From its inception, one of the goals of the City project is to hear your story—stories of the ways comprehensive flourishing is showing up among your neighbors and neighborhoods, wherever you live. In this introductory video and essay, This Is Our City executive producer Andy Crouch calls cities the places that reveal humanity's best—and most broken—dimensions, as well as the stage on which God's redemptive purposes for the world are unfolding. As you watch and read Andy's introduction, think about the pockets of your own community where shalom is breaking through. Then tell us about them in the comments section or by e-mailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, we'll share a selection from your responses. We anticipate that God is at work in the unlikeliest settings, and want to hear about it!
There's something about cities that concentrates and intensifies human experience.
The most afraid I have ever been was in a city. The most exhilarated I have ever been was on the streets of a city. The most in touch with human need has been in cities—and the most aware of how glorious human beings can be, and what human beings create can be, has been in cities.
Cities intensify everything about what it is to be a human being. Which may be why cities show up again and again in the biblical story, even though most people lived in rural areas at the time Scripture was written. You have Babel, which concentrates human rebellion like nothing before or since. You have Nineveh, the city that Jonah is sent to, that provokes God's particular attention and compassion and redemptive intention. You have, of course, Jerusalem, where worship happens in a way that it doesn't happen anywhere else in the biblical story. And then you have this amazing new City that's promised as the culmination of God's whole redemptive mission—not a garden but a city.
So in our ordinary experience, I think many of us find—whether we live in a city or not—that it was in a city that some of our most intense and formative experiences happened, for better and for worse. But also in Scripture, the most intense and formative stories about what it means to be a human being in relationship with God end up being urban.
That prompts a very important set of questions for us as Christians, when we think about the cities we live in, or near, or are somehow connected with. And it comes down to this: What is God's purpose for human beings? And, how do cities contribute to God's purpose or how do they undermine God's purpose for human beings?
I think the truth is actually that cities do both. They contribute in amazing ways to flourishing, by which I just mean the full realization of human potential. One thing that happens in cities is an extraordinary division of tasks and labor and opportunities. So there are many more kinds of jobs—many more things that human beings can do. There are many more kinds of relationships people can have with each other than in simpler, less urbanized societies. So that when you go into a city you see all the possibilities for human beings at their very best.
However, you also see all that can go wrong with human beings in the most stark ways. You see not just relative poverty, but actual homelessness—people who are not able to find a viable way to live off the streets—at the same time as you see not just affluence, but the ultimate pinnacle of wealth. You see the ultimate ability to create one's own world of wealth and, even through juxtaposed with great poverty, to live in tremendous privilege.
All of this is intensified by the city. It is a place that raises the most fundamental questions of what it is to be not just a flourishing human being, but human beings who contribute to a flourishing world. Because at their best, cities are very environmentally responsible places to live. They concentrate our productivity, they concentrate our waste, they concentrate our commerce, and we are able to live relatively lightly compared, say, to a suburban environment.
But on the other hand, cities can be places that despoil the world—that turn the world into a kind of a parody of what it was meant to be, rather than a flourishing integrated world.
So one of the questions we want This Is Our City to ask, and to start conversations about, and maybe in some ways to answer, is:
What is flourishing in a city? What makes for flourishing in your city?
How can flourishing in your city be more comprehensive—that is, not just a few people flourishing, or a few neighborhoods flourishing, but the whole city flourishing?
And ultimately, how does your city contribute to the flourishing of the whole world? Actually contribute something to the world that brings out its abundance and its potential?
Are there places in your city where you get a glimpse of what God is ultimately doing in the world to bring it to its redemptive purpose? And are there places in your city where you come into contact in a fundamental way with the deepest need that caused God to have to intervene so decisively in history?
Those are the questions we want to ask with This Is Our City.