Patrick Kennedy asked me to write about a few of my side projects I’ve been working on. But before I did that I thought it would be appropriate to provide some background on my personal motivations and beliefs. Following is the first of three parts. I hope you enjoy and find the short essays thoughtful and sincere.
Part 1: God is found in the City
When I was young, each summer I attended a Christian summer camp in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the Northeastern corner of New Mexico. There I was taught a popular American naturalist theology. Find God in nature. Look at the beauty of creation–the streams, the trees, the mountains, the stars–and know that there must be a God that loves you that made it all.
Well, that might have to be placed in the category of “had-to-be-there” theology. While great for a spiritual high, it’s not that hard those that aren’t drawn to religion to pick apart logically. Namely, the primary criticism to naturalist theology is that the god of nature is not really all that loving. For all its beauty, nature is not that into you. It doesn’t even like you. Most animals may not necessarily want to kill you, but they do want you to go away. The rest want to kill you. Wild animals have evolved to compete fiercely. When you are in nature, you are either a threat, or food, or both. The streams, the trees, the mountains they don’t care. There is no love there. If there is a god of nature, it’s not a god of love. At best, the god of nature is a god of indifference and randomness. At worst, it’s cruel and evil.
For all our evolution, humans should be the same. A common question for monotheists is the problem of pain. “How can a loving god allow for such evil and pain in the world?” It’s a fair question. Polytheists, like Hindus, don’t have this theological problem. Atheists also don’t have this problem. The natural world is evolved to compete for food and reproduction. The real question then flips the problem of pain on its head and becomes “why is there any good at all?”
That is the first thing I love about Christianity. Christianity’s answer to the problem of goodness in the world is that the Creator of nature is good and loving and chose humans to bare His image. The book of 2 Kings tells us that God is not found in the wind or the earthquakes–that’s not where the image of God is. The image of God is found in the people1.
That is why I love living in the city. Cities are where you find the greatest concentration of the image of God. For all our evolution, cities filled with humans should be the terrible and frightening places that we are told they are. They should be places of corruption, violence, and constant competition. And you can find plenty of that. But yet we find that the Bible tends to point back towards cities. The letters of Paul are not addressed to “the Church in the mountains somewhere” or “the Church in the new sub-division with the good schools”, they are addressed to Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus. One of the first commands that God gives the Israelites after the conquest of Canaan is to build the city of Shiloh2, which was the religious seat until David changed it to Jerusalem. Jesus chose the city as the setting to fulfill the Torah.
God is found in the city because he is found in the people of the city who bare his image. The people who chat with other commuters on the train. The people who give generously of their time and wealth. The teachers and principals being asked to do seemingly impossible tasks. Ministers and pastors who listen to the fears and concerns of the helpless. The city planner who devotes their careers to building an equitable city. Developers who forgo some profit to provide affordable housing without subsidy. Hundreds of thousands of people who, each day, make small choices that–against cold logic, rationality, and evolution–do good and loving things for the sake of their community and their city. God is found in the city.