Living In The City

"As Christians in Los Angeles we are not called to consume or fear Los Angeles, but we are called to love the city."    

As Christians, we are to consider how God would have us live in Los Angeles, what our orientation towards the city ought to be, and what it looks like to be actively engaged in loving, reaching, caring for, and celebrating our city as followers of Jesus.

There are two common approaches to living in the city of Los Angeles, particularly for those who are not originally from here. Both of these orientations towards Los Angeles stand opposed to what God has called us to.

1. Consumption
The word I've used to describe this approach is instrumentalization. Many people come to the city to seek ways to instrumentalize, or use the city for their purposes. Many people come to be famous, or to make a lot of money, or to go to school, or to prove to themselves how significant and important they are. There's nothing inherently wrong with fame, or school, or money, but the tendency is for the overriding goal or purpose for coming to Los Angeles to undercut a sincere appreciation for and love for the city.

The consequences of being a consumer are deep and wide. The job you work is not about faithfully working hard for the sake of serving the community around you, but is about your career goals, the money you want, the status you desire. The neighbors you live next to are not people to love and care for, but are simply extras in the movie that is your life, only of consequence when they disrupt or frustrate you somehow (loud music anyone?). The people around you are not there for you to care for and love with the love of Christ, but to be used, networked through, or taken advantage of. The church you go to is not a place to grow, love others, and learn to follow Christ more passionately, but a place that must entertain you to keep your attention.

The approach of consumption is fundamentally idolatry. Everything in your life, your city, your neighborhood, bends to the will of the god in your life, whether that God is money, status, fame, or self-worth. Even God Himself becomes simply a means to that end.

2. Fear
Another attitude I see from Christians moving into Los Angeles is fear. For these people the city is a dangerous place, full of weird and dangerous people. Since the city represents "evil", the best thing you can do while here is to separate yourself fully from it. What Christians with this mindset often end up doing is creating parallel cultural environments that allow them to technically have a Los Angeles address and yet never actually be in the city.

Church events every night of the week. Never being outside, never walking streets, never participating in cultural events in the city, never engaging people, neighbors, coworkers, or anyone else you encounter who is different than you.

We fear for many reasons. Some of us fear because we are insecure about what we believe. What if we are challenged by someone and we don't have an answer? It's better to not engage. Some of us fear because our entire lives have been carefully crafted to keep us in our own, safe, secure environments.

But like consumption, often this fear comes from idolatry. The idolatry of safety. The idolatry of comfort. The idolatry of ease. The idolatry of ethnicity. This fear produces disengagement, completely undercuts the mission of God, undermines the power of the gospel, making God look small and incapable of reaching broken and sinful people, is often rooted in ethno-centricity, and closes its eyes to the incredible calling God has for His people in the city.

When God's people were exiled to Babylon, a great city not unlike our great city of Los Angeles, instead of calling His people to engage and use the city for their purposes, and instead of calling His people to retreat and live in fear while in such an anti-Yahweh world, He calls them to something radically different.

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." -Jeremiah 29:4-7 ESV

Build houses, live in them. Live the life you would normally live, plant gardens, eat their produce, be married, let your children get married, too. But seek the welfare of the city, and pray to the LORD on its behalf.

As Christians in Los Angeles we are not called to consume or fear Los Angeles, but we are to love the city: to enjoy it, to know it, to serve it and seek its welfare, to speak truth to a city desperate for truth, and to pray on its behalf. Do you love our city? Do you engage with people who are different from you here? Do you serve your neighbors? Do you serve those in need? Do you vote in local elections? Do you know the history of Los Angeles, the history of your neighborhood? Are you living like a consumer or a Christian? Are you living out of fear or out of faith? Do you care for the marginalized? Do you even know who the marginalized in our city are? Do you seek the welfare of our city? Do you pray for Los Angeles?

The core of Christian belief centers on God, Jesus Christ, who left His home and came to our earthly "city"; instead of consuming He loved inextricably. Instead of taking what He could get from us, He gave everything He had for us. Instead of fearing the "city" of evil and sin that would eventually nail Him to a tree, He walked boldly and confidently into its midst, carrying upon Himself its condemnation, and meeting us where we were: in the depths of our sin. May we sacrificially love, not consume, as He loved; and may we walk in faith, not fear, as He walked.