Home and the City?

Last weekend, I was back in the city. I returned to St. Louis to attend a wedding of a dear friend, and it was great celebrating with her. In addition, I spent time with my son. I caught up with friends, I ate good food and drank good wine, I enjoyed the company of people I have loved but now don’t see often.

And for the most part, being back felt very normal and familiar. (Although waiting at stoplights? And traffic? And the sound of sirens? – I’m not so used to those things…)

But of course people asked me how life is for us now that we have moved away. They asked if we are happy in Wisconsin. (The answer was Yes.)

Do we miss city living?

That was a little harder to articulate.

I did go shopping for a dress for the wedding. It was nice to have hundreds of choices instead of just the few that can be found in a smaller town.

I was also aware of an elegance that’s missing in a small rural town. I’m not really an elegant person, so in general such things don’t matter too much to me, but the elaborate chandeliers in a historic building trimmed with wood, and the valets that parked my car were not something I see in the cherry orchards…

And I did like seeing variations in skin color everywhere I went. There isn’t enough diversity here.

 On the other hand… There are tensions in the city. One can feel it in the traffic- the angry horns when someone doesn’t move quite fast enough through an intersection, and the cars that cut in and out of lanes to get where they are going just a little bit faster…

And fear is always lurking. As I left the downtown wedding reception late at night, sirens were howling as emergency vehicles rushed to some nearby scene. In light of recent nationwide shootings and unrest, the first thing on our minds was: Has there been another shooting? If so, am I in harm’s way? Am I safe?

When the Bible speaks about the return of paradise- about the time in the future when all broken things will be made right again and we live in a place that is like today’s earth but better, it speaks in terms of a city. I’ve never really understood (or wanted) that, because I’ve always thought seashores and mountains were holier places than cement sidewalks and bricks. But maybe scripture, in the use of this metaphor is telling us this: EVEN our cities will be fixed. Remarkably and inconceivably, even our cities can and will become places that are holy and pure and good.

Could we dare to imagine it? No inequality of educational systems where in the suburbs kids have computers and fieldtrips and libraries and enough well-paid teachers while across town, in run-down buildings other kids languish in dirty, sparse classroom where the only thing they have enough of is asbestos and lead.

No jails in that new city will be weighed down with the rampant racism of today’s “justice.” No homeless shelters will be necessary; no mentally ill people will wander the streets shouting incoherent ramblings at street corners that make me nervous while I wait for the light to change. All parks will be green, all air will be pure, alleys will not smell like urine, and no concrete will be littered with broken glass.

Instead, the concert halls and museums and libraries will be even better than the best ones that exist in today’s cities. There, then, wise men will be wiser, and creative people will be even more creative. Better yet, we are told that egos won’t get in the way. In that place that we long for, all skin color and all ethnic differences will be beautiful. And equal.

The best part of visiting the city was spending time with the people who inhabit it. Yet they, more than I, are heavy hearted with the pains of a broken world. I’m back home now, where daisies and black-eyed susans line my driveway, where I see little need to lock my doors, where I watch seagulls fly into the sunset across a lavender sky. Many of my city friends are doing the hard and important work of addressing injustices and problems from which I am now far removed.

I am no theologian, so I am not claiming I understand rightly what the Bible says on the subject of the world to come. I do know the references to heaven are few and rare in the Bible, so we have to surmise, to imagine. And so I imagine a place where even the cities are safe, are clean, are fair. And going there will be just as good, and in fact even better than, going home.

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