Grand Illusions

Too many suburban Christians are in the world—and also of it.

From Thoreau's description of men who lead "lives of quiet desperation" to James Howard Kuntsler's recent castigation of our landscape as a "geography of nowhere" to critics such as Russell Kirk, John Lukacs, and Wendell Berry, dissidents have argued that the American suburban experiment is toxic to the human soul. Joining this tradition is David Goetz.

Raised on a windswept prairie of North Dakota—Goetz once thought he would take over his grandfather's farm only to be told that his grandfather would not "wish that on you"—Goetz ended up in Wheaton, by reputation that most evangelical of suburbs, and his wife's hometown. In his telling, suburban life revolves around competing for what Goetz calls "immortality symbols"—"the four-bedroom home with the Pottery Barn colors, the L.L. Bean underwear and outerwear, the fuel-guzzling truck, the purebred dog, the family pilgrimage to Disney World, and the athletic and scholarship-bedecked college-bound freshman."

For Goetz, the defining ethos of suburbia is catering to "the overindulged self" in an "environment of security, efficiency, and opportunities," all of which create a faux spirituality among Christians who live there. According to Goetz, their faith is really little more than busy avoidance of reality. The false image of the "good life" offered by the suburbs creates what Goetz calls a "bloated, tiny soul." Goetz's harsh judgment is tempered by his admission of his own acute sensitivity to what others think of him and his guilty joy in finally getting that SUV.

In the swamp with us, Goetz offers several spiritual disciplines to fight back—including solitude, repentance, commitment, rest, service, and friendship—all starting with "the simple admission ...

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