It’s a well-known fact that I love the city. And when I say “love,” I mean wholeheartedly adore. But the truth is, I’ve found that my love for the city has changed and deepened over the past few years.
I grew up outside of Sacramento, but I distinctly remember periodic visits to the city with my family. My folks always included some sort of “cultural experience” in our 24-48 hour family vacations. And most of these experiences highlighted unique parts of an urban center—museums, symphony concerts, Broadway shows, independent movies, unique restaurants, or city parks. I understood the city to be a place of sophistication.
Periodically, we’d go to the city for service projects. Whether it was sorting clothes for the poor or making sandwiches for a soup kitchen, I was exposed to the rougher side of the city. I saw people who couldn’t afford the unique restaurants, but instead ate the sandwiches that I made. I remember seeing those weird stores that were for “adults only” and had women’s silhouettes on the windows and wondering why I didn’t feel good about that part of town. I’d hear stories of drugs and prostitution, and it seemed like a different world. I started to understand the city to be a place of brokenness.
By the end of high school, I started to recognize the complexity of the city, and I found it invigorating and challenging. I started making monthly trips to Sacramento for times of contemplation and reflection. I’d visit a cathedral to sit and be still, wander to a local coffee shop and sit in Cesar Chavez park. It was a fairly busy park but there were plenty of shady people hanging out. I distinctly remember a moment where I felt somewhat uncomfortable in the park, and I thought to myself, “This is what many women experience throughout the world.” It was a moment where my privileged and somewhat “sheltered” self realized a world and experience beyond my own. I began to see the city as place of exposure and challenge.
Toward the end of college, I moved to Chicago for an urban studies program. I interned at a social service organization on the Westside (a rough area, to say the least), enjoyed the local bars and restaurants, mastered public transportation, and experienced racial tensions and structural injustice. I wrestled with the tension of living in a place where sophistication, brokenness, and injustice could coexist—and one’s experience of these elements could almost be determined by the block on which you lived.
These tensions are what keep me in the city. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a privileged experience of the city. Usually I can choose whether or not to enter into the brokenness that persists. But the city does not let me forget these tensions. Simply walking through my neighborhood reminds me of that every day and beckons me to live out reconciliation and redemption in the midst of the complexity. And that’s one of the many reasons I want to have a family in the city. I want our children to learn from people’s diverse experiences and backgrounds, to grow up in complex environments, and to catch a vision for how they can live out the Kingdom. And so that’s why we stay.