TIME’s last magazine of the year was released to my tablet this morning. I have been an avid TIME reader for about 7 years now and always look forward to the year end issue. It is a fun issue including the “Person of the Year,” best pictures of the year, best moments of the year, best 15 minute celebrities and the like.
The TIME year end issue always gets me thinking about the year I had and what were my best moments. In fact, for years now I have done this ridiculously cheesy thing where I name every year. The titles have ranged from the sappy, “2008: The Year All My Dreams Came True” to the tamer, “2013: The Year That Just Was.”
After tapping through TIME and drinking my coffee, I got my two kids dressed, fed my dog, stepped out of my split level suburban house, climbed into my mid level SUV and suddenly realized, “2015 is the year I sold out to the suburbs!”
That realization might not have been difficult for some but for me it is a difficult reality. There is this version of myself from late college and early seminary who loathed everything about suburbia. You can chalk that up to a typical Millenial’s rebellion against his childhood but I felt pretty secure in my belief that Satan controlled the suburbs while God dwelt in the small towns and inner cities.
After all, I worked in an inner city homeless shelter with wonderful, but homeless, saints. The suburbs of that city had police officers who would see wandering homeless people, pick them up in their squad cars, drive them into the city and tell them, “Don’t ever come back. This is the place for you.” I wish I was making that up but I am not. I believe there was a some racism there as most of the “homeless” they found were hispanic or black.
Beyond that, suburbs are/were the heart of selfish consumerism, that great evil which is the modern day equivalent of what Jesus called, “the pursuit of wealth.” They waste the most resources, hoarde the most stuff and destroy the most families. They do all of this while being quite smug.
At least that is what I thought.
Yet here I am in 2015, only 3 and a half years removed from seminary and 6 and a half from college, living in a suburban split level with 2 kids, a dog and an SUV.
It all started before 2015 with a reluctant job interview initiated by me because of a sense of calling. Soon after I was getting a new Costco membership, stocking up on Starbucks gift cards, shopping in malls, eating at Olive Garden and watching movies once a month at the local megaplex.
I can offer you all kinds of excuses and justifications for this sudden turnabout. I could mention that I am married to a wonderful woman who never shared my negative feelings about the suburbs and now is quite happy here, happier than she has been in the entirety of our marriage. And as the old but funny adage goes, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”
I could also mention a report that I can’t name but I know exists that suggests poverty is now moving to the suburbs. I seem to remember it said that based off of current trends, in 10-20 years the suburbs will have decayed to shanty towns while the inner cities rejuvenate. I read that report 10 years ago, which means we are that much closer to it. I could put up pictures of buildings on my suburb that illustrate this trend. I can even tell you the names of people I know who live in the suburbs and are making far below the poverty line, despite working 40 hours a week in great jobs that do incredible good for society.
More than that I could also argue that I am here to “sanctify the arrogant suburbanites,” that if suburbs are where the sinners live, than that is where the gospel should take root. I could point to the fact that even though John Wesley and Phineas Bresee, the grandfather and father of my tradition, spent much time among the poor, their real contribution to the church was that they lived among the wealthy and encouraged the wealthy to also embrace the poor. See, that is what I am doing! Except that I am not and that attitude is as arrogant and self righteous as the worst of the suburbanites.
Putting that aside I could even satisfy a bit of my guilt by letting you all know that my family took a drastic cut in pay to move here and the church I took over was running less people on a Sunday than the church I left. However, since moving here my wife has found a great job that she enjoys and we are making slightly more money than we were before.
So maybe I could just tell you the truth. One day in mid September 2014 (which is “The year I broke my own heart”) I was walking down the street in a wonderful and impoverished small town whose residents were rough around the edges but solid diamonds underneath. On that street in that town I heard God say, “Time to go” and I was certain it was God so I made plans to leave.
Then in October I was sitting a dinner table with a new friend who has since become a great ministry partner. In that conversation he shared with me about Utah and about the spiritual needs and I heard the voice of my Lord tell me to come here.
As it turns out, I actually might have a little bit in common with that infamous Old Testament prophet Jonah. The inner city and small towns are my Tarshish. The suburbs are my Nineveh.
And after God said, “Hey Kevin, go to Nineveh,” there was no use going anywhere else but Nineveh. It was far better to go willingly than to buy a ticket aboard a whale’s digestive tract.
So here I sit, typing this out on my brand new laptop, in my split level suburban house, after putting the kids and the dog down for a nap, ready to go to the big city for a date night with my wife, perfectly pleased to let all of you know that 2015 is “The Year I Sold Out to Suburbia.”