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April 13, 2016

Seeking an Urban Faith

usa-1206240_1920No parking between the hours of 6am-8am for street cleaning.

My husband and I recently visited San Francisco where we quickly realized that street cleaning was a daily occurrence. This practice required moving our rental car from it’s prime parking spot every morning before the crack of dawn.

We probably would not have taken these signs seriously except that the first morning we walked to our car to head out of town to Napa, there was a $45 ticket taped to our window.

This street cleaning is serious business. The accumulation of trash and litter on the pavement solidified in my mind the need to play life-size Tetris each morning as we wiggled our way out of one spot and into another. Because we needed a car to make it to wine-country, we ended up using it in the city more than we would have otherwise.

The first afternoon we were there, however, we hit the streets on foot to explore and take in the sights. It was gritty. We were dodging trash, people and cigarette smoke. Our senses are used to being sheltered by the four walls and windows of our trusty personal vehicles that safely cart us from point A to B without being tainted by the outside world.

Not knowing our way around neighborhoods left us among interesting characters as we wove back and forth between affluence and poverty with each crossing of an intersection. I clutched my purse with one hand and gripped my husband’s arm with the other, and our pace quickened as the sun slowly started to set behind the towering cityscape.

It was a vulnerable situation to be in – not knowing where we were except by the little blue dot flickering on our iPhones. We were using a map in our hands, but the context for our location was living and breathing around us. We found ourselves among a diverse group.

I found that my lack of street smarts had me longing for the cushion of a passenger seat and the glare of the window. I could settle for my tourist snaps to flash against the glass right now; the real thing was starting to scare me. I pulled my jacket closer as the wind picked up and stepped over a discarded cigarette.

Urbanization has brought with it many things, one of which we were experiencing in that moment. The distance between people decreases in the heart of the city. Walls come down and people live in homes that mimic the shoulders touching on the subways. The business man and the beggar share the sidewalk with the mother taking her baby for a stroll. Wide open spaces are non-existent and personal space is defined by what’s hiding behind your eyes.

We spent much of the trip driving to and from our stops – mostly out of necessity since the parking game of Tetris never ceased, but part of me was relieved to do so. I realized that I’m not a city girl. We strolled and sat in Sausalito across the Bay and participated in a slower pace of life – less people, less noise, less trash. Our view of the city was bird’s eye, and we appreciated it from afar. We enjoyed being comfortable, loosening our grips on each other and our belongings.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with preferring one lifestyle over another. I have many friends who would look at my descriptions and chuckle, call me a country mouse, and then join the hustle and bustle under city lights with great passion and fervor.

These differences don’t bother me. You’ll find me on an acre of land, sipping coffee on the front porch and listening to the birds chirp. The only interruption to my thoughts is the hum of an old truck and the honk of a horn to say hey as it passes by. I am content to visit the big cities and come home to suburbia, SUVs and 1/2 acre lots.

When it comes to my faith, though, I long for a little urbanization.

Faith blossoms on the trash-filled streets of our lives. Shoulders bump and spaces are shared. Sidewalk cafes look more like kitchens where tables touch and customers squeeze around their neighbors to fit. Billows of smoke are non-discriminatory, falling on smokers and non-smokers alike. No one is immune to the smells, the sights and the sounds. Experiences are shared by all, and the only difference between them is the perspective. At the end of the day, everyone has left their trash on the street to be picked up and discarded by the street sweepers.

It’s in this mess that faith comes alive. Hiding behind glass doors and windows, we try to stay clean and avoid the broken glass that litters our paths. When we are amidst the mess, when we allow ourselves to be touched by the hurt and influenced by the people all around us, then we become like Jesus.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

He dwelt among us. If only my faith were more urbanized. I pray that we would all, as people of Jesus, seek the urbanization of our faith, sending it into the streets, into the rough and tumble, into the ditches and the dirt, so that it might shine like a glimmer of glory, full of grace and truth.

2 Comments on “Seeking an Urban Faith

katiemblackburn
April 17, 2016 at 7:43 am

Oh I just love this- the imagery is honest and beautiful… and San Francisco is my hometown, so I totally see it. Love your words, Sarah, as always!

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Sarah Elizabeth
April 18, 2016 at 7:59 pm

Thank you, Katie! We had a wonderful time there; it’s amazing how different Dallas, Texas is (and other cities in the South haha).

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