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.