Warning: I'm going to say some things in this blog post that might step on some toes. If you're offended, deal with it.
One of my closest friends (in California) asked me if it was harder to be a Christian in the city. Some of her other friends who had moved to the Big Apple, had stopped going to church and stopped doing those Christian things they had done in college, claiming that it was harder in the city to be a Christian. So I ask, is it harder here in the city?
So many thoughts came to mind when I began to ponder this issue. One of the first things that came to mind was the experience I had a day or two into living here when I realized that unlike the suburbs, where the homeless and ugly are hidden, the city hides nothing. I heard people commenting on the smell left on a subway seat after a homeless person sits there. I thought about the countless times I am asked for money each day as I go to work. The city hides nothing. All the ugly people ride the subway with the beautiful people. This experience is one of the greatest benefits of living in the city. I challenged hourly to examine my heart, to see if I am judging and proud or humbly loving and serving. Honestly, I am usually left convicted that I am judging. I don't want to love or serve "them". I tend to turn my eyes the other way, or turn my music up on my ipod. In the suburbs I could forget about the ugly people of the world. Sure, I saw them on tv, maybe. But in the year and a half that I spent in Glenside, I don't think I came across a homeless person more than a handful of times. And even then, they were "clean" compared to the people I see here in the subways.
As I pondered the issue of being a Christian in the city, I began to wonder what kind of Christians we are if it is too hard to be a Christian in the city. ( I know, I lack grace and compassion, but I want to call things out for what they are.) Is my Christianity something I enjoy as a hobby, and there are more interesting things to fill my time with here in the city? Is my Christianity a list of events I attend (sunday morning church, wednesday night bible study, etc.) that here in the city are unneccesary or too time consumming? What is my Christianity? It is easy to be a "Christian" where everyone else is because you give up nothing in your Christianity. It is easy to be a "Christian" where everone hides their mess and brokeness, but what is Christianity if there is no brokeness? Did Christ come for the beautiful, or the ugly? The healthy, or the sick? Who are we kidding? Christ said that if we wanted to follow Him we had to take up our cross. What? What is that supposed to mean? I'm not sure I can answer that. But I can tell you this: True Christianity is not just a hobby, or bunch of events that you go to so you can make friends. True Christianity is a deep conviction that there is no where else to turn for Jesus holds the Words of Life. For me, the city draws me close to God. In the city, I see the lack of shalom in every crevice. All the broken people, broken relationships, and broken systems, right in front of me. I'm also keenly aware of my own temptation to ignore God. When everyone around me seems to be doing what is good, I forget that I live for Christ. When all seems to be good and okay (which by the way, there is JUST as much brokenness in the suburbs, we just hide it better out there!), I'm not forced to deal with my own sinful and broken heart.
So is it harder to be a Christian in the city? No. And, if I may be blunt, anyone who uses that excuse for why they haven't gone to church in the six months they have lived here is in denial. I would guess they had been living off of the easiness of "christianity" in the suburbs and had not actually felt their own deep despairing need for the Lord's grace in their own lives. Well, now is the time to stop turning your eyes away and turning up the volume on your ipod. The Lord is calling you to live in the world, a messy broken place where people are ugly. He has given you a chance to have a redeemed life, even in the city. For the city hides nothing. And if you are not a true believer, one who is desperately in need of the grace of God, the city will show it. Thank God for His goodness, for He never turns away those prodigal sons and daughters who come crawling back to Him.