I must begin this review by saying this is not what I expected. I imagined this book to be filled with suburbian angst, and a kind of “stick it to the man” attitude of living counterculturally in a radical way. Instead, I got 8 “disciplines” (maybe more attitudes) to implement in order to live in such a way that you live the “thicker life.”
I hope that I do this book justice, because I had a really hard time distinguishing between the author’s sarcasm and real voice. Maybe they were one and the same, I’m not entirely sure. Sometimes I thought he was making fun of the suburbia and exurbia life; other times I feel like he was defending it. So please take that caution into consideration as you proceed. Any injustices I do, my sincere apologies goes out to the author.
About the Author
I think it may be important to know a little bit about the author. His name is David L. Goetz, and he grew up in a Christian boarding school in the Dakotas, and at some point moved to Chicago and graduated from Wheaton. He still lives in that area today. Goetz is a former pastor and editor of Leadership Journal (a pretty good one to check out, for those of you who have never seen it).
The Eight Disciplines
So, onto the meat. The 8 disciplines he encourages the reader to take on are:
1. Silence (inner silence, not necessarily silence in your environment) to balance out the speed and efficiency required to live in the suburbs.
2. Being free from “immorality symbols”- those things that feed your self-love and help you to feel superior to someone else in some ways. Much of his focus included people living through their kids or getting a sort of identity or self-boost from their children’s accomplishments—a reality I was not convinced actually existed until I entered parenthood.
3. Spend time with people who have less than you so that you’ll not covet your neighbor’s life.
4. Remember that suffering happens to everyone; accept yours with grace, knowing that God builds your character through it.
5. Pursue action out of obedience and not results. He calls people who don’t do this “shirkers”… one “who inadvertently disengages from the suffering of the world and who unwittingly collects to themselves every available religious experience” (p. 100).
6. Stay put in your church community. Resist the urge to find somewhere different when there’s something you don’t like, or when some relationships get tough. That’s exactly when God will help you learn about true community and unity. He relates the way people church/ministry hop like casual sex. By “hop”, I mean changing churches every 2-5 years…not the every week somewhere different kind of extreme. He takes church fidelity extremely seriously. “Only in relationships that permit no bailing out can certain forms of spiritual development occur. Marriage is one. Church is another” (p. 140).
7. Make deep connections with people whom you love and trust.
8. Don’t try so hard to get more done in less time. Surrender control of your life- learn to honor the Sabbath. Mend your schedule every now and then when you realize it’s getting out of control and you’re not living in God’s rest. “The Sabbath won’t come up and embrace you; you have to embrace the Sabbath” (p. 187).
There are a ton of things I disagreed with in this book. My journal is filled with “what in the world?!” comments, but I don’t necessarily want to share those here, in case of discoloring someone elses’ view of this book. Maybe it’s just because I come from a different place. I thought I’ve lived the suburb (well, actually exurbia) life, but maybe as a teenager, I wasn’t so aware of some of the stuff going on. And for me, I’ve had to change my life quite radically in order to not get my soul eaten by competition, materialism, individualism, and security. And I still struggle with those things, but not as much as I did.
There were some awesome gems in here, though, that really made me think for a long time. Here are some of the good quotes I wrote in my journal:
“The suburbs require, I think, a kind of fierceness to stay fully awake to God and the work of God in the world.” p. 202
**Am I aware of and living in that fierceness to stay fully awake?**
In reference to not coveting your neighbor’s life: “The competitive environment of the suburbs tends to disable, with time, even the most genuine promise to live with the humiltiy, service, and contentment God wants from us. And often without the victim noticing the change.” P. 67
**I am so afraid of this happening to me. I’ve seen many college friends, decision by decision, being disarmed, unknowingly, and live the American dream that they said they wanted to battle. I hope that I have enough courage to show them, and I hope my friends will have the courage to help me (us) to resist it.**
“Soccer is stupid when you think your wife is dying. The pettiness of suburban living shocks you, enrages you. The problem, of course, is that you can’t live with that kind of intensity for long. The pettiness is so clear for a time, but then not so clear. Your clarity on what is real fades.”
**What has faded for me– Something that I saw so clearly that was out of line, but that I, and the world around me, loved so much? What is it for you?**
Overall, I think this book would be better if the author wrote it in 10 or 15 years. Whether this be true or not, I feel like the author still struggles with these things so much that maybe I’m not convinced that they actually work. I think there’s a delicate balance between being authentic in your struggles, but also declaring your victories and showing evidence of true life change, and not just moments of change where you go back to your old ways afterwards. Maybe the author was just trying to err on the side of authenticity, which I appreciate, but I think maybe in 10 or 15 years he may have a stronger case for some of these principles.
For more info, you can check out: www.deathbysuburb.net