Rod Dreher, for some reason, inspires a strange sort of cultish devotion among young and youngish urban conservatives. Being a member of that target audience (I was 28 when Crunchy Cons came out,) I have sympathy for those seeking some kind of community in what seems to be an increasingly rootless society. That said…
[My family and I want] to move to a city, and be part of a local church community, that have certain specific characteristics (see below) and I was wondering if you or some of your friends might have some suggestions for us? Thanks for any help you can give.
A stand-alone city (not a suburb) with a population between 50,000 and 100,000: large enough where cultural and intellectual things are happening, and yet small enough where you feel like you’re part of a distinct, local community.
A city where there is some sort of institutional, Christian, intellectual presence: a seminary, Christian college/university, or Christian study center. This intellectual institution helps in giving (or potentially could give) orthodox, theological and historical ballast to the larger Christian community.
A city with at least some ethnic diversity.
A city where all four seasons are distinctly experienced (i.e. the year is neither 90% summer nor 90% winter).
First, ready-made communities don’t exist. They are created by individuals like the letter writer over time. Even if one finds the perfect place to live, it is very rare that he or she will drop into that place like a missing puzzle piece: chances are they were getting along fine without you. I’m surprised that conservative Christians of all people don’t get this.
Second, and more important, there’s a weird fantasy among right-leaning urbanites of living in a hip, cool city full of conservatives. It has “ethnic diversity,” but those fancy ethnic people spend all their time cooking exotic dishes that the conservative sophisticate ate while in Madison or Austin. The people in this mythical land ride the subway to work while discussing indie rock and literary theory, but they also worship Jesus with a down home (but oh-so-intellectual) fervor. You know, like San Francisco but without all those damn San Franciscans.
Aside from inertia, one of the reasons I’ve stayed near Los Angeles is because I like, perhaps need, the sort of weird intellectual stimulation that comes with a very large city. Sure, it has its drawbacks: the place is crowded, dirty and expensive. I’m in an intellectual minority, and that’s annoying. I think about leaving all the time.
That being said, I stopped looking for perfection a long time ago, and I’m definitely not going to look to Rod Dreher to provide it.