How do we find God in Surburbia. The problem is not with suburbia itself. The problem, according to Al Hsu in The Suburban Christian is that in a western society we can, mostly, buy what we want. When we run out of groceries, we simply go sling to the supermarket to buy some more – a place which gives a false sense of abundance because the shelves are always stacked. If the washing machine breaks, we buy another one, and so on.
In the past it was not like this. The world has rightly moved on and goods, services and healthcare are much more widely available in the West. This is a good thing, but the downside is that it gives us a false sense of us bring able to provide for ourselves and allows us to forget about God as the ultimate provider. At mealtimes, instead of relying on God’s provision “more often we simply give a cursory thanks for the food we already have”.
This, Hsu says, also gives us a false sense of the hardships found in many other parts of the world.
So how do we remain reliant on God when there is abundance around us and our credit cards allow us to buy what we need and many things we don’t? Hsu gives several ideas:
1. Spend time in nature. Suburban living is built with man at the centre. Everything is for our convenience. The natural world reminds us that we are part of God’s great creation, but not the centre of it.
2. Practice dependence on Gods provision. Instead of simply buying something when you thing you need it, pray and ask God whether you really do need it and allow God to provide for that need in some other way. I guess, sometimes that ‘need’ wasn’t really a need at all. Other times God will provide in an unexpected way and may help up to depend on others a little more on the way, by providing it through someone else.
3. Practice the presence of God in the place where you are. As I sit in a coffee shop on a shopping mall writing this post, although it is a humanly built artificial environment, I am able to see aspects of God’s goodness around: the father and mother feeding their six month old baby; friends enjoying time together as they browse the stores; people rushing around, all of whom God has created and longs to know. These things are not found in the built environment, but in the people whom it was built for.
It is often only in moments of crisis of transition that the contemporary suburbanite stops to think about meaning beyond the everyday. Events such as the birth of a new baby or the death of a loved one can lead to spiritual questions, the answers to which are not found in a self-reliant culture. The suburban christian must be able to point to such things which are beyond what can be immediately seen. All of which comes down to slowing down, spending time in community, and realising that, even in our consumerist society, we cannot do everything for ourselves but must rely on our creator God.