This essay is a response of sorts to a post on Scott Greider’s blog in which he criticizes a local Uno’s Pizzaria for looking like an old urban building but actually being a new suburban building. I agreed with Scott’s concerns, but offered a different perspective. The Uno’s in question has since closed.
My friend Scott is frustrated with a pizza place.
He enjoyed the food, he liked the prices, and he thought the service was acceptable.
But he still feels like he’s been lied to — by the building itself.
“What made this place so cool — primarily its atmosphere — was … well … inauthentic!” Scott said on his blog after his visit to Uno’s Chicago Grill in Fort Wayne.
“You see, this was a brand new building out in the sprawling suburbs on a lot surrounded by parking spaces that was intentionally trying to look and feel a hundred years old.”
He’s right, especially when he compares the Fort Wayne restaurant to the original Uno’s in Chicago.
My family and I ate at the original Uno’s last year, and while we ate deep-dish authentic Chicago pizza elbow-to-elbow around a table a bit too big for the tiny dining room, even the youngest of us knew we weren’t just taking in a pizza. We were taking in history.
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It’s funny how a seemingly innocent photo can reveal a cultural fault line.
This photo of a sign on Taylor Street in Fort Wayne posted on Fort Wayne Observed was greeted with this response:
I think it’s on “This is Why Young People Want To Leave Fort Wayne” Street.
That is: Christianity, or a certain brand of it, contributes to Fort Wayne’s brain drain.
Let me answer the implicit challenge directly.
There is a certain kind of Christian who believes “Turn or Burn” is the entire Gospel, remembers Hell but forgets Heaven and Earth, and reduces the welcome of a gracious Father to a wagging finger.
But there is another kind of Christian who knows that the goal is not escaping Hell; it’s defeating it. And to do that, this Christian loves his spouse, his children and his neighbors with vigor and joy. This Christian knows cities are rebuilt person by person, with love and patience, and does not shrink from doing a task that will have to be completed by his children and grandchildren and will need to be guarded as long as this earth lasts.
Some will be attracted to a group of such Christians. But there is a certain kind of young person who would see such a faithful church and leave town all the faster.
— Photo courtesy of Mitch Harper of Fort Wayne Observed
Here is how Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, answers the question, emphasizing the importance of cities:
I’m throwing in with Jim Boice on this one (cf. his Two Cities: Two Loves.)
The evangelical church must stay true to its biblical foundations, and it must maintain and enhance the effectiveness of its expository preaching, the holiness of its members, the ‘thickness’ of its counter-cultural community, the fervor of its evangelism. But if it doesn’t learn how to do this in our biggest cities then we don’t have much hope for our culture.
If our cities are largely pagan while our countryside is largely Christian, then our society and culture will continue to slide into paganism. And that is exactly what is happening. Christians strengthen somewhat away from the cities and they have made some political gains, but that is not effecting cultural products much. It is because in the center cities (NYC, Boston, LA, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Washington DC) the percentages of people living and working there who are Christians are minuscule.
Jim Boice proposed that evangelical Christians need to live in the major cities at a higher percentage than the population at large (See Two Cities, p.163ff.) Currently 50% of the U.S. population live in urban areas (and 25% lives in just the 10 largest urban areas.) Boice proposes that evangelicals should be living in cities in at least the same percentages or more. As confirmation of Boice’s belief consider how much impact both the Jewish and the gay communities have had on our culture. Why? Though neither is more than 3-4% of the total population, they each comprise over 20% of the population of Manhattan (and in other center cities. )
So we have two problems. First, evangelicals (especially Anglos) in general are quite negative about U.S. cities and city living. Second, you can’t ‘do church’ in exactly the same way in a city as you do it elsewhere, not if you want to actually convert hard-core secular people to Christianity. There are churches that set up in cities without adapting to their environment. Ironically, they can grow rather well anyway in cities by just gathering in the young already-evangelicals who are temporarily living in the city after college. But that is not the way to make the cities heavily Christian-which is the crying need today.
— Hat tip: Justin Taylor. Photo by Francois Schnell
An article over on Comment magazine by Calvin College professor James K.A. Smith nicely encapsulates much of what we hope for in Fort Wayne.
Below are lots of quotes from Loving our neighbour(hood)s: The architecture of altruism. It’s full of good stuff:
The culture of “automobility” engenders a residential architecture where the three-car garage swallows almost the entire front elevation, leaving a small gap for a front door—but eliminating any room for an expansive front porch. Instead, houses are set back from the street, guarded by the fortress-like wall of garage doors, leaving us to retreat to the privacy of fenced backyards on sprawling decks—once again, insulated by pressure-treated lumber from any contact with our neighbours. Thus, our suburban “neighbourhoods” are all too often collections of privatized, insulated pods that secure us from any contact with “neighbours.” In such a world, Jesus’ command sounds a tad anachronistic and strange.
Christian exhortations to love our neighbours usually amount to encouragements to muster the will-power to care about others—a call to a resolute interiority and attitude. But what if Christian neighbour-love had a structural, material concern at its base: that we care about the very physical shape of our residential dwelling and critically consider how the material conditions of our built environment foster or detract from love of neighbour? In a world where the built environment threatens to squelch the very category of “neighbour,” might not we heed Jesus’ command precisely by being concerned to build communities that encourage encounters with neighbours? Could there be an architecture of neighbour-love?
A construction of the world that finds us sequestered in insulated pods—emerging only into smaller, mobile, insulated pods—must make an impact on how we see ourselves and our relations to (largely invisible) others. Could there not be a link between the increased narcissism and polarity of North American culture and that many adults spend two hours a day by themselves in maddening commuter traffic, with the inanities of talk radio as a soundtrack?
Loving our neighbour means more than mustering kind feelings toward anonymous others. It might require, here and now, that we commit ourselves to building (or better, recovering and redeeming) built environments in which neighbours actually show up to be loved.
There is no such thing as piety that is only private. The following verse is from our public confession at church this morning:
“By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown.” Proverbs 11:11 ESV
If the upright remain hidden behind closed doors in a life lived only in a small, safe sanitized haven, then of course the city is not exalted. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on this verse, says, “Good men are public blessings.” (emphasis mine) Henry mentions three ways in which this is true:
- God blesses the Christian: “By the blessings with which they are blessed, which enlarge their sphere of usefulness.”
- The Christian blesses the neighbor: “By the blessings with which they bless their neighbours, their advice, their example, their prayers, and all the instances of their serviceableness to the public interest.”
- And God blesses the neighbor: “By the blessings with which God blesses others for their sake.”
The result? “The city is exalted and made more comfortable to the inhabitants, and more considerable among its neighbours.”
If Fort Wayne, “The City of Churches,” is not in some way “exalted,” the wicked are not the ones to blame. Fort Wayne Christians must encourage one another to be good to our city, by blessing our neighbors. And in return, God promises to exalt our city.