Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Good of the City

I had this idea, a couple of months ago, that I should be moving along here. I find I don't typically stay in any one place for longer than five years, and look, I've been in the ol' WC (you can interpret that how you want, since I'm not going to tell you what County "W" stands for, and anyway, many people find the city about as inspiring as a watercloset) for nigh on four.

So, maybe I'll be moving on within the next year, but so far every door of which I've rattled the handle has either shut or remained locked. And then about two weeks ago a situation arose which made me think, "Yeah, you might want to rethink going into Starbucks management, but you are staying in this geographical location for the foreseeable future." Some of this is related to the stuff I was talking to my pastors about the other weekend.

The realisation that the WC would most likely be my home for at least another two years was a little discouraging for me, maybe because I get naturally stir-crazy, or maybe because it's tough to live in a city that has so much personality and so little going for it. My brother once likened it to a relative with an addiction (and I may say it probably does have an addiction)--you love them and they're family, but sometimes their decisions are painful and at the very least embarrassing.

I had to sit with a feeling of trapped-ness for a while, and then the phrase "seek the good of the city" began to circulate in my head. It is a paraphrase of part of Jeremiah 29.5-7, which, in the NIV, reads:

"Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."
Jeremiah wrote this (at the direction of God, though very few people believed it) to the exiles of his people to Babylon. I doubt they found Babylon any more inspiring than I find my city, due to the fact that they had been brought there against their will and everything. I used to embrace this verse in the context of East London. East London wasn't all that fashionable of a place to live, either, but at least it was connected to a "real city" with lots of stuff to do, and at least I knew people there from varied ethnic groups. I think I had a sort of desire to seek the good of my current city when I first moved back here, but I maybe have kind of given up.

Just like the city.

I'm a little dubious that I personally will be able to effect a whole lot of change here. But as I'm seeking what to do next, I have the sense that the question I need to be asking--and trying, with God's inspiration, to answer--is, "How can I promote the good of my city?" And then, whatever the answer is, I need to do it. I pray I do.


Heather said...

Could you imagine the reaction of most Christians if God said, "Move to Las Vegas and seek the good of the city. If it prospers, so will you. You want Las Vegas to prosper"?

Jenn said...

It sounds like you've been listening to Tim Keller. . . This is my conumdrum right now, believing that I am to work for the good of the city, but not really liking the city I'm in and kind of wishing for another one. In some ways, the monastic vow of stability might have been the hardest one for me to keep!

Justme said...

I was reading your thoughts and identifying with your feelings of trapped-ness... I don't feel usually trapped in my city, but I do in my circumstances, my workplaces, my living situation... But then I read in the paper about somebody who wanted to stay and they told him to leave (http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1186557463960&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull) and everything returned to proportions. Nobody knows the future. In my case, the possibility of getting thrown out really scares me! May we both do the will of our Father in any place He wants us to be! I like the verse you quote. Another verse I remembered in this context: Eph.5:16

Scott said...

I agree. Trying to promote the good of the city is hard since there are so many segments and poverty built within the city. The verse you quoted from Jer. was good since it shows that through one's efforts, we can make a difference. My friend, Chip, in his website, www.wordsntone.com stresses the importance of civic work tied to ministry. It is okay to feel trapped because it is God's movement bubbling up within you to make the needed changes to society. Go for it!!!!

Jenn said...

Heather--wow, that's quite the contextualisation. I'm usually pretty good at doing that, but I had never thought of that one before!

Jenn--oddly enough, I had been thinking about this verse and THEN listened to some Tim Keller sermons, which, naturally, reinforced the idea.

Justme--thanks for the perspective. You're so right.

Scott--good thoughts, too. I had never thought about that interpretation of "trapped" feelings, but if it's true, that's pretty cool!

Stacey said...

Well your post makes me a little sad as perhaps breaking free may have sent you flying our way, but I will be praying for a sense of calling and direction for you.

Lately I've been hanging with that miserable companion, restlessness, too.

May God bring that sense of contented focus to our lives that we may be blessings to our surroundings.

Inihtar said...

I guess sometimes God makes you stay when you don't particularly want to. And at other times, He makes you go when all you want to do is stay! I'm convinced you'll find His reason for making you stay sooner or later!