When my family moves into the city we will, in the eyes of many, be moving into a messy situation that will put our family in harms way. I believe this mentality betrays an understanding of human development, and of humans in general, that is faulty. It actually reflects a romantic humanistic thinking that believes that the child or person is a ‘tabula rasa’ (blank slate), and the environment has the sole control of the development of a person. These external pressures and influences shape a person into what they are and the best protection is retreat. That idea applied to the city leads to the following causal statement; ‘if I surround my family with brokenness, crime, and unhealth, then my family will be formed into a form of that brokenness, crime and unhealth.’ It’s only fair to say that the environment is also not the passive recipient of my families influence. It is also not true that; ‘if my family moves into the brokenness, crime, and unhealth, then the presence of my family will have transformative effect on our neighbor and communities.” In truth, an ecological view of human development says that both these statements are partially true.
Jesus made a comment in the Sermon on the Mount that supports this ecological relationship between the Christian and the environment:
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?
Jesus makes a declaration, “you are the salt of the earth”. He declares this to be so. Christians are salt…period. Not Christians should be salt but they are salt. Salt has a preserving effect on meats. It keeps it from becoming poisonous quickly. It delays the rot. Christians effect their environment. Christians preserve their environment. Without Christians in the environment, things would go bad quicker!
It’s also important to notice that though there is no command for the disciple to be salt there is a caution. There is against the possibility of losing the ‘saltiness’. The environment has an effect on the Christian too. If Christians are not “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) they could lose that saltiness!
An ecology of Human Development believes that there is a dynamic relationship between a human’s development (which includes Spiritual Development) and the environment. Imagine concentric circles moving outwards from the individual at the center. In the circle closest to the person is the family, the church, the school, the friends. The circle once removed may contain the neighborhood, and the circle outside that may contain the city, so on and so forth. There is a dynamic happening in all those circles, an ecology. The individual is growing and changing and so is the environment. The circle that is closest to the individual has the most influence on the development of the person, with each additional circle that sits further from the center having less and less an influence on the individual. So my family will greatly impact the development of my children and vice versa, as will my church community. The city government is going to have significantly less influence on my family and my child but it will have more influence on the development of our neighborhood which will have a greater impact on my family. There is an ecology of our environments, a dynamic give and take with greater and lesser levels of influence. We have the potential to be salt but we also need to be cautious that we don’t lose our saltiness.
I don’t want to take my family’s well being for granted but I don’t believe that keeping them out of one specific environment is going to be the factor that does that. In fact, if I want my children to develop well I need to be mostly concerned with the way that I am nurturing my family, my church relationships, and my children’s friends. I need to be about the business of positively influencing my family more than I need to worry about keeping all the bad out, because the bad can’t be kept out entirely! Beyond that, I need to trust that my ‘holiness in progress’ family will be salt to a decaying world.
The little boy next door, whose parents drink all the time and fail to care and nurture him, can be positively effected by the presence of my family in his life. Will it effect my children to see that yes, will it be a totally negative impact…I don’t believe so. Even with the idiosyncrasies, failures and faults that my wife and I bring to our family, we believe that our children will be nurtured in the faith. Though the environment around our family will have influence in the development of my children, my family will have more!
When Romans were dying of the plague, the Christians ran into the city and not away from it. Our cities are dying, our cities need strong Christian families present.
Lord Jesus strengthen the resolve of Christian families to create spaces that push back the decline of our cities!