No matter where you are, the sunrise starts the day. Your personal workday or schoolday might begin much earlier or later, but the rising sun beckons squawking chickens and noisy commuters alike.
I grew up only fifteen minutes from the cultural heart of my city. Though technically I hail from a suburb, I consider myself a city girl because I walk fast, talk fast, and walk through parking lots with my keys in between my fingers. At the same time, however, I grew up driving thirty minutes to the edge of Amish country to go to church. We wound through woods and over ravines to reach our church community, though our living situations made superficial connection difficult. Indeed, it often seemed to me like our countryside companions lacked a level of motivation or ambition – as if they spent their days merely in orchards and treestands. I wondered: what of art, culture, or academic challenges was to be had out here? Most of all, our countryside companions felt a suspicion of that which was outside the accepted radius. The city, in their minds, was filled with frightening shadowy figures, corrupting experts, and a forgetful godlessness.
The countryside was protected from such shrouded dangers and could subsequently embrace slow living, since those who reside there felt no need to stand guard against the same insidious dangers with which the city overflowed. The cornerstone of slow living is delayed gratification. We easily observe it in the practice of agriculture or animal husbandry. As every excited child discovers, simply covering a bulb with dirt does not result in daffodils; it takes multiple seasons for notable fruits of labor.
The city seems to lack such tangible examples of delayed gratification. DoorDash, drive-throughs, and automation lend themselves to over-packed calendars, brimming with unnecessary errands, like nail appointments and weekly dog grooming. City living, however, does not condemn the Christian to a flaccid existence. Likewise, an agrarian existence does not guarantee the Christian a fruitful walk.
The city encourages the contrarian Christian, the sort of person who thrives by resistance. An individual who requires regular confrontation and questioning to remain resolute, the city Christian must fight against the worldly pull to be busy to the point of burnout. Slow living in the city involves time alone with God, sitting in moments of observation of His world. Faithful Christian living in the city also requires us to speak candidly about our love for Christ when challenged. It’s formulating thoughtful responses and taking people seriously when most of what they say falls on deaf ears.
City life, too, requires cultivating nature, whether that means plants in your own small space or a collective effort to tame nature within blocks of concrete. We are indeed called to subdue the Earth. City living forces us to crave the natural world and supplement it with both our small efforts – like the apartment plants – and with our imaginations. Brick buildings become cave walls, dugout windows become the top of ravines. Yes, this imagery is borrowed from the natural world, but the importance is in finding beauty in objectively drab things. That’s how we ought to look at each other: we’re each objectively depraved, sinful, and messy. Some people stay that way because they don’t understand the gospel. But the grace of God enables us to see each other in a new light, just as the grace of God allows us to see the drab concrete of the city in a new light.
Living in the city grants the residents, not a few perks: well-stocked grocery stores, a variety of foods, public transportation, and short driveways after short commutes. We can retain an appreciation for the seasons from department store displays and the changing angle of the sun off our neighbor’s window. City living teaches a dexterity of conversation with people who we would otherwise simply judge at first glance.
It awakens in us a deeper longing for our final resting place: a heavenly community with others in worship of the Lord. Through strong city churches, we can experience that heavenly inbreaking all the more starkly amid the bustle of the city.
City living might not teach the same discipline as rural country living, but it certainly does not lack merits. Creativity and closeness create a powerful duo for the Christian who might find themselves too complacent without consistent challenge in the city.