The architecture of altruism

February 3, 2008 at 8:11 pm 2 comments

(Jon) An article over on Comment magazine by Calvin College professor James K.A. Smith nicely encapsulates much of what we hope for in Fort Wayne.

Below are lots of quotes from Loving our neighbour(hood)s: The architecture of altruism. It’s full of good stuff:

The culture of “automobility” engenders a residential architecture where the three-car garage swallows almost the entire front elevation, leaving a small gap for a front door—but eliminating any room for an expansive front porch. Instead, houses are set back from the street, guarded by the fortress-like wall of garage doors, leaving us to retreat to the privacy of fenced backyards on sprawling decks—once again, insulated by pressure-treated lumber from any contact with our neighbours. Thus, our suburban “neighbourhoods” are all too often collections of privatized, insulated pods that secure us from any contact with “neighbours.” In such a world, Jesus’ command sounds a tad anachronistic and strange.

Christian exhortations to love our neighbours usually amount to encouragements to muster the will-power to care about others—a call to a resolute interiority and attitude. But what if Christian neighbour-love had a structural, material concern at its base: that we care about the very physical shape of our residential dwelling and critically consider how the material conditions of our built environment foster or detract from love of neighbour? In a world where the built environment threatens to squelch the very category of “neighbour,” might not we heed Jesus’ command precisely by being concerned to build communities that encourage encounters with neighbours? Could there be an architecture of neighbour-love?

A construction of the world that finds us sequestered in insulated pods—emerging only into smaller, mobile, insulated pods—must make an impact on how we see ourselves and our relations to (largely invisible) others. Could there not be a link between the increased narcissism and polarity of North American culture and that many adults spend two hours a day by themselves in maddening commuter traffic, with the inanities of talk radio as a soundtrack?

Loving our neighbour means more than mustering kind feelings toward anonymous others. It might require, here and now, that we commit ourselves to building (or better, recovering and redeeming) built environments in which neighbours actually show up to be loved.

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Entry filed under: Advice, Theology, Urbanism. Tags: , , .

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2 Comments

  • 1. Pat Coyle  |  February 10, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    I really like your blog. John 17 is a big part of my motivation for launching Smaller Indiana. God wants us to be united with Him, and with his Son and either eachother. Each of us has gifts to share and we need to love them out of eachtoher!

  • 2. Adam  |  February 12, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Ahhh yes. Living the American dream in our oversized suburban castle, screaming of the gas guzzling tanks inside the 3-car garage on our huge lot of perfectly manicured lawn. We must keep our environmentally controlled box shut at all times and seclude ourselves inside the depths of the monster where we could never interact with people or the natural world.

    As GW would say, God Bless America.


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