In chapter two of The Suburban Christian, Al Hsu discusses home ownership as both a surburban ideal and the perpetuater of individualism. In other words, people who move to the suburbs are looking for a place of their own where they can do their own thing. It’s the American Dream, really.

“In this notion of the American dream, the ideal is that every individual family has their own plot of land, yard and picket fence to separate them from their neighbors, definiting mine as mine and yours as yours. Inherent to American suburbia is an emphasis on the pursuit of individual homeownership rather than a communal or corporate vision of civic identity.”
– pg. 39

As a recent first time home owner in the suburbs, I resonated with much of this chapter. When he discussed the history of suburbia, my 48-year-old house suddenly had a context. After reading about suburbia as a mixed bag of all that is good and bad about urban and rural living, I instantly thought of my garage AND my short commute. I felt smug when I read about people buying suburban homes with mortgages outside their budget; I was careful about how much house I bought. I also felt a bit of self-righteousness in the section on suburban diversity; my area of town is wildly diverse — racially, ethnically, AND socioeconomically.

This chapter gave me a sting toward the end, however. How does my Christian faith and a concern for God’s kingdom intersect with my otherwise responsible pursuit of the American dream? Even though my house is very modest at 1,200 square feet, since I live alone, I have almost double the average 718 square-feet-per-person of most Americans. And I have 10 times more square feet for myself than the average person in Japan who lives in just 170 square feet. Is all this space dedicated just to me actually a sign of greed and wastefulness in my life?

Also, as a single person, am I running the risk of cutting myself off from community by isolating myself in a home of my own? Even though I can afford to live alone, I am now responsible for all the tasks and chores involved in maintaining a home, potentially leaving me with less time and energy that I could be spending developing my gifts or serving people.

Even as I felt some personal conviction over this chapter, I did not feel indicted by the book itself. In fact, this chapter offers a lot of hope that my choice to participate so fully in this American ideal of suburban homeownership is fully redeemable by Jesus. The virtues of hospitality, stewardship, and generosity all came to mind as ways for me to incarnate Christ in the suburbs.

Once again, as in most areas of my life, intentionality is the key. Will I seek to glorify Christ as a resident of Suburbia? Or will I passively submit to the social and cultural forces that have dropped me into the land of plenty?

“Whatever kind of suburb we might live in and however we might construe our notion of the ideal suburban life, a more thoroughly Christian approach to suburbia will consider how the civic good can be advanced in light of the coming of the kingdom of God.” – pg. 53

LINKS FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:

LL Barkat’s post on Chapter Two, “Charmed Big”

My post on Chapter One, “Suburbanruralite”

LL’s post on Chapter One, “Subfused”

Excerpt of The Suburban Christian

Al Hsu’s comments on Chapter One, “Discussing Suburbia”

Al’s comments on Chapter Two, “Housing Size”

Photo of my actual suburban house by some unidentified real estate agent