Aaaand the Most Spiritual Place to Be is…

…wherever you are right now.

Last week I got some pushback for a response I wrote on Christianity Today’s This is Our City project.

{I guess I should expect pushback when I poke at dearly beloved evangelical celebrities. But really, Evangelical Celebrities, do you not expect the occasional gentle poke?}

I was responding to a piece by Kathy Keller (wife of Timothy J. Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC) on why the city is a wonderful place to raise children. Okay, so she wasn’t saying everyone needs to move to the city.

But her praise of city life really rubbed me the wrong way, as do some of her husband’s stronger assertions, like, “if you love what God loves then you will love the cities.”

Maybe it’s because I’m tired of hearing city ministry held up as the benchmark of engaged, culturally-savvy Christianity.

(Because despite the Kellers’–and others– ‘Christians don’t think of cities as good places to live in/minister/raise kids’– I’ve been hearing variations on the theme of “do city ministry!!!” as long I can remember.)

Maybe it’s because my dad (a pastor) tried hard to stay in his native NYC to minister, but God clearly called him elsewhere.

Maybe it’s because the vision of “city life” presented by the Kellers is actually a vision of “city life among young, prospering professionals in [certain neighborhoods in] Manhattan.”

Maybe it’s because while I was born and raised in New York, I’ve lived in many other diverse places, and I married a rural boy who is comfortable anywhere.

But maybe, too, it’s because I think people are ill-served by constant invitations to go elsewhere, do something else.

There’s the whole ‘grass is greener’ thing, which is too often an excuse for not doing what you could do here and now because you’re not where you think you ought to be, and if you could just get there, you’d be able to do better, be better, or whatever.

There is great wisdom in the phrase “wherever you go, there you are.”

It’s also implied, I think, in Mother Teresa’s words:

“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

I like to make big plans. I like to think that the ‘next’ place will be where I really come into my own. I like to think that the most important work is just out of reach.

But when I think like that, I’m not fully where I am.

{Which makes me snappy and impatient with the people I’m actually with, especially, unfortunately, my children.}

The most spiritual place to be–and maybe the hardest and easiest place to be–is where you are right now.

The people who most need your love and kindness are the people around you right now.

{God is there, too.}

8 thoughts on “Aaaand the Most Spiritual Place to Be is…

  1. Oh Rachel, you’ve gone and reminded me of one of my favorite lines from Buckaroo Banzai (you’ve seen teh movie, right?). As a crowd is starting to turn on a young woman in distress, our hero calms the waters with: “Hey, hey, hey, hey-now. Don’t be mean; we don’t have to be mean, cuz, remember, no matter where you go, there you are.”

    That sentiment has stood me in good stead too, Rachel. Where I am now is where God put me, so this must be a holy place. Nice job expressing this for us.


      1. If you like young Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow and a few others you’ll recognize, this is a fun campy movie.

  2. As I sit here nursing my tea, finally sick myself after nursing my mostly-sick family all weekend, I so appreciate these words. I want to be attacking my Spring Break to-do list and getting out of the house. And you’re right – focusing on those things I’m NOT doing makes me snappy and mean. So I will accept my position now, and work on my recovery and gentle answers to those stuck at home with me. 🙂 (Thanks for questioning things that well-known voices say, Rachel. It needs to be done.)

  3. Reminds me of Philip in Acts 8 who left the city in Samaria to go preach to one person on the desert road. He followed the Holy Spirit’s directions just like we all should.

    However, I appreciate the recent buzz about city ministry because, being a suburban girl, I’ve always looked upon the city trembling with fear because in my mind it is big and sin-filled. But the emphasis on city ministry helps me look on the city with compassion like Jesus would rather than avoiding it because I am scared! Thankful God brought that to my attention since I now live less than a mile from a large city!

  4. Yes, and yes. “Maybe it’s because the vision of “city life” presented by the Kellers is actually a vision of “city life among young, prospering professionals in [certain neighborhoods in] Manhattan.” I think of a church I attended in a city and then left because it raised money for a new crazy high-tech building which would be raised right in the middle of a former project undergoing gentrification for the city’s motivation to clean out the city and win the Olympic bid. They talked about reaching the people but only made programs for middle and upper white class. There was no training offered on reaching out to the community and its distinct culture. A few years later I had the opportunity to walk in that neighborhood, which is now completely yuppified. What kind of witness is that?

    1. When visiting a few urban church plants in Chicago, I had the distinct impression that while the target was high minded: “let’s reach the city,” the actual attendees were upper middle class whites. Visiting an established Anglican church in Chicago, I found it actually reflected the neighborhood.

  5. Reading your article in CT and your response here, whilst generally agreeing with your basic principal, I couldn’t but help feel that you’ve completely misread Kathy and Tim and what they’re trying to communicate through their ministry.

    I’m a church planter in the center of urban Cape Town, I also spent some time training at Redeemer City to City. I can’t tell you the number of times I get asked by suburban Christians when I’m going to move back to the suburbs and raise my children. The mentality that the city is this bad place, and kids “must” have wide open spaces in order to flourish and be raised properly, is rife all over the place. Tim and Kathy aren’t saying that there aren’t all sorts of wonderful places and ways to raise kids they’re just trying to say, to the above mentioned mentality: “actually, it’s not really like that – there is real value to raising kids here and committing to urban living”.

    So at one level I find your reaction a little bemusing because I don’t think the Kellers would disagree with your central thesis at all.

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