"Finding Holy in the Suburbs" Excerpt

"Finding Holy in the Suburbs" Excerpt

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Ashley Hales’ new book, Finding Holy in the Suburbs, along with a Q&A with Ashley at the end.

In the suburbs, it’s easy to become numb to the ways we pursue our own self-satisfaction—whether it’s through our physical house or it’s packaged as abstract nouns. All these abstract nouns (like success, meaning, purpose, and self-esteem) are contingent on the kingdom of self. They are versions of Wendell Berry’s “relatively unconditional life of the public,” and they masquerade as freedom. But we need physical and even spiritual wilderness moments to bring us home. We need the prick of exile to see how far we’ve traveled, even when we’ve done all the right things and live cozily wrapped up in our suburban homes.

Yes, it’s much safer to politely wave to the man across the street, perhaps engage in polite small talk, and shut our garage doors. It’s easier to build up the kingdom of self while neglecting the local and particular challenges of proximity. But I want so much more for the suburbs than individualism. God is a God who sees. He gathers his flock, he speaks tenderly, and he sees the outcast. He is near to the brokenhearted. The proud suburbanites, though, he may need to humble. That too is his mercy. That is the gift of exile. The gift of exile means that someone hasn’t given up on you or felt you are not worth of pursuing

It’s like a parent who uses whole food to wean their child from sugar addiction and a proclivity for Cheetos’s. There is, of course, the inevitable sugar crash. Exile too means even when you stuff yourself full of things meant to satisfy your cravings for beauty, meaning, and significance, God still sees and he comes down. He gives us whole food. It means that all your longings you prop up with your square footage are actually seen, known, and sympathized with. It means there is a home for all your longings. It means there is rest for the weary.

The good news of the gospel often blows through in exile. We must be “moved by the signs of what it cost to bring [us] home.” This smarts a bit and wounds our pride as we peel back the layers and find ourselves needy, wanting, and inconsequential. Because no matter one’s income bracket, suffering, loss, and longing are no respecter of persons. But the gift of exile is both that God comes near to the suffering, right in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10), and exile will always point us home.

In Orthodoxy G. K. Chesterton writes of his conversion and his first understanding of sin. He writes, “I had tried to be happy by telling myself that man is an animal,” yet it only brought depression rather than relief because it did not satisfy. The optimist’s perspective on human nature felt too naive, while the pessimist’s perspective appeared too bleak. But Chesterton, upon experiencing this sense of being both made in God’s image and shattered by sin, rejoiced, for he reckons he “had been right in feeling all things as odd, for I myself was at once worse and better than all things.” That is, as we hold in tension both creation and the fall, we feel hung in the balance. We are homesick even in our suburban houses. Experiencing existential exile, even in the suburbs, is a gift because it points to our shared human homesickness.

And if we are homesick even at home, it means that our glorious sandcastles will never satisfy no matter how nice they are or how much space they have for doing good works. We will always be homesick no matter our square footage when we use our square footage to buttress the kingdom of self.

There is only one place we can go where we will find home and get relief from the constant reiteration of ourselves. There is only one place where we can enjoy blessed self-forgetfulness, and nothing in the suburbs (or city or country) will ever satisfy. We can only go to the “rock that does not move” where God, who has gone through exile on our behalf, will show himself ever, always, and tenderly steadfast.

Q&A with Ashley

Rise: Why’d you write the book?

Ashley: Moving home to the suburbs was hard for me and I desperately wanted to know if God was still good if my life’s circumstances weren’t always moving upward. I wanted to know if a call to plant a church in suburbia was God’s good for me, too.

Rise: What’s an overview of the book?

Ashley: The book was borne out of my own wrestling with suburban life and values. The first part of the book explores the challenges of living in suburbia as it fixates on consumerism, individualism, safety and busyness. The response to these suburban idols is to repent and live as God’s beloved. The rest of the book takes up practices for living the gospel in your neighborhood: hospitality, vulnerability, generosity and shalom.

Rise: What advice or thoughts would you offer to women specifically connected to your book?

Ashley: My hope for women reading this book is to realize they don't need to be supermom, or Joanna Gaines, or "do it all" to be loved, known, seen and valued. The call to live a life of welcome in suburbia is as simple as staying put, starting small, and finding your place in the wider kingdom of God (even right in the middle of your cul-de-sac). I hope the book cuts deeply where it needs to while offering relief in drawing a bigger story for the suburbs. I'm starting a podcast, Finding Holy Podcast, where we connect the dots between the things that matter and your everyday, holy life. Listen in, subscribe, and find out how doing the laundry can point us to Jesus.

Taken from Finding Holy in the Suburbs by Ashley Hales. Copyright © 2018 by Ashley A. Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

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