Texas Reflections Pt. 1: culture shock

We landed in Austin, a city we’ve visited too many times to count.  We love Austin.  In fact, it’s about the only city in Texas we both agree we could live.

Inside the city limits, Austin is a blue dot in a big, red state.  There are funky, local shops and restaurants, hipster lofts and economical single-family homes, and access by bike or public transportation to places to work (Austin is considered the Silicon Valley of the Southwest), play (running, biking, climbing, boating, etc., are all favorite pastimes), shop, and eat.  Oh, and live music venues and dogs outnumber babies, I’m convinced.  It’s one of the funkiest, youngest, most socially conscious cities I’ve ever visited.

Driving north on I-35, however, things are quite different.

Now, this is where I want to be very careful, because the North Austin suburbs are where my in-laws have made their home, where they work, live and go to school.  It’s home to them.  I do not intend to step on anyone’s toes, unless said toes need to be stepped on. (this is for individuals and communities to decide for themselves)

The corridor extending north along I-35 from downtown Austin toward Dallas/Fort Worth is one of the fastest-expanding areas in the United States.  Formerly sleepy towns — with names like Pflugerville, Round Rock, Leander, and Hutto, to name a few — are now booming in population, thanks to a burgeoning technology sector around Austin and, specifically, Dell Computers.  The city limits sign for Round Rock (where Dell is located), for example, still displays “Population: 80,000” when that number has already been dwarfed and is expected to exceed 250,000 people in the next 10 years.

Developers are having a hay-day in North Austin, dotting the Hill Country with housing communities and apartment complexes.  With the influx of people comes the apparent need for grocery stores, big-box electronics outlets, a diversity of chain restaurants, and a Starbucks on every corner, but I’ll tell ya — North Austin seems like overkill in this regard.  Pretty much every bit of undeveloped land is now a subdivision or a store or a parking lot.

Or a church.

And this is the truly shocking part of the North Austin experience.  Forget the over-the-top consumerism and abundance.  There exists a religious infrastructure in many wealthy suburbs that not only refuses to address the realities therein in light of Jesus’ life and words, but supports it.  “We’re so blessed,” they say.

Coming from the racial and socio-economic complexity of Boston into the lily-white and affluent homogeneity of North Austin was culture shock not because the consumerism and wealth exists, but because the consumerism and wealth is supported by a foundation of religion.  Yesterday, David Fitch wrote a great piece touting a missional response to the current economic problems our country faces.  The thrust of it was that communities of Jesus that are living simply (below their means), in close proximity of each other, sharing their possessions, and giving to those who have need (Acts 2 style) are in a unique position to be a breath of fresh air to a world facing economic uncertainty.  But it was this paragraph that took me for a ride:

I have argued that vast swaths of the American church has accommodated itself in some of the worst of ways to the values inherent in these idols. I believe the missional church movement has emphasized a different response to this culture: that we should live more simply, live beneath our means, reject these idols of career, house and money. We must come together to cultivate communal life, communal sharing, transformational practices that resist consumerism and above all the everyday participation in the Mission of God. Our jobs, our homes and our money each in turn become captive to God’s Mission.

We, the people of God, have been assuaged by and accommodated a dying way of life for far too long.  North Austin’s churches, malls, and subdivisions are not the culpible ones here, we are.  We all store up treasures when Jesus told us not to.  We all worry about our provision (“what we will wear”) when Jesus told us not to.  We all obsess over homes and neighborhoods as we claim to follow a savior who had “no place to lay his head.”  I’m not ranting against someone else … I’m ranting against me.

Lord, forgive us.  Change us.

Related: this and this


On a different note, check out my dad’s new blog.  He’s off to a great start, taking on some controversial issues right out of the gate.  Guaranteed to be a challenging read from a thoughtful man.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Great post Steve.

    I don’t know what it will take for mainstream Christianity to realize this sin exists, let alone change it. Lord help us.


  2. thanks! interesting post and something i’ve also been giving a lot of thought to lately.

    by the way, have you made it to l’abri in southborough?


  3. Posted by chad on October 9, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Good reflections.
    Glad to see you’re back to posting.
    Gonna send ya an email and we can catch up.
    Gotta Go:)


  4. Hey Steve, I was going to Summit to see Megan, but Hurricane Ike changed my plans. Compelling post. Don’t forget this about urban renewal – home prices. This whole mortgage crisis’ underbelly is greed and inflated home prices. What does a two-br condo. in Boston run these days? Probably $750 per sq. ft. A nice home in Hutto probably runs $100/sqft.


  5. Posted by Sylvia on April 20, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    I read the report about your work in the April 2009 Christian Chronicle. (Well, I hope I am sending this to the Holts….lol…that is my intent.) I just want to encourage you in your work. Sounds good. Would love to hear from you. Blessings, Sylvia


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