Jesus of the Cul-de-Sac

In my 20s, I had suburbanites figured out. With a few exceptions, they were status-conscious white folks who had fled the cities because they couldn't stomach sending their children to school with black and brown kids. Radical, justice-seeking Christians, on the other hand, lived either in the city—thus throwing their lot in with the poor as Jesus did—or on farms—thus tending the earth, God's good creation. Suburbia, that rather tedious space between the two, was the home of uncritical and consumptive creatures, with a propensity for megachurches and holiday-themed porch flags.

Then in my 30s I moved there. At first I pretended that my new town, charmingly called a "village" on one sign, wasn't actually a suburb—and it's not, if you don't count the countless small towns being gussied up (and gutted) by sprawl. I convinced myself that my neighborhood of mostly 1960s ranches was fundamentally different from the new subdivisions springing up around it—even though, a few decades ago, my development would have been the offensive new kid in town. "Sprawl is where other people live, the result of other people's poor choices," architectural historian Robert Bruegmann has written.

If suburbia is the largely residential area within commuting distance of a city, however, then here I am: smack-dab in the middle of what has been called "the geography of nowhere." The story of my move to nowhere is a long one—and a rather tired one, actually—about romantic ideals of living in the city knocking up against the realities of raising three small children there. Some would challenge that it's also a narrative of subconscious racism and class privilege, both of which are distinct possibilities. Whatever the truth, suffice it to say that I now know something of the swiftness with which self-righteousness can bake itself into humble pie.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2007
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