Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Sound of The City

This is a eulogy about living in a city; its good and bad aspects.  The city can be an oasis and the city can be a desert, a desert being a place to think.  It can be an oasis because everything for living is there; supermarkets, all kinds of shops, places to visit, restaurants, cafes, museums, art galleries, oh and people; yes, lots of people!  The city can be a desert, especially if you have no friends and rarely see your family.  It can be a place where you are surrounded by people but where they all seem indifferent to you because they don’t know you; whole cities full of people all doing their own thing and trying to make something of themselves, all competing with each other and you, and all needing to be fed and watered, all needing diversions and all needing love; yes, even love.

When I go to bed at nights I sometimes like to hear the sound of the city, that indefinable and really indescribable sound that is quiet and needs to be noticed but tends to be heard in the silence of the early morning; it could be static or it could be something else but I think all large cities have it.  It’s comforting somehow to know that other people are nearby and yet it can be alienating too; most people seem not to know their neighbours in cities anymore, let alone get on with them; it’s a sign of the times.  Many city people dream of rural living, and I’m certain that some rural people dream of cities.

I think that many of us who live in big cities love and hate the city at the same time; we love it because everything’s at hand and close by, and perhaps we hate it because sometimes we feel we haven’t any real space, we feel boxed in and we’re just another faceless person in a grey urban environment.


Of course, many of us feel we live in isolation; yes even in big cities we can feel isolated, cut off from our fellow human beings and all alone.  In a curious way, living in a big city can be a very lonely experience.  In the old days, perhaps up until the early 60’s, there seemed to be a community spirit, certainly among working class people, where people would watch out for each other and lend and borrow money and help out in different ways.  The problem was that people could also be busy bodies and nosey neighbours, more concerned with gossiping about you than being concerned with you.  Unfortunately, the community spirit seems to have gone the way of all things now, and people tend to keep themselves to themselves in general.  We’ve all become more ambitious, we all want what we haven’t got, and I think most people want to get on and better themselves.  In the not-so-distant past, many people from ordinary backgrounds made do, had a job for life and accepted it whatever it was.  Now, in one sense all the security has gone but in another way there are more opportunities, of a kind, if we are prepared to look for them.  It’s still an unfair world of course, and sometimes people prosper not because of their talent or drive, but because they have connections or wealth behind them.

For some people, isolation is bearable, even preferable to having too many friends and acquaintances; in isolation we can sometimes find God, and hear that distant, still small voice that often talks to our heart, the voice that is often drowned out when we are with other people or too busy or just distracted by life.  For another person, isolation is something they’ve experienced and don’t want to experience any more.  The life of a writer, or perhaps anyone dedicated to something they really want to do and achieve in, is partly isolation; frankly if I ever have any success, or win the lottery, I would be happy to live in a remote valley in North Wales somewhere and have all the isolation to my heart’s content.

It’s in isolation that we might begin to know ourselves, know who we are, know what we are about, understand where we are going, and perhaps most importantly begin to understand who God is.  Experiencing God for yourself is a lot more than someone telling you about Him, a whole lot more.  God can bring peace, He can bring contentment, He can bring meaning into your life.  It might be that in some way, loneliness or isolation might be the catalyst to bring you closer to God.  I must say that in many respects I like isolation and I feel I can hear God’s voice this way; it may be the same for you.

The Call of Abraham

Abraham is a key figure in the Bible; we don’t really know a great deal about him other than God commands him to leave behind all he knows and venture off into the wilderness with his wife Sarah and his servants and livestock and everything else.  According to the Old Testament Abraham left the Ur of the Chaldees , a Sumerian city of importance.  So, although Abraham was a city dweller and by all accounts moderately prosperous, God wanted him to up sticks and go into the unknown.  The cities by all accounts although relatively new were hotbeds of vice, corruption, crime and irreligious people; some might say what’s new?!  So Abraham leaves, to go who knows where by a God he puts his faith in.  The cities represent corruption and God calls Abraham out of the city and so corruption, so that Abraham can be the father of many nations and the spiritual father of religious Jews and Christians.  It always seems that where human beings screw up, God straightens us out.  For the Christian, Abraham’s story is important.  God enters into his life and nothing is ever the same again; He calls and Abraham simply answers. 

Perhaps Abraham was a simple man, but who can really say?  It is certain that as with many other people, God is ‘starting again’ with Abraham, shooing him out of the city to a better place, a Promised Land for a Chosen People, a people who in the end would live by faith in God’s promises.  If you are a Christian and you are obedient, you are an heir to that promise.  And it is Abraham’s faithfulness to God, God’s call and God’s promises that really counts as his uprightness; nothing more than that.   

Perhaps Abraham had twinges of doubt, and perhaps he left behind people he loved, and for all we know maybe he really was a cityboy at heart, who then becomes a great wanderer, a nomad in search of new things, bigger horizons and better pastures.  Whatever the case, God looks after him and watches over him and brings his story to a happy conclusion, even though Abraham never sees many of the promises fulfilled.  How different he appears from those of us today, who want to see results yesterday and have every whim fulfilled straight away!  Abraham can teach us many lessons. 

The First Cities; the Start of Civilisation

People will conjecture all day about the origins of mankind, and perhaps also the origins of the beginnings of the civilisation of mankind too.  Some people say that man was created no earlier than about ten thousand years ago, and other people will say that man evolved from apes over millions of years; it’s all second hand because not one person knows for absolute certainty, simply because they weren’t there!  And not to be trite, but I believe mankind was created specially and specifically by God!  So there!

I’ve read a number of interesting books about the beginnings of civilisation, and I’m reading one now, called ‘Legacy: A Search for the Origins of Civilization’; it’s a very interesting book so far.  I am particularly interested in the Fertile Crescent, which was partially situated where Iraq is now.  As a Christian and an amateur Biblical scholar, this part of the world is interesting to me because it’s mentioned in the Genesis section of the Bible; the Tigris and the Euphrates, both important rivers of this region, are both mentioned in the Bible.  According to some scholars, the Garden of Eden can be traced to this area, and certainly educated opinion is that the first cities in the world originated in the Sumerian plain/Fertile Crescent-people simply started living en masse here in cities about 3000BC or thereabouts, although I have read that it was 4000BC before today.  It’s certain that before people started living in cities, they were congregating together to grow crops and build small houses and live near each other for community and protection and so on.  Then something happened; people started to get civilised; they wanted big organised cities; they started to specialise; class divisions arose; kings arose and then of course kingdoms and city-states.

It’s curious to note that man’s creation, supposedly about six thousand years ago, mirrors almost exactly the supposed beginnings of mankind’s civilisation, or thereabouts.  I wonder whether the writers who first wrote down the early books of the Bible, the Old Testament, were mixing up the two things, i.e. man’s creation and the beginnings of civilisation.  I may also add that man’s fall from grace and his disobedience to God leads then to being ‘civilised’, to mankind eschewing God and His laws, and deciding for himself what was good.  As man came out of the Garden of Eden, fallen from grace, did he tumble into the city life, the life of civilisation?  There are deeper questions to be pondered here.

Is being civilised, cultured and urbane more important than having a childlike trust in God?  Do all the things we aspire to be, all our ambitions for being civilised take us away from God?  It seems that the Fall of man coincides exactly with man’s ascent to civilisation.  What does this mean for mankind?  What does it mean for Christians?  And, what does it mean for God?

For me, the two realities of both man’s creation and then fall from grace with God and man first living in large urban centres, have become intertwined and even confused with each other by those early writers and scholars who were trying to make sense of mankind’s origins.  How could they have known any better, not having vast libraries or the Internet like we do now?  It is something we need to look at, especially those Christians who believe that the earth and mankind are only thousands of years old.  Equally, it seems that man becoming sophisticated and falling from grace could be one and the same thing.  The rise of civilisation has led to class divisions, wars, nations at odds with each other and a world which, as it gets ever more cultured and technologically advanced, seems less and less to be concerned with God or being concerned with our fellow human beings.

Why did man become civilised?  Why did man rebel against God?  Well, He gave us free will to choose the way we would live; His way or our way.  His way means being obedient to Him.  Our way means chaos because everyone then chooses to do whatever they want to do without regard to God and usually always without regard to other people.  When people disregard God they abandon all concern for everyone and everything but themselves.  It’s clear to see where this has lead mankind and the world in general.

Perhaps instead of being so obsessed with success, making money, being seen by others as important and being concerned about high social status, we should first ask God what He wants from us and what life He wants us to live.  Through Adam and Eve we are all fallen, but through Jesus we can be reconciled to God. 

Rohl, D. 1999. Legend: The Genesis of Civilisation. United Kingdom. Century.

Roux, G. 1992. Ancient Iraq. 3rd Ed. England. Penguin.

Wood, M. 1992. Legacy: A Search for the Origins of Civilization. Great Britain. Network Books.


  1. Hi Tim,
    well I have just thoroughly enjoyed reading your post {or should I say book}. I have lived in both city and small place, and out in the bush in Western Australia. I enjoyed everywhere I lived, but I think that is down to the people I met, all different kinds, (even a 'gangster' in Melbourne who was a Godsend at the time} I do think that life is less community orientated now, and very much due to the reasons you have stated, but I do know that God can absolutely change the life of an individual when that individual trusts in Him. Abraham believed God and that is how he could do things that most human beings would not do. He trusted Him to the extent of taking his son to the point of sacrifice, knowing that God had a different ending to the story than what his own mind would be telling him because God had already told him that his descendants would be through Isaac. If we listen for God's voice through reading His word daily and 'getting the message' of what He is saying to us as individuals, and act on that word, then it can only lead to good things. Our biggest enemy is our own reasoning which challenges that word. I love your pics by the way. Which city is it?

    1. I'm really glad you liked the post Brenda. I've always dreamed of living in Australia but just never got around to it; maybe one day hey?

      It is important, as you say, to understand that we are part of God's story and part of His plan if we make time to hear His voice and remain obedient as Abraham was obedient. Yes, we reason God out of the picture sometimes, instead of just having simple faith.

      All the pictures are various parts of Liverpool, taken at various times.

  2. Having grown up in London, I can fully understand how one can be lonely in a crowd! People running to and fro, pursuing their own ways, ambitions - and seem to be always in a hurry and never having time to forge friendships.
    As for ambition, one only has to watch Alan Sugar's The Apprentice to see that all the candidates are little empires in themselves, who won't let anything get in their way to fulfill their destinies.
    But I guess all this is the end result of rejecting God's will in preference of one's own will. Cain provides a good example of this. In Genesis 4:16-17 we read that he went out of the presence of the Lord, to live in the land of Nod, east of Eden, where he built a city, which he named after his son, Enoch. I personally believe that by the time of the Flood, the city of Enoch had grown to a metropolis the size of Greater London! And why not? With a race of men living more than nine hundred years in longevity, and some 1,600 years before the Flood, this looks very plausible.
    Yet Enoch was the fruit of Cain and his descendants, the people in rebellion against God, rather than of Seth's Godly line, just as you pointed out in your article.
    Yet having said all this, I am very fond of my original home town.
    A great blog.

  3. It is curious that the more people in a city, the more lonely and anonymous people seem to be; shouldn't it be the other way around? I suspect that when the first cities started appearing so many thousands of years ago, they struggled with the same problems and indulged in all kinds of negative things to manage the stress of living near huge numbers of people.

    The trick is to balance what we want with what we need; God will always fulfil our needs but I think our wants are something else. And as you say so astutely, we need to know what God's will is for our lives before our own will.

    So the first cities were populated by rebels; that sort of figures really doesn't it. There's a lesson here certainly. I think we need to remain open to how God wants us to live, rather than worrying how the world wants us to live, with all it's racism and class divisions and unequal wealth distribution and all the very real problems of so called civilised society.

  4. " Perhaps instead of being so obsessed with success, making money, being seen by others as important and being concerned about high social status, we should first ask God what He wants from us and what life He wants us to live."

    Yes! Yes! There are so many times when I feel pressure from friends, relatives, and co-workers to conform to worldly expectations. But being in God's will is so much more satisfying even when we don't always know where He's taking us.

    Thank you for this wonderful post! God bless. :)

  5. Thank you very much for the positive comment my friend, and equally thank you very much for joining my blog; of course I will do the same! Love cats by the way! I'm a real cat lover.

    I also think that as well as expectations from other people, we are under internal pressure from ourselves, what we should do, what we should aim for and what private ambitions we should personally hold. I want to be a successful author for example and I try to work at it most everyday, but I also want to serve God with a whole and pure heart; how do we square these two realities that seem to oppose each other? I guess only God can do this for us. After all, no matter how spiritual we are, we have to pay bills, we have to buy food, we have to buy clothes and shoes, so we have to be doing something. I believe God can square both spiritual and worldly ambitions in a way which will leave us pure and truly Godly people; I pray for it everyday!

  6. Hey TC - great post as ever and I'll join the feline love-in. They beat rabbits into second place, with dogs a very distant third.

    One of the issues here is that technology has enabled people to find out more without actually interacting with anybody. This is why the sense of community you talk about still remains in a lot of poorer and rural areas, cut off from the 100mph speed of urban life.

    I would say this wouldn't I, but the state has also nationalised the notion of compassion and sought to take over the role that individuals would play in helping each other out. That would appear to have much to do with it.

    As much as politicians talk about 'strengthening communities' they need to realise that it isn't something you can beam in from space!! Community is just the voluntary action of people acting of their own free will.

    Isn't 'the Big Society' just another attempt by goverment to enforce voluntarism on people. Surely that's a paradox in itslf and I would have thought they taught the meaning of that word at Eton!!

    1. I'm really glad you like the post Daz, and really glad you like cats too!

      Yes technology means that you can know everything and nothing about somebody and get very close to people in chatrooms and facebook but still not know anything about them. That's a rather strange state of affairs hey?

      I think one of the big problems in life at the moment is the way money is distributed, and the life chances people have. In some quarters with the right connections, education and accent, you can sail through life not being at all talented and still end up rich and powerful. For other people, life is a real struggle no matter how hard they work and plan for a better life.

      And 'the Big Society' is just another 'we're all in this together' load of bollocks to be honest. I think we are still run by elites that aren't particularly smart or accomplished or talented in any real way, and there are no genuine visionaries in politics anymore, of any persuasion, left, right or centre.