"He has shown me how a life in the suburbs does not absent us from the problems of other places, even if the suburban idols fashioned here are different, more insidious, and harder to root out." - Ashley Hales
Oftentimes, suburb dwellers appear to have it all, or at least, mostly together. Our kids go to the "good" schools, we have a steady enough job to pay a mortgage on a home, we spend Saturday mornings browsing Target with a latte in hand, and cars are a must-have to cover the space between where we live and the rest of the world. With the appearance of stability in suburban communities, they tend to be overlooked in churches and ministries in order to focus on areas and people with tangible physical needs. (Reaching out to the hungry and cold is a very real and important part of Christian ministry, and Hales addresses that beautifully. As I discuss more about spiritual needs of affluence, keep in mind that I will circle back around to helping those in need. This isn't just another "Oh, my life is so great and yet I'm a wreck, poor me!" self-help book and I wouldn't want people to quit reading this review with that impression.)
In Finding Holy In the Suburbs, Ashley Hales discusses the unique challenges of ministering to communities of affluence - the biggest challenge being that Suburbanites often don't appear to have any immediate "needs" that churches meet through typical outreach ministries. However, spiritual needs are universal, and those who live in the comfort of the suburbs still can struggle with broken relationships, identity, abuse, grief, debt, fear, and addiction, to name a few. As an example, I was discussing this issue with a man who worked as an addiction counselor, and he said, "Addiction is equal opportunity," and explained as he saw in his line of work, all worlds of people struggled with addiction - from professionals to the homeless and everyone in between. In the suburbs, however, these struggles tend to present themselves it tidier packages. One man might be sitting on a sidewalk downtown swigging out of a bottle of cheap whiskey covered with a paper bag, another man might be locked in his house in the hill finishing off an expensive bottle of scotch. As Hales illustrated, in the suburbs, couples might be closing their windows so no one will hear them fight.
With that in mind, Hales reminds us how spiritual brokenness can be in all of us regardless of our place in the world, and brings to light the idols people residing in the insulated life of the suburbs can use to try to mask their deeper needs, such as consumerism, individualism, busyness, and safety. She encourages readers to "Find Holy" where they are by practicing repentance, belovedness, hospitality, generosity, vulnerability, and Shalom (peace). This is where I come back to the fact that this isn't a "self-help" book. It encourages Christians to gain perspective by, first, remembering that God is ultimate the one who meets all needs, and trying to fill them ourselves will just lead to more emptiness. She also encourages looking outside the shelter of suburban life, which involves reaching out to others, and remembering that not everyone may live like you do. While she discusses how individuals and churches in suburban neighborhoods to remember the spiritual needs of their immediate neighbors, regardless of income or affluence, she also emphases the importance of being aware of the world outside your place and how we can share our resources with others.
I read this book after I received an advanced copy from the publisher, and enjoyed it so much that I not only decided to review it, but to share it "in real life," and will be leading a Finding Holy In The Suburbs book club at my church Winter 2019!