I met Albert Hsu at Cape Town 2010 (The Third Lausanne Congress) and following some conversations around the development of suburbia and theology I picked up his book The Suburban Christian: Finding Spiritual Vitality in the Land of Plenty. Suburban Christianity is something that needs to be studied further, however this book ended up as a relatively academic study of religion and the suburbs.
This book is full of social commentary that is rather interesting – although not interesting enough to last 200 pages, but the author does make some really excellent points along the way. As a product of suburbia, Hsu examines how this new culture has arisen to dominate our landscape today and asks some pretty poignant questions about the “progress” of our society towards the individualism and isolationism of suburbia. He addresses the issue that I see as being a fundamental hurdle to a profound and vibrant spiritual journey – an “absence of scarcity” that has resulted in our entitlement culture devoid of appreciation and always demanding more, faster and more easily! Hsu makes the connection between our physical environment and our resulting spiritual lives – and the conclusions he reaches aren’t necessarily positive.
Hsu also takes to task the church in the suburbs and examines how many are more like shops bending to the consumer culture than bodies of Christ transforming the culture around them. He also examines how we’ve lost a sense of connectedness – from the days when communities really knew each other and spent time with each other, to the isolated homes of today with high fences and televisions as the centralised all-encompassing focus of “family time.”
While Hsu doesn’t back down from his concerns, he doesn’t paint a bleak picture for the future – there are things that we, as suburban Christians, can and should do to counter our culture; but we must first see that our commercialised, consumer-driven, convenience-at-all-costs society does have some flaws! For Hsu, the answer is that bigger isn’t always better, that easier isn’t always worth it, and that as a follower of Christ, living counter-culture means more than opposing abortion or not smoking. It means that we must add value to our culture beginning with those closest to us – our neighbours. It means learning to make sacrifices and living within our means so that we can be used by God to assist others in need. And it means understanding that everyone longs for a place they can call home – a place of rest and peace – and while many believe that to be a physical refuge, as Christians we know that our soul will only find rest in Christ and we can share that rest with others who are longing for it.