local theology: entering into the life of the city

April 13, 2009

This is part of a series of reflections on the meaning and importance of doing local theology…

I wrote a letter to friends and family least year to tell them about our approaching move to Austin. In that letter, I described how we looked forward to entering into the life of the city. That phrase, created with little thought, has held on to me ever since. One of our primary goals for the past year, and for the year to come, has been to enter into the life of Austin. We hope and anticipate that we will raise our family and a church community here, and we want to begin by walking the path from newcomer to Austinite.

Entering into the life of Austin has meant a few things. It has meant trying to learn about the history of the city, though published resources on the topic are few. It has meant trying to get our young family out often to meet people and experience activities in the city (like Barton Springs, pictured to the right from a family outing last year). It has meant spending more time listening, and less time “telling” people why we are here. It has also led to a specialized (and perhaps neglected) blog, and several ponderings on this blog about Austin.

In our transition, I have tried hard to discard my assumptions about what Austin would be like. Before we moved, I had shared with many that Austin was considered a unique island in the middle of Texas. The tech industry, creative culture, and liberal reputation often cause Austin to be compared with Seattle or San Francisco. While those comparisons have been made, it has always felt presumptuous to me to assume that living in the Seattle area for three years meant that we would get Austin. Austin is it’s own city. Though it is difficult to not see Austin relative to other cities, we do try to see it for what it is.

Being fairly new to the city gives some disadvantage when wanting to do local theology, and yet I also think it provides the advantage of a fresh and unique perspective. Lesslie Newbigin describes how asking a human to describe their culture is like asking a fish to describe water. It is so much their immediate reality that they will never be able to fully understand it. I think we have come to Austin able to compare and contrast it to Seattle…able to see see what is similar and different. (And yes, I do think they are a lot alike, though Austin has a little more independent feel to it. And a lot of Texas feel to it. But maybe those are one and the same.)

I scratched out these words in a “to-remember” file a few years ago: What does it mean to do theology at the local level first? Theology that is local must be rooted in praxis. It can’t be separated from the reality of daily life. I don’t remember what inspired them…I probably stole them from someone else who I now can’t give credit to. But they capture something vital for me as we think about shaping a church community around life in Austin. Our church community must exist where the theology of the Scriptural narrative offers life and hope to the unique culture of Austin. To enter into the life of the city is to explore where that life already exists, and where we can begin to inject more of it.

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