Why Christians Can Raise Kids Anywhere: A Response to Kathy Keller
Kathy Keller, writing recently for the City project, is right to remind Christians that it's possible to raise creative, compassionate, confident, and faithful children in cities. I get it: Christians, like many other white Americans, have long fled cities to get away from immigrants and poor people; that was much the impetus behind the Long Island suburbs, where I lived in my high-school years. But city living isn't for every Christian—and if my family's story is any testimony, Christians can learn to engage the world and contribute meaningfully to culture just about anywhere.
My parents, my grandparents, and I were all born and spent our childhoods in New York City; my great-grandparents were immigrants. They were factory workers, horse trainers, personal chefs, nannies, maids, cops. My parents were free to roam the city streets and take the subway; they had friends of every ethnicity, religion, and social class. I grew up measuring the length of things in city blocks, visiting city museums, and taking public transportation. Since high school, I've lived in Philadelphia and Chicago, a town of 200 people in rural California, a small East Coast village, and two very different European university towns.
Of all these places, the place I recommend you raise your kids is—anywhere you are. I'm not sure the place is the point at all.
Take my brother-in-law, Paul, who grew up in rural California and Montana, a state whose population only recently topped 1 million. He and his brother (my husband) built forts and tree houses and learned to hunt, fish, hike, and backpack in rugged conditions, ride horses, chop wood, and generally work very hard.
Maybe they didn't take in a lot of theater or opera or visit many art museums, but if culture is what humans make of the world, you better believe they grew up with a strong sense of their own potential and strength as culture makers. Today they can build houses from scratch, grow food, and repair just about anything. (Paul even taught himself to knit so he could teach his daughter, who wanted to learn.) They stop to help neighbors. And they have that elusive quality of being thoroughly comfortable in their own skin in almost any setting. My husband has a Ph.D. from a top European university; we've lived everywhere from a sketchy studio in Rogers Park, Chicago, to the "home of golf," St. Andrews, Scotland.