America recently said goodbye to ABC drama Desperate Housewives, where the women of Wisteria Lane dealt with the secrets, darkness and brokenness of American suburbia, hidden behind their perfectly polished facades. And when the last episode aired ten days ago, people of suburbia across the country mourned the loss of a community much like their own, knowing they will now have to pour themselves into their own drama instead of the drama of Wisteria Lane.
I graduated high school in Brentwood, Tennessee in 2008, after living there for six years. Brentwood is a very wealthy area, rife with entire neighborhoods full of mansions and luxury vehicles at every stop light. A trip to Brueggers Bagels on any give morning is almost a guarantee for a run-in with a Real Housewife of Williamson County, complete with a tennis skirt, bengal bracelets, a diamond ring and perfectly done hair and make-up. (Side note: there are some wonderful people in Brentwood who I love very much that also hang out at Brueggers — shout out to Eve Sarrett — where the bagels are delicious and the coffee is great.)
Many of the churches in the 37027 zip code look like country clubs, and their memberships are often treated like them. High school kids drive brand new BMW’s and it isn’t unusual for their allowance from daddy to be used for beer, marijuana, and even a little cocaine here and there. I saw more darkness in the social scene of Brentwood High School than I have almost anywhere else I’ve ever been. In fact, I might even say that the people I’ve spent time with in places like Costa Rica and Honduras are better off in their circumstances than many of the people I know here in the US.
My attitude on this topic used to be that I wanted to go where the physically needy people were — I wanted to be in Latin America, or Africa, or even inner cities and poor rural communities in the US. I was frustrated with the complacency of suburban Americans, so I thought I’d just bounce and go somewhere where people needed help.
In the last few months, though, something has changed. I was visiting some friends and family in Tennessee, and on this one Saturday morning in April I was driving around Brentwood. I took a little trip down memory lane (also known as Murray Lane), past BHS and Princeton Hills, looking around at the world I used to live in… laughing to myself about how it feels like another lifetime ago that I was there, thinking this was all that there was, and all that there would ever be.
So I’m driving, and all I can think is, “this is so excessive. God, this can’t be what you want. This can’t be why you’ve given people the gifts you’ve given them to be successful and wealthy… there has to be something else you want them to do with all of this.”
And then I started thinking about the parties I used to go to in high school in some of those mansions. I started thinking about “the things that mattered” at the time… all the alcohol and drugs floating around, and the smoke that filled the air almost as thickly as the insecurities that floated around the room. In that moment, I felt God softening my heart for those people instead of hardening it.
Last weekend I was having dinner with my parents in Houston, and they were talking about some of the dark and heavy stuff they’d been seeing in families they know there recently. Struggling marriages, broken families, infidelity, substance abuse … the list goes on. I told my parents I’d been realizing a lot lately that suburbia needs Jesus just as much as any other place in the world, though it may not be suffering from physical oppression. Because in suburban America, we have just enough to not need any sort of faith. We have an “I’ll just pay what I have to in order to fix it” mentality.
My dad said it best: “We become human dwellings and human doings instead of human beings, because people want to know where you live and what you do, not what/who you are.”
But what if who we are was defined by how we use “what we do and where we live”? I don’t by any means believe we should just go completely socialist and all live in a cardboard box and suffer together, but I do believe that those who have a lot should be giving a lot. How can we expect them to do that, though, if their hearts haven’t been captured by the only one who will give them that desire?
What God has been teaching me lately is that I may have a huge heart for “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40), but if the people in the world that have the resources to really change it were impacted and moved by the power of the gospel, I might actually get to see “His kingdom come… His will be done… on EARTH as it is in Heaven.”
There’s a gap that needs to be bridged in the world. There is a disconnect between the people who have and the people who have not. Right now, in many ways, the bridge across that gap is called the US government. The “haves” pay taxes so the “have nots” can have government programs that help them. But WHAT IF… the church was the bridge? What if we wanted to give?
What if suburbia was so moved by the gospel … so moved by grace, God’s unmerited favor on our lives … that we began to give back to Him what was already His.
In the last six months, I’ve been planning a wedding in the deep-south, ultra-traditional community of Jonesboro, Arkansas. And I’m getting married outside… barefoot. (GASP!) I’ve been learning a lot of lessons on etiquette, on all the do’s and don’ts of being a southern, June bride… some of which I’m conforming to, other that I’m dismissing as the eyebrows of the southern belle women around me raise in concern or flat-out offense. It’s been all eyes on me… even when I try to delegate tasks (I’m not a fan of micromanagement), it all comes back to me, the bride. “Sara, what do you think of ______?”
There have been gifts, and showers, and gifts, and showers… parties, announcements in the paper, hundreds of strangers wanting to meet me because I’m marrying Jonesboro’s most beloved child. Which you can’t blame him for, he’s wonderful and completely deserving of that title. 😉
All that to say, as wedding day is fast approaching (praise Jesus!), I am exhausted. What I’m learning is that we were not created to be about us. God didn’t create us in His image to be selfish, and this season of life as been all about me, and I am so sick of me.
In the Wisteria Lanes of America, we’re about us. We have our nice house, our nice car, and our 2.5 kids. It’s so easy to get stuck in the bubble of suburbia and never be challenged by the perspective that the rest of the world has to offer. I’m so grateful that even though I grew up in suburbia, my parents made it a point to “culture” us a little bit. (And no, your annual trip to your Cabo time share does not count)
I’m so glad they took us on Young Life mission trips to Costa Rica, and that we got to spend time with our grandparents doing missions in Honduras. I’m so thankful that even though all our friends in high school went to the same two churches in Brentwood, we went to an incredible multi-ethnic, multi-cultural church in Franklin that taught us how to love and serve the community around us.
As Noland and I prepare for God’s calling on our life together to plant a church, I feel like all of these convictions and revelations are coming in God’s perfect timing. I feel like He is preparing my heart for the ministry that He’s leading us to. I pray that through us He will build a body of servants, who are more concerned about being faithful than being successful, and who aren’t afraid to leave their bubble — even if it’s just a few miles — to live out the Gospel message that changes lives. I pray that He will equip us to raise up His church and empower people to be the bridge I mentioned earlier.
I truly believe that the Wisteria Lanes of the world are a desperate mission field, and that we could see incredible things happen in America and across the world if the Gospel message became infectious in suburbia.
**DISCLAIMER: I know I used Brentwood as a negative example multiple times in this post. Let it be known that I love that place and so many of the great people who inhabit it. I will call it home forever. Go Bruins. 😉