environment towards which people who truly want to minister God's grace and Lordship salvation could be drawn?

Again, remember:  if it were easy and fun to develop an evangelical reawakening in urban America, evangelicals would already be flocking downtown.

Right now, the type of fun most evangelicals expect to have in the inner city is really more of a voyeuristic dabbling into the bar-hopping, dance-party, overpriced-dining-excursion peccadilloes that keep us socializing with unsaved people, yes, but do nothing in terms of reaching out to the marginalized of the inner city.

Those folks are still living in squalid apartments beyond the valet-only parking lots, the neon outlines of remodeled vintage brick walk-ups, and the lofts carved out of burly former industrial buildings.  They're the people for whom conventional gentrification is little more than a bunch of rich blacks, over-educated Asians, and snooty whites driving up housing prices so they can play urban homesteader.

There's more to re-evangelizing urban America than letting one's hair down and checking out the party vibe in a few reclaimed blocks of a city's forgotten core.  There's even more than swooping into soup kitchens to help out for an evening, and then returning to our enclaves of social desirability.  In-and-out ministry doesn't work with anybody in suburbia, and it won't work with anybody in urban America, either.

It takes an investment of the brain, and of the heart.  And it also takes that "R" word that we evangelicals like to toss around, but only embrace when there really isn't any:  "risk."

For Part 3, please click here

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