The Great Escapism
By stephanie s. smith
February 8, 2012
Twentysomethings today are on the move. The Pew Research Center reports that out of all Americans between 18 and 29 years old, 56 percent have moved at least once, and in this same age bracket, 65 percent expect to move within the next five years. Yet even while young adults are shuffling zip codes for career choices, relationships, college degrees and ministry opportunities, the anthem of “going local” is rising all over the nation.
At first glance, living in local community seems to clash with the lifestyle of a church-hopping, apartment-renting, rootless and restless generation. But the benefits of plugging into local community are many, and make a compelling case for putting down roots even when you’re en route to the next adventure, or longing for your last. It's time to invest where you are—no matter how long you'll be there.
Live Like an Insider
Sometimes we become so addicted to the next best thing, we miss the blessings of the meantime. It’s tempting to put life on hold until we relocate to our ideal culture, city, church or neighborhood, but if we believe God has intentionally positioned us where we are, the best we can do is commit ourselves 100 percent to living in the present.
Missionary and eventual martyr Jim Elliot wrote this excellent advice for anyone whose future plans distracted from the present location, “Let not our longing slay the appetite for our living.” He penned these words to his fiancée, as their love story spanned continents apart without a wedding date in sight.
To help acclimate to your community, take the time to acquaint yourself with its unique character and culture. Choose to identify with your community as an insider rather than an outsider, and your attitude will soon overflow into action.
Make Friendships Without Time Limits
Unfortunately, there’s no welcome party for life in "the real world." There’s no freshman orientation with free food and small-talking peers all in the same boat. It can be overwhelming and intimidating to start out as a stranger or to extend yourself beyond your comfortable circle, but don’t make the mistake of missing out on friendships just because you’ll soon be moving on. Friendships are not one-size-fits-all; some will be lifelong, while others will last only for a few enjoyable seasons, and that’s OK. Give yourself permission to branch out and not let your fear of saying goodbye cripple the relational opportunities at your fingertips.
Wherever you are, finding a church home is essential for both Christian community and spiritual growth. The amazing thing about God’s Church is that you can walk through any sanctuary doors in the world and find an instant family of faith. You may not know these people yet, but you have the most important human relationship with Christ in common. Stick around during coffee hour, ask about small groups or young adult ministries and when you’ve found your niche, use your gifts to give back and serve alongside others at the food pantry or in children’s ministry.
Christian community is important, but it’s not the only place where you can make friends. Try something new and brave at a Zumba class, visit the farmers’ market, get involved in a dodgeball tournament or join a book club. By pursuing your own interests, chances are you will meet like-minded people looking for community just like yourself.
Where does your town’s local color shine through? Go exploring and find out! Instead of the usual appetizers at Chili’s, try out your city’s famous local cuisine. Check your local paper or the web for upcoming events and go to the playhouse, root for the home team or head out to an annual concert or downtown festival. Have fun discovering and supporting local pride.
When you eat and buy local, you cultivate economic and relational benefits in the community. “Going local” not only keeps that cute corner bakery in business, it converts impersonal transactions into trusted relationships. Suddenly consumer concepts are replaced with faces and friendships, as you learn the names of the people who provide your food, books, art and entertainment.
Craig Goodwin, a pastor and author of A Year of Plenty, tapped into local culture by hosting a farmers’ market in his church’s parking lot, as part of his family’s commitment to living locally for a year. In his book, Craig compares local living with incarnational living, suggesting that modeling the Incarnation is as simple as “paying attention to one’s neighborhood and community, asking, ‘What is God up to in this place?’”
Jesus equates local living with Gospel obedience when He announces the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). "And who is my neighbor?" you might ask. Jesus responded to this very question in Luke 10 with the parable of the good Samaritan, to illustrate that our neighbor is anyone God brings across our path—whether Jew, Gentile or Samaritan, cultures that would never intermix in Jesus’ day. “Neighbor” speaks to physical presence and proximity, while “your neighbor” emphasizes personal responsibility. Our neighbors are not only the renters next door, they are our baristas, co-workers, hairstylists, homeless men and anyone else within physical range whom we are obligated by covenantal responsibility to love.
We can love our neighbors in both small ways and large. Next time it snows, shovel your neighbor’s walk as well as your own. Offer to babysit one night for the single mom in your apartment complex, or donate a load of clothes to the nearest Salvation Army. If you commit to loving those around you in simple and practical ways, you may be surprised at the opportunities God puts in your path.
It takes time to get established in any local community, and the grass may often seem greener in neighborhoods not our own. But when we commit to living locally, good things begin to take root—personal contentment, new friendships, church families, cultural renewal and an organic, homegrown kind of grace.
Stephanie S. Smith is a twentysomething writer, editor, and literary publicist addicted to print and pixels. She runs her business, (In)dialogue Communications,from her home in Upstate New York where she lives with her husband, andyou can find her blogging at www.stephindialogue.com about embodiedfaith, creative life, and millennial culture or tweeting @stephindialogue.