Slums in Suburbia?

I lived in Kenya for almost a year after college, as some of you know. While there, I had the chance to visit what is considered to be the largest slum in Sub-Sahara Africa: Kibera – located in Nairobi. There are an estimated 1.2 million people who live in shanties made of scraps of metal supported by mud walls. Raw sewage runs parallel to the walkways that crisscross this massive neighborhood. Some of the worst violence in the recent political tension in Kenya occurred in these slums and others like them. Diseases run rampant. Crimes are common. Life is dangerous.

One point in Justin’s sermon this weekend stuck in my mind long after he was done and we had all gone home: what we see as a blessing can often also carry with it hidden dangers.

He was talking about the blessing of the privileged life the majority of us at The Crossing lead – the life of the ‘Southy’ (as I have started calling us). This life is a good life. We have enough resources to provide for our families. We live in nice homes on a cul-de-sac in a subdivision that was named after what used to be there before the concrete and landscaping. We drive decent cars. We wear suits to work. Our kids have all the opportunities to follow their interests and ambitions – soccer camp in the Summer, guitar lessons on Mondays, dance class on Tuesdays, swim practice everyday. This life is a blessing because it is so opposite the life of those eeking out a tough, dangerous existence in the Kibera slums.

Or is it?

Much of our life’s effort can probably be chalked up to avoiding danger, limiting risk. The reason we live in the neighborhoods we do is because they are safer, the reason we put so much of our money into insurance and investments is because it offers our family and us more security. We are searching for safety; we are limiting our risk. We are not used to thinking of our lives as dangerous at all.

I wonder, though, if at the same time we are living in a neighborhood of physical safety, physical health, physical prosperity, and actively searching for safety, we are simultaneously living in a spiritual slum, a spiritual shanty-town where the danger to our souls runs rampant?

It seems like a fair question to ask. Jesus talks more about the danger of money, the danger of prosperity, in the gospels than any other topic.

He famously said:
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matt. 6:24)

It is clear he is not saying money is bad. Prosperity is not necessarily evil or soul rotting, it does not HAVE to be that way, but Jesus is saying it often is that way.

It often is the case that physical prosperity caries with it the hidden danger of spiritual atrophy. The safe, prosperous physical lifestyle is often accompanied by a dangerous, slum-town spiritual life.

Are you aware of the immanent dangers that surround you everyday? Are you actively fighting against the enemies of your soul that lurk under the surface of a very clean, very safe, very prosperous life? Jesus says they are there. Jesus warns us the danger is real. Do you believe him? Does your life reflect the survival mentality that would accompany living in a dangerous neighborhood?

There are a lot of reasons a prosperous, suburban-style life can be a dangerous life for our souls. Instead of writing a marathon-long blog post, for now I will simply pass along a few of the resources I have found helpful in thinking about the relationship between my lifestyle and my faith. I don’t agree with everything in all these links, but they are good food for thought, a place to start.

I hope you find them helpful as well.

Suburban Spirituality
A Christianity Today piece by David Goetz

God of the Latte
Lauren Winner reviews 2 books on the topic (Albert Y. Hsu’s The Suburban Christian and David Goetz’ Death by Suburb).

10 ideas for living intentionally in the suburbs

Death by Suburbia
A sermon from the Village Church in North Dallas. (Scroll down the list of sermons until you find the one titled ‘Death by Suburbia.’)

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