Monday, April 7, 2008

Suburban soul??

I just finished reading a great book, Death by Suburb by Dave Goetz. An intriguing title, the subtitle grabs me even more: "How to Keep the Suburbs from Killing Your Soul."
This is a great book--Goetz, who lives in Wheaton, where I used to live and went to school, describes suburban life to a tee. He trains a keen eye on both the struggle and irony of the competitive, consumeristic, pressured, hurried life that is not only the typical suburbanite's life, but his own life. (He admits to being a sometimes over-enthusiastic soccer dad, and to owning both the quintessential suburban vehicle, an SUV, and the quintessential suburban dog, a Golden Retriever).
He recommends spiritual practices to counter-act the "environmental toxins" of suburban life; practices that range from the traditional solitude and self-examination to ones that address specific suburban problems. For example, he writes, to counter the toxin of "My church is the problem," a common malady of the suburban consumer mindset, he recommends the practice of "Staying put in your church."
This particular chapter came at an opportune time for me. I am not a church hopper. I've been a part of the same local church for 21 years. the fact that it happens to be one of the largest churches in America doesn't really matter to me--it's home. But this week, I was wrestling with whether it is where I really belong. I had spoken up about some problems I saw in our church, and I probably did not use as much diplomacy in expressing my concerns as I should have. (okay, that's an understatement. I was pretty harsh, and spent the night vacillating between guilt and anger at being misunderstood)
That night, as I wondered if I really should stay at my church of 21 years, I read Goetz's words, which were, at that moment, God's message to my heart:
"At its best, the local church functions as an arena in which conflict and hurts among participants who choose to stay can open up possibilities for spiritual progress. Where else will people still accept me after I stand up in a church meeting and harshly criticize something? 'ah, that's just Dave,' they say. They know me. I learn about the Christian virtutes of acceptance and graciousness even when I am not accepting and gracious."
This author's story was my story. I was the one who had stood up and criticized, rather harshly. And yet, as one of my friends at church told me a few days later, "your circle is not broken."
When we practice perserverance, and stay connected at one church long term, we get to experience grace in a way that we wouldn't otherwise. We get the chance to mess up, and not hide. And thus, experience grace and forgiveness.
I love when my life and books collide, when God speaks to me through someone I don't even know.


Llama Momma said...


Thank you for sharing honestly from your church experience.

This post resonates with me. Our church is a hard place to be for a lot of reasons. We're committed to staying, and I know I have grown more spiritually because of it. It's almost like marriage -- knowing you're in it for the long haul changes your outlook. You know you need to work through the hard stuff and accept each other because this is it.

Entertaining fantasies about leaving aren't helpful in the long run.

Oh, I needed this reminder today!!

Keri Wyatt Kent said...

So true--it's a lot like marriage. And in our culture, it's easy to move on--but staying in a marriage, or at church, and working things out (as long as our church and/or marriage is not abusive) will form us spiritually.
thanks for your insights!

Michelle Van Loon said...

This is a paradigm-shifting book, isn't it?

I devoured it when it first released, and as I read your blog, I wondered if it was time in my life to visit "Death By Suburb" again.

Dianne said...

Great review and thoughts. There's something to be said for knowing and being known, and that (I am learning) only happens when we're willing to not only stay put but plant ourselves and be willing to grow somewhere. I think we have such a disposable mindset in our society that we tend to toss broken relationships as easily as we do broken household items (another suburbanite tendency perhaps?). Great post!

Keri Wyatt Kent said...

Just an update on the situation: I wrote a letter, apologizing and also sharing my concerns more clearly, to the person who received the brunt of my harsh words. I sought counsel of wise friends in the church who know us both before sending it. I received grace and acceptance from everyone involved, including the person I'd hurt. It was a difficult process but I know God is using it to form me. And I know the sweetness of receiving forgiveness and grace that only comes when you screw up, but then don't run and hide.

Anonymous said...

I read this book last year and had learned much from it. I think I need to pull it out and re-read it.

I am struggling with this same situation at my home church. I say home church, because right now I have two churches. The one you attend (we started last year) and the one I have been a part of for over 30 years. I struggle, because at WCCC I have grown so much in the last year, but I am known at my home church. If my children weren't so plugged in, I would have left yesterday. I am so disgusted by the blatant power abuse and the use of scripture to bash at anyone who disagrees. It becomes even more complicated by having some relatives on staff (not the ones on the power trip).

Literally, this has become a week to week struggle, and I don't know how and when it will end.

Thank you for telling of your experience and giving those of us in difficult situations hope.


Dianne said...

I love this - "the sweetness of receiving forgiveness and grace that only comes when you screw up, but then don't run and hide." - something i am learning too. So easy to run and hide, so against our nature (ever since the garden). Thanks for sharing so honestly.

Trish Berg said...


I, too, love when I read a book that collides with my life. I love that comment,

Great post. Have you seen the video on Randy Pausch and his "The Last Lecture?" He is form Carnegie Mellon, and is dying of pancreatic cancer.

I caught his special with Diane Sawyer last week, and it was touching. His book will be out I think later this year.

His words will collide with your life as well. I know they did mine.

I know life has been busy, but I so miss talking to you, my friend.

Holding you in my prayers,

Trish Berg