Dear Austin: A Christian’s Open Letter to the City
I wasn’t born here. But I’m here now. My family and I, we moved here because God loves you. And I want you to know that.
I’m so amazed at how wonderfully strange and diverse you are, from the farm silos in Hutto, to the suburbs of Cedar Park, the bungalows of midtown, and the strange upside down of what’s across the river. Yes, I live up north… can you tell? I love the way you welcome people of all kinds, but still have a not-so-quiet pride in the inside experience of a time before everyone started moving here. I call it Town Lake, only because I’ve heard it’s the right way to say it. I feel like a bit of an imposter, but I’d like to think I’m not judged too hard. Even though some people think it’s a bit elitist or obnoxious, I think it’s great. I love experiencing your culture, and your culture of culture.
I love that there’s so much new, and so much old, and how you love striving into the new all the while fighting to preserve what’s old. I love that you’re famous for barbecue, the meatiest of meats, and that you’re for vegan, gluten free, non-GMO, organic restaurants. I love that you love Starbucks. I love that you hate Starbucks. I love that you have festivals celebrating technology, but you protect vast stretches of wildlands and greenbelts. I love that you have kite festivals. Seriously, it’s just hundreds people spending their afternoon untangling knots, but it’s still a lovely thing. I love that you love kids and, sometimes, you love dogs more than kids. Actually that one doesn’t make sense to me personally, but I appreciate it anyway.
I love that right at your heart is half a square mile where literally tens of thousands of young people gather every day to learn and grow and discover how to operate in this world. I love that the university is the entire globe concentrated into single point. We Christians say God wants to reach the entire world – if you ever felt like we haven’t reached out to the world right there on campus, I’m so sorry. We’re wrong, and we want to make it right. I’m sorry that people have said “the fastest way to kill a church is to fill it with college students” because they think your young people having nothing to offer. I’d rather kill that “church” and love you well than keep you out to protect my own institutional agenda.
I love that right there in the middle of campus there’s a building with the words “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” emblazoned in stone for all to see. Did you know that Jesus said that? And that he was talking about himself, and not some humanistic sense of self-realization?
I know people want to label you, categorize you. They call you the “Blue island in an ocean of Red” or the “Hole in the Bible belt.” But I’ve learned that you’re way, way more complicated than that. And I love that. I love that because I know God loves that. God loves how colorful and vibrant you are. He loves music, and art, and food, and ideas, and passion. All of that. I’m sorry that people have said parts of you are “unreachable” or “not strategic.” Jesus died to rescue you – all of you – not just “strategic” places where people are amiable to a particular brand of religiosity.
I love you, but I know there’s so much hurt in you, too. There’s so much violence in you, too: people trying so hard to make you into their own image and willing to cut down anyone who doesn’t look or sound or dress or act or value things the way they do. I hate that people have turned everything into a polemic to try and wage culture wars on your streets… or run into ‘safe’ neighborhoods where they can pretend like it doesn’t exist. And that’s why this love isn’t just infatuation. It’s desperation. It’s everything I can do to tell you there’s hope and it’s hope that’s more than just politics and policy or historical preservation or another music festival. There’s hope that’s more than building another Central Market, or getting Lyft and Uber back, or convincing Amazon to build a new headquarters here.
Did you know that people are praying for you? Constantly? Praying for revival. But if I’m honest, I was too scared to really think about what that would look like. But I love you too much to keep praying weak, vapid, abstract prayers for “healing” and “peace” in the city. I want to see you really live. So I’m praying that in every neighborhood, in every store, in every restaurant, in every classroom and every park, you’d hear the truth that God loves you to death and back.
I’m praying that you would be willing to hear it. I’m praying that I would be willing to walk up to you and speak it.