Archives For Suburbia


The Deep Wisdom of the Cross
and the People of God

A review of
Right Here, Right Now:
Everyday Mission for Everyday People
By Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Right Here, Right Now:
Everyday Mission for Everyday People
Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford.

Paperback: Baker Books, 2011.

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[ Read an Excerpt from this book… ]

RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW - Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford.What Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford have offered us in their new book Right Here, Right Now: Everyday Mission for Everyday People is a sort of handbook for being part of a missional church.  Most of the books to date on “the missional church” require a fair amount of theological background, and as such, have been aimed primarily at church leaders (pastors, church planters, etc.)  This book, however, is not that sort of book.  Generally, as I read a book that I know I will be reviewing, I’m thinking about what I will say in the review, and the thought was running through my head as I was reading is that Right Here, Right Now was for both clergy and laity.  However, I arrived at Alan Hirsch’s final chapter in which he makes the passing comment that he rejects the clergy/laity distinction, and I realized that, of course, he was right, and it is better to speak of this book as being for all members of the church.  The book is structured to provide a good mix of basic missional church theology, which comes primarily in the form of Alan Hirsch’s introductory and concluding chapters which frame the book, and discussion of the practicalities of how this theology is embodied in church contexts – in the intervening chapters by Lance Ford.  Although a good deal of the book will be beneficial for churches in any setting, I should be clear up front that the chapters on praxis are targeted primarily at suburban readers (and maybe upper-/middle-class urban folks as well).

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A Brief Review

SPRAWL: A Novel.
Danielle Dutton.
Paperback: Siglio Press, 2010.
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Reviewed by Thomas Turner.

The suburbs have been the subject of ire for many years now, but recently the recession has turned up the heat on the cynical yet attractive institution. The recession has led to what many see as the slow death of the suburbs. Rows of foreclosed homes in the Sun Belt, bastions of wealth and status symbols now boarded up or secretly lived in by squatters, these are the new suburbs.

There has been a flurry of art and critique about these places of limbo between city and country. GOOD Magazine published their Neighborhoods issue which tackled issues ranging from neighborliness to how to stop building developments around golf courses and start building them around farms. The Arcade Fire came out with a blisteringly cynical album entitled, most appropriately, The Suburbs, complete with an interactive isolation-inducing music video to go along with it. Channeling the zeitgeist, Danielle Dutton’s new novel Sprawl chronicles every waking thought of a suburban woman.

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A Brief Review of

Witnessing Suburbia:
Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture
Eileen Luhr.

Paperback: U of California Press, 2009.
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Reviewed by Chris Smith.

“I’m rockin’ the suburbs
Just like Quiet Riot did
I’m rockin’ the suburbs
Except that they were talented
I’m rockin’ the suburbs…”
— Ben Folds

The story that Eileen Luhr tells in her new book Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture is a familiar one for me, because it was in essence the story in which I grew up.  This story is described by Luhr in the book’s introduction:

This book is a history of the suburbanization of evangelicalism and the “Christianization” of popular culture – twin pillars of the conservative shift in national politics during the Reagan-Bush era … [It] contrasts the old Christian Right – with its dogmatic resistance to youth culture per se – and the new “rock” evangelicalism, which embraced cutting-edge cultural forms and media in order to institute moral reform and broaden the impact of its proselytizing efforts.  These processes, in turn, abetted a hegemonic conservative politics grounded in uniting possessive individualism with home-centered “traditional values” (5).

Although Witnessing Suburbia is intended largely for academic audiences, Luhr tells the basic narrative in a compelling and very readable fashion, and we would do well to read it carefully and reflect on it in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  There are many disturbing themes that Luhr unmasks here, but in short we begin to see the many syncretisms of American evangelicalism in the eighties and nineties – inextricably mixing the Christian faith up with right-wing politics, individualistic consumerism and family-based traditionalism.

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, I grew up in this era (graduating high school in 1992) and to a large extent was a Christian swept up in the youth culture of the times.   For several years, the primary genre of music that I enjoyed was Christian Heavy Metal (incidentally the subject of one of the book’s finest chapters).  Although I was on the fringes of this movement, I never really got sucked into the mainstream of Christian youth culture, and indeed it was perhaps my familiarity with the broader youth culture (particularly punk music, and its frankness in revealing the powers that be) that help me resist such an assimilation.  I’m sure it helped too that I never exactly fit the economic mold of middle-class suburban culture.  Luhr’s work here is brilliant, illuminating the dark depths of a history that has gone largely unnoticed.  I hope that it will spur in Christian circles much reflection on the Gospel and culture.  Luhr’s narrative in Witnessing Suburbia reveals a lot of “being conformed to the pattern of the world” (Rom 12:2) in recent evangelicalism, and in illuminating this cultural domestication, it has the potential to nudge us in the direction of transformation and the renewal of our minds.


Tom Vanderbilt Reviews 3 New Books
on Suburbia and Culture for BookForum

If, as Conley contends, the Protestant ethic, which valued “thrift over consumption, work over leisure, and meritocracy over social connections,” gave way in the 1950s to the ethos of bureaucratic capitalism, which emphasized “teamwork, compromise, and fealty,” in the latest sociological era, the age of Elsewhere, the midcentury tensions have been resolved: “Leisure is work and work is leisure. Consumption is investment. A tax-deductible home equity loan is savings. And the salience of social connections does not indicate nepotism but rather social capital and entrepreneurial skill totally consistent with meritocratic ideals.” But there are costs: “the fragmentation of the self, not to mention alienation and anxiety among today’s professional classes—those Americans who earn lots of money but need to work for it.”

Why should such free-floating anxiety exist among people in seemingly comfortable positions? One hears of executives being constantly uprooted in a job market rife with downsizing. Parents worry that their careers are not allowing them to spend enough time with their children. No one feels as if they have any time. But Conley points out that the facts tell a different story: Fewer Americans moved in 2000 than did in 1950. The percentage of people logging more than ten years with large firms has increased. This generation of fathers, he observes, “spends more time with their children than any in recent history.” As for the time squeeze, a study has found that higher-income women, even when they work the same number of hours as those earning less, report feeling more pressed for time. As Conley notes, “when you can earn more per hour, the opportunity cost of not working feels greater and the pressure is all the more intense.”

The frenetic, self-regulating regimen of one’s inner time manager is the chief culprit, Conley argues, in the forever-harried state of postindustrial labor. For the first time in history, the more people are paid, the more they feel they must work. Income inequality has risen absolutely, but particularly within the upper echelons of the professional classes. “From any link in the chain,” he writes, “it looks like everyone else is rushing away.” So the presumed leisure time that money might buy merely breeds anxiety over how much the moment is costing.

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Dalton Conley.

Hardcover: Pantheon, 2009.
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Julia Christensen.

Hardcover: MIT Press, 2008.
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THE NY REVIEW OF BOOKS asks what we can learn
from Reinhold Niebuhr about History and Foreign Policy

In a democracy the people need to be informed if they are to fulfill their duties as citizens. May we now be entering a renewal of participatory American democracy? If we are not, we shall be in even greater trouble than we are now.

The fatalism of Bacevich’s final sentence about Americans being firmly set on self-destruction is deeply disturbing, as no doubt it was intended it to be. Since his book was published, the presidential election has shown how intelligent use of the Internet can bring together an enthusiastic and disciplined body of volunteers and bring young people in large numbers back into politics. There is now talk of using the Obama campaign’s online network to foster support for his legislative program and presidential initiatives. Brilliant and essential political analysis by writers like the three reviewed here could be a useful part of such initiatives.

Bacevich suggests that the acknowledgment of the truth of the following Niehbuhr principle would be a useful standard for election or appointment to public office: “The whole drama of history is enacted in a frame of meaning too large for human comprehension or management.” That might also be a good start for a renaissance of knowledgeable democratic participation.

Read the full review:

The Irony of American History.
Reinhold Niebuhr, Introduction by Andrew Bacevich

Paperback: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
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The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism
Andrew Bacevich.

Hardcover: Metropolitan Books, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]

Frances Richard Reviews Two Recent Books
on the Direction of Photography as Art.

Photography is haunted by distortions, or what philosophers and media theorists call “simulacra”–those devils or replicants that blur authentic essence and mere appearance. Pictures in general trigger these anxieties, Plato having bequeathed to Western culture a fear that overidentification with images will dull perception of a spirit that eludes sight. Photography, however, has been especially seductive, seeming to offer unmediated access to how things “really” are. As Martin Jay explains in Downcast Eyes, his marvelous history of antivisual themes in French thought, “Because of the physical imprinting of light waves on the plate of the camera…it might seem as if now the oeil was not trompé in Daguerre’s new invention. But doubts nonetheless soon arose.” By the 1840s, it was clear that even apparently direct imprinting could not rout the ghost of simulacra. “Yet as late as the Dreyfus Affair,” Jay notes, “it was still necessary to warn the naïve viewer against concocted images.” Photographs could be retouched or faked through double exposures–as when, in 1899, the newspaper Le Siècle printed composite pictures of enemies in the Dreyfus Affair appearing friendly. Technologies have drastically evolved, of course. Nevertheless, according to new books by Michael Fried and Fred Ritchin, warnings about photography’s uncertainties are no less necessary.

Read the full review:

Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before.
Michael Fried.

Hardcover: Yale UP, 2008.
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After Photography.
Fred Ritchin.

Hardcover: Norton, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $24 ] [ Amazon ]