In previous posts (What Breaks Your Heart, To Grieve Over a City, To Love a City) I grappled with what it means to grieve over a city in order to love that city by pointing out that Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, as well as the individuals who lived within that city. I argued that lovers of the city are those who choose to lay their lives down for the broken systems, institutions, and organizations that leave a wake of ruin, heartache, despair and oppression for the marginalized, voiceless, abandoned and often silent members of even the most thriving cities.
One of my favorite readings on this topic is by Henry Drummond, a Scottish theologian from the 1800s, whose writing, “The City Without A Church” is still as powerful and relevant today as ever. I recommend it HIGHLY for anyone resonating with this train of thought.
Here is Drummond’s take on loving a City:
“Two very startling things arrest us in John’s vision of the future. The first is that the likest thing to Heaven he could think of was a City; the second, that there was no Church in that City. The association of the blessed life with a City–the one place in the world from which Heaven seems most far away– is something wholly new in religious thought. No other religion which has a Heaven ever had a Heaven like this. All other Heavens have been Gardens, Dreamlands–passivities more or less aimless. It remained for John to go straight to the other extreme and select the citadel of the world’s fever, the ganglion of its unrest, the heart and focus of its most strenuous toil, as the framework for his ideal of the blessed life.
The Heaven of Christianity is different from all other Heavens, because the religion of Christianity is different from all other religions. Christianity is the religion of Cities. It moves among real things. Its sphere is the street, the market-place, the working-life of the world.
To make Cities–that is what we are here for. To make good Cities–that is for the present hour the main work of Christianity. For the City is strategic. It makes the towns: the towns make the villages; the villages make the country. He who makes the City makes the world. After all, though men make Cities, it is Cities which make men.”
I love this idea: He who makes the City makes the World.
If we want a world of injustice, oppression, wealth inequity, extreme poverty surrounded by extreme opulence, with children thrown away and women consumed, where every other marriage ends in brokenness and the disease of fatherlessness fills prisons, gangs, and morgues, then by all means, let’s keep building cities as we are.
If, however, we choose a different vision for the world, one where prisons are turned to playgrounds, where poverty exists only in a museum, where all children are cherished, where the color of one’s skin or the zip code of one’s birth does not statistically bar one from experiencing full human flourishing, where the promise of shalom is at last realized for every member of the city, then we must become lovers of a different vision for our cities.
This takes prophets and poets, storytellers and artists of every stripe. As I have written before, this is a costly work, for it entails deep sacrifice. Those who love their cities unto wholeness are not those who care much about corporate ladders, building resumes, or X-figure incomes. Rather, they tend to operate on the margins, in the nooks and crannies of the city, in places long forgotten. They are not often known–indeed, they would rather not be–but they are extremely transformational. They do not build cities with brick and mortar but with blood and tears. Their names are not etched on buildings but on changed lives.
In the next few posts, I will highlight a few of those I know who are loving their city, my city, Oklahoma City, in this way. They are folk dedicated to a long obedience in the same place. They have given up the “American Dream” to pursue the deeper dream of shalom. They have ceased living in corporate time to live in the disrupted time of the Kingdom. They are not pastors of churches or volunteers at the local shelter; instead, they are humble, unassuming, quiet people who have chosen to give their lives to something beyond themselves. And, as such, they are people for whom I have the utmost respect and love!
As I tell their stories, you will see that slowly, heart by heart, story by story, life by life, these lovers are working to build a city where mourning is turned to dancing, where the ancient ruins are rebuilt in justice and righteousness. These are folk who have been broken and spent on behalf of the broken in their midst. They are breaking the yoke of oppression and loosing the chains of injustice. They have entered the maelstrom, fever, disease and decay of their city to proclaim life, hope, blessing and freedom for captives long held in bondage by the very way of life of the city. In short, they are giving their lives to redeeming narratives, to telling better stories, to making all things new!
I can’t wait for you to meet them!!