Friday, 20 July 2012

In Defense of Cities

I am definitely a country girl, through and through. Raising animals, growing our own food, and enjoying the wide open spaces was how I grew up – and I loved it. Still do. I don’t mind having to travel almost a full half hour to get to a grocery store. I actually enjoy going twenty kilometres an hour behind a tractor, during harvesting season. I love winding secondary roads, and the sounds of crickets and frogs on a summer night.

I like the privacy and the sometimes loneliness of country life. I’m rather an introvert and lack of human interaction rarely bothers me.

Perhaps it’s the fear of the unknown, but cities scare me and city people always make me feel like a country bumpkin which, of course, I am.

But, ever since I read an interesting essay by Agnes Repplier about a year ago, I’ve been re-thinking my view of cities…and community. It’s become an ever increasing point of annoyance with me that people seem to actually believe living in the country is more godly than dwelling in the city. Now, I would never dismiss the actual, real benefits of country living. What irks me is the assumption that there is no upside to city dwelling.

Let us put aside the more obvious pros of convenience and let me, instead point out a few things about cities and towns that are perhaps not as easily seen.

"There was not an untidy little medieval city in Europe that did not help to carry humanity on its way."

Cities are where things happen. It is where good and bad news spreads like wildfire. Where likeminded people can quickly and often gather together and make things happen. It’s where the apostles went to tell their good news. It’s where the churches are. It’s where the communities are. When people get together, causes are forwarded, disasters are averted, and hope is renewed. We are not meant to be independent beings, working on our own at all times. We are meant to be in communities, finding common causes, working together to help and to hinder, as the case may be. It’s especially important to have this vision for community in an increasingly digital age. And communities happen in towns, cities, and villages.

"With all history to contradict us, it is hardly worth while to speak of city life as entailing ‘spiritual loss,’ because it is out of touch with Nature. It is in touch with humanity, and humanity is Nature’s heaviest asset."

Christians like to speak of God’s creation. And it’s important to have a sense of awe when viewing the wonders of the world that He has created. But what is more wondrous than His work found in man’s being? One of my favourite songs contains these lines: "Numberless are the world’s wonders. But none more wonderful than man." Cities are not less spiritual because there are less trees, fields, rivers, and wildlife. They are more spiritual because there are more spirits, or souls if you prefer, present. Man is not Nature’s dregs. He is Nature’s crown of glory. Christians should not starve in cities for lack of seeing God’s handiwork. Christian city dwellers have the privilege of seeing God work in His most astounding way. They get to see God’s own image, times thousands. Cities are where culture is created: "Words and thought rapid as air. He fashions for his use. And his the skill that deflects the arrows of snow; the spears of winter rain."

"Sin does not belong to sidewalks. It has no predisposition towards pavements or mud roads. It is indigenous to man. Our first parents lived in the country, and they promptly committed the only sin they were given a chance to commit. Cain was brought up in the heart of the country, and he killed one of the small group of people upon whom he could lay his hands."

Cities have a reputation of being sinful. Of course, where there is a greater concentration of human beings, it will follow that there is a greater concentration of sin. Cities, in itself, are not the problem. People are the problem and sin will be encountered in the country as well as in towns. You cannot retreat to the country to protect your innocent heart, because you do not happen to have one. The sin is within you. Within me. Within all of us. If you possess the good news of the gospel, then preach it wherever you go. But, don’t neglect the city because of its sin. Where there is greater humanity, there is greater sin. And there is greater need of Christ.

"Professional men, doctors and dentists, especially, delight in living in the suburbs, so that those who need their services cannot reach them. The doctor escapes from his patients, who may fall ill on Saturday, and die on Sunday, without troubling him. The dentist is happy in that he can play golf all Saturday and Sunday while his patients agonize in town."

The thing that most greatly bothers me about living in the country is the lack of instant connection and information when others are in need. Churches, and any other kind of community, suffer when people aren’t helping their neighbours. Privacy is indeed a gift, but it can be claimed out of selfishness, rather than any other motive. I confess myself guilty of this. It’s easier not to know of other’s troubles than to deal with them. It often hurts to reach out and it’s comfortable to claim ignorance. Cities promote and sometimes force us to "weep with those weep." It can be done in the country, too – especially with the popularity of social media – but it’s more difficult.

"Lovers of the town have been content, for the most part, to say they loved it. They do not brag about its uplifting qualities. They have none of the infernal smugness which makes the lover of the country insupportable."

Country-livers, you have been given a great many gifts. Be thankful. Grow where you’re planted. Take full advantage of where you live. But, don’t brag. Don’t think yourself above those who live in the cities. Don’t think yourself more spiritual just because you live on a farm. God wants you to boast in Him, and no one or nothing else. Don’t be afraid of going out of your comfort zone. Enter the big city, every once in awhile and become a student of the communities you find. They can teach you a great deal.

" ‘The city…is the flower of civilization. It gives to men the means to make their lives expressive. It offers a field of battle and it could be made a livable place if its sons would stay and fight for it, instead of running away.’"

To those who live in the city: do you hate it? Okay, you’re free to go. Do you love it? Don’t feel inferior because you don’t go into raptures over wheat fields and rippling brooks. You have been given so many good gifts. Be thankful. Grow where you’re planted. Take full advantage of the opportunities to build relationships, participate in a community and make the world a more beautiful place.

And if you see a girl standing on the sidewalk, clutching her purse tightly and looking a tad bewildered, take pity on her. It might very well be me!

"Bred in the town am I,
So I would wish to be,
Loving its glimpses of sky,
Swayed by its human sea."
 - Millie

  1. All quotes, with the exception of the song lyrics, by Agnes Repplier, American Austen; Town and Suburb; Edited by John Lukacs (ISI Books, 2009)
  2. Song lyrics, Lee Breuer, The Gospel at Colonus; Numberless Are the World’s Wonders (The Gospel at Colonus, Original Cast Recording Liner Notes, Recorded, 1988)


  1. Thought-provoking post! I especially like the point that people ARE nature.

  2. This is a wonderful post! I often have the conversation with my husband about city living versus rural living (we live in the city) but I have neglected to think of the spiritual benefits you mention about city living. We are here, and might as well live and thrive here instead of wishing for the country, more land, goats and chickens... etc!

  3. I love the country, but a part of me (a growing part), loves the city.