Saturday, May 21, 2011

In Defense of Cities (why I’m not a hippie)

There are a lot of reasons to love where I live. Marseille is a big city - the second largest in France (shush Lyon!). It is alive, wild, beautiful, and rough all at the same time. It’s an active and quite old port city. It has plenty of darkness and ugliness. With the port comes trade, and it’s not all wine and cheese. There’s trafficking of drugs, contraband, humans, and sex. But the city also has plenty of redeeming qualities. Millions live in relative harmony. Sports, hobbies, and warm air bring people outside and mesh nationalities and cultures together. Daily open-air markets encourage the buying of fresh (often local) produce. Life is laid-back, communal. A small minority Christian community which spans cultures and languages is alive, rumbling, growing and learning to live, love and work together.

An then one of the most obvious reasons to quickly fall in love with this city: Marseille is surrounded by natural beauty. The Mediterranean Sea, gorges and beaches, national parks, mountains... to me it’s a near-perfect combination. I get the living organic wilderness of the city and the (quiet) living organic wildness of nature within steps of each other.

I often wonder what God intended for the Earth. How would He have us to live here? The tree-hugger argument is a pretty easy one. Nature as created is perfect, don’t screw it up, live in harmony with it. I get that, and I can see through nomadic people groups past and present a definite upward focus: an almost required spirituality due to their way of life. I’m not saying these groups got it right, but when you rely on the land for life, you can’t help but worship a creator God. He gives life and He takes it away. He is ever-present and ever-evident. This sounds like a good thing. John the Baptist obviously thought so, he “was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:6) while living in the wilderness.

Yet I still wonder. Is that what God wanted for us, humans, His chosen race of creatures? Is that all He intended?

Isaiah 45:18 points out that God the Creator “is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited.”

He created this world “to be inhabited,” but I still don’t know what that means.

He did command Israel to build the temple, and He even instructed the raising of OT cities, right? And Jesus spent plenty of time in the city...

What does He think of our cities today?

I’ve always loved nature as it was created.
Get out there, as far as you can go, and spend more than a few hours. It’s impossible not to fall in love.

But I’m starting to fall in love with cities too. It’s a love I’ve only recently discovered, and I don’t think I’ll ever shake it. There’s something alive, organic (dare I say... natural?) and redeeming about them.


Rachel said...

We can't wait to visit you all in Marseille! It looks beautiful!

Michael & Joe Joe said...

Thanks Rachel! You and that super-cool kid of yours are welcome anytime. And you can bring your husband too, I guess.