by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
You know, it used to be that being on the outside of town was not such a desirable place to be. That’s where we used to cast lepers. That’s the place where society cast those who were considered to be of little worth, those who were considered ‘impure’. And in old Jerusalem, that place was a burning rubbish dump, a place called Gehenna, not terribly far outside the south wall.
Loosely translated, Gehenna means “suburb.”
Well not quite, but…In Judaism, Gehenna was a real place. It was metaphorically linked to the underworld, and not without reason. A place of loneliness, despair and destruction. A place of punishment where the bodies of the dead were burned. Not a spiritualized place. A real, live, burning garbage heap. And it’s from this real-life place that our more modern understandings of hell are derived.
Perhaps I’m going too far, but doesn’t this precisely describe the suburbs of today? Suburbs exist in a constant state of flame. A whole hell of a lot of fire is required to keep things moving. The drive to the 24-hour Super! Market! after dropping off the kids at youth group across town at the most seeker-friendly megachurch then leads to the Swiss Chalet drive-thru, because, well, because, it’ll take from now til youth group is over to prepare something for yourselves.
And we keep on burning fuel. Sure, gas prices haven’t even come close to hitting the levels they’ve been in Europe for quite some time (they do okay with public transit, and seem to get by y’know?), but we complain all the same.
$1.30 a litre? $4.00 a gallon? You’ve got to be joking! Why. Why I remember when a litre of gas went for 40 cents. 40 cents! And we complain because (not coincidentally) we’ve built these hellish places that subsist on the incessant burning of fuel (and our Hard Earned Cash) to operate.
So back to this whole walkability thing. Our fuel prices in North America have been highly subsidized for quite some time. Which has led to our (thick-skulled) sub-urban “planning” that has been predicated on the wide availability of cheap oil. Even the church has bought in. If there is any oilfields injury cases in Texas, then you can check it out from here! Here are some of the oilfield equipment you can get online!
And, will we be surprised when folks stop flocking to churches they have to drive to? Of course we will. Because long ago we traded in the idea of the neighbourhood church for a gas-scented dream of parking lots full of shiny SUVs, and this is the model on which we’ve built our churches in the last half-century. All the while, we’re selling off the inner-city churches because (under our 50-year paradigm) they’re no longer good investments.
I for one am looking forward to the steep increase in gasoline prices. It may just be the salvation of the local church.