I love Athens. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has spent any amount of time here to disagree with you. For some, it’s a kind of Neverland– a place that exists in memory as the hallowed ground on which the years 18-22 were joyously spent with cheap rent and flowing kegs and balancing research papers with afternoon naps and football games under a clear Georgia sky. For others, it’s an eclectic and creative haven, burgeoning with music and art and great food and more great food. It’s the land of a thousand coffee shops, bars, music venues, and places to brunch. But it’s a hard place to live, too.
Hard in the sense that it’s transient. (I’ve talked about this before.) But it’s also hard because despite its cultural offerings and prevalent scene of academia, it’s a broken place. The poverty is astounding. The industrial and economic infrastructure is unstable. The city that is loved by so many is often left by so many. Athens is able to remain a perfect snapshot in memory because if you don’t invest in the city, you never know its troubles, its depth, its bleakness. (People are like this, too, I think.)
I have felt (ever since I decided to stay here back in the summer of 2009 after graduating from UGA) a certain kinship with this place. Something holding me here. Some unfinished work or duty to remain in the city I love. I couldn’t exactly explain it, and many of my friends who served this place well and loved it just as I did moved on, beginning to love new places and new cities. We all did what we felt we needed to do. And I felt I needed to stay in Athens.
One of my best friends from college who now lives in Atlanta sent me a sermon a few months back from her church and said that she thought of me when she heard it. She and a number of my pals from UGA have grown to love Atlanta and many of them have “committed” to living in the city, probably forever. It’s not an easy thing to do when you’re a 20-something to say “This is my home. I am dedicated to its welfare. I am for the city.” especially when it’s so tempting to wander and explore and be transient and free and experimental*. The sermon, based on Jeremiah 29:4-8, was about establishing permanence, investing in infrastructure, and planning for a long and faithful work wherever the Lord sends you. And I think that’s what He’s doing with me here in Athens, with my friends in Atlanta, and a myriad of other people across the state, country, and globe.
If you’re thinking about permanence, about your place in the world, about the brokenness of your city or your school or your town or your job… listen to this. Even if you’re reading this and are not a Christian… I urge you to listen.
Every time he says “Atlanta” just swap it with your city. It probably applies. I could have written the whole sermon down, but here are some nuggets I found particularly helpful:
“You cannot will yourself to care about this city. The Holy Spirit has to break your heart for what breaks His.”
“Pray that god would alter your heart so that you would not quit… that you would see the city the way He sees it and love it the way He loves it. And because of that, we seek its welfare so that it will reflect the glory of God.”
“Jesus wants far more than your stuff or your money… he wants your whole heart.”
*And it’s not that those things are bad. In fact, I’d argue that a certain amount of wandering and exploration and transience is a good thing, especially for the young and unattached. But what would it look like if we invested in our cities, cared about its people, and sought to make it a better place?