What is suburbia? A place where they tear out trees and then name streets after them? Endless neighborhoods filled with rows of cookie-cutter houses and two-car garages? A place where people are so busy that they dont even know their neighbors?
Author Albert Hsu sees suburbia as something else: a vast mission field. In his fresh new book, The Suburban Christian, Hsu presents an exciting vision where Christians live and work to transform suburbia from a sea of consumerist isolationism into a hotbed of Christian hospitality.
Describing the history of suburbia, Hsu gives us the example of Clapham Common, an eighteenth-century British neighborhood founded by William Wilberforce and his friends. Clapham Common was designed as a place where families could find a healthy environment, green spaces, and common civic areasnot so that they could escape the world, but so that they could live in community and collaborate in their Christian mission.
But today suburbia seems much more like a place where people try to create their own little utopias. Consumerism tricks us into believing that the most important thing in life is the best cable service, the biggest lawn mower, or a Gucci purse. The commuter culture runs us ragged, as we invest valuable time scurrying between home, work, church, the soccer field, and the grocery store.
I dont think this is what William Wilberforce had in mind, and neither does Hsu, who challenges us to abandon our suburban complacency. By selling all of our possessions and relocating to China? Noby adopting a radically biblical worldview that calls us to approach suburbia as a mission field right where we live.
Hsu says, If we arent called to go [to the foreign mission field], we must be sure that we are called to staynot in a passive sense, but to stay with an intentionality of active sending, sharing resources and participating in global mission even at home.
If some of us are truly called to suburbia, then we are also called to transform it by denouncing personal isolationism and embracing hospitalitya value, Hsu says, that is at the core of the Gospel. We can fight commuter culturea trend that keeps us in our own cars instead of in relationshipsby strategically living, working, shopping, and worshipping in the same part of town. And we can walk, bicycle, and carpool more. That way, we can be available to Good Samaritan moments, as Hsu calls them.
Hsus book is filled with practical ideas for living out these Good Samaritan moments. For example, in the spirit of Wilberforcewho fought against human slaverythose of us in local government, real estate, or building industries could marshal our resources to fight against economic slavery by promoting affordable suburban housing for the lower and lower-middle classes.
And heres a less demanding but equally valuable ideapractice hospitality by foregoing a solitary evening in front of the television screen and invite your neighbors over for dessert. You never knowit might open the door to tell them about the Creator of hospitality right in the midst of suburbia.
From BreakPoint®, October 23, 2006, Copyright 2006, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. BreakPoint® and Prison Fellowship Ministries® are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.