|12 April 2016|
|The Other Side of the City|
Our job as Christians isn't just gospel proclamation - it's culture creation. It's about building up the social and civic structure in communities across the nation through the work that we do. That is integral to culture making and living out God’s calling.
Cities in particular are integral locations for culture creation. In his article in Comment, a publication on Christian social thought, author James Smith beautifully explains the intricacies of the city life, why some Christians may harbor misperceptions about it, and why the city should ultimately be embraced.
Sometimes that Christian interest and investment in "the city" has been framed as strategic placement for evangelism and urban mission. In other cases, it has been a Christian hipster attraction to "cool cities," a kind of evangelical desire to join Richard Florida's "creative class" and be at the centre of cultural influence. (This might also explain why some other Christians are equally concerned when they see a younger generation moving to the city. There is a kind of gravitational pull the city exerts that can seem as if it pulls the faithful away from healthy practices of piety. There are a million counter-examples to this fear, but the perception is its own reality.)
The brokenness of cities in general should not keep us from investing in them. After all, a city is defined by its people. Every individual contributes to its life and vibrancy.
…This includes a commitment to building—which requires first noticing—the infrastructure that is the scaffolding of urban environs. That requires turning our attention from the spectacular aspects of the city that so easily capture our imagination to the unnoticed web of institutions and relationships that actually make it hum. These features are often invisible, even though they are essential—like the sewers and cables running under the streets. We can't leverage the creative power and influence of cities without being indebted to the borrowed capital that make cities possible . . . consider what it looks like to participate in the renewal of North America's urban social architecture—to see the city from the other side, in a couple of senses.
Often times, we assume the calling to build up those social and civic structures of our communities is meant for others — that our “ordinary” jobs can’t really affect the state of our world. But that mindset fails to understand the power of God to use ordinary means to make the extraordinary happen.
[C]onsider the unseen side of the city, the social infrastructure that undergirds it—the web of institutions and systems that make it possible, like the hidden girders and encased skeletons that hold up our skyscrapers. The city isn't just a mission field, a dense audience for Gospel proclamation; it is also a human cultural creation, born of necessity and desire, a way that humans seek to live together. But such a reality is not magic, nor is it merely "natural;" it is an astounding cultural feat that requires constant maintenance, renewal, and reform, especially in a fallen world. Infrastructure isn't sexy and doesn't get much press. Nobody moves to the city for the sewers, sanitation, or the municipal master plan. And yet these invisible skeletons of the city are what sustain its life.
Culture matters, and we are all called to cultivate it. Rather than dismissing the intricacies of our daily lives, recognize that God’s hand is in the details of our work and our world. Only when we understand the world around us can we can bring His word, His grace, His mercy, and His goodness to the forefront of culture. This notion is brilliantly articulated in a video from QIdeas founder Gabe Lyons, who deftly reminds us exactly why culture matters:
“Culture has to matter to us. We can’t walk away and say ‘the culture is going downhill or I don’t like the values or the morality of the culture, therefore I’m just going to separate from it.’ No, the Christian is called to step into it, to be provoked, to engage the culture, to roll up our sleeves and get excited about the things that are wonderful, even when they’re not labeled Christian.” – Gabe Lyons
The romanticized – or disparaged – idea of the city sometimes causes us to overlook all the daily goings-on that make life there possible. In the same way, we cannot close our eyes to the ways our day-to-day actions build and create culture. If a rejected stone can become the corner stone, then normal jobs can become the extraordinary means of driving culture to Christ.