First Third Conversations

Justice in the Burbs

By Adam Butler

Justice in the Burbs: Being the Hands of Jesus Wherever You Live, a book written by Will and Lisa Samson, explores what it means to “live justly” in this world no matter where you were born, where you live or how you’ve been raised. The book challenges us to think about how we live a Christian life of justice and the ways in which we can better live into the mission of God from wherever we call home. It presents an important exploration into the life of those who live in the suburbs and the many obstacles, real and perceived, that hinder us from our calling to justice and meaningful relationships with another.

I expected to hate this book.

I expected that I’d be furious when I was finished reading what the authors had to say. I know that’s not fair but a good portion of my time in seminary has been spent in frustration hearing the negative ways people speak about suburban ministry and the people who live in suburban communities. I grew up in a suburban Minneapolis community so I get can get a little defensive. It’s one of my many flaws but I’m working on it.

I bet you thought I was talking about my suburban upbringing, huh?

Numerous times I’ve felt as if I need to apologize for who I am and where I come from because I happened to have been born into a family who chose Plymouth, MN as a hometown. I’m sure there are many reasons my parents decided to live where they do but I am certain that getting away from the scary people in the city was not one of them.

This is not to say that the suburbs are void of inherent attitudes and approaches to life that are contradictory of a life lived justly in the world. A good friend of mine said to me, “You may not have those attitudes yourself but you have to be mindful of the attitudes that first produced those kinds of communities.” And I lose sight of that all the time. The life that I lived growing up, the comfort that I experienced, the separateness that comes with living in the suburbs, while not defining my whole person, is still something that greatly affects how I live in this world. And I know this to be true of other suburban dwellers, as well.

Conversely, it is important that assumptions are not made regarding all people who live in the suburbs, believing they are presently doing so because they wish to ignore the issues of injustice in the world.

In our attempt as Christians to refocus our efforts on being missional and living out God’s justice in the world with the vulnerable and forgotten, we must not neglect the need for God’s presence in the lives of those who appear to be stable and complete.

We must be careful about establishing an ecclesiology that is against the suburbs, against the mainstream, against the culturally popular, against…whatever. My fear is that when we do this we end up leaving behind the people who exist in those realities. Being against an ideology is different than being against the real people who exist within those supposed ideologies, a line which is too often blurred.

Justice in the Burbs speaks to a reality where living justly can, in fact, happen in the suburbs and people in the suburbs can be integral players in that justice. The key is to identify the fact that we all have choices about how we live our lives, independent of where we live or the communities into which we are born. Good or bad, the choices we make have consequences. Our choice, then, must be to live justly. Whatever that looks like, wherever it takes place, it’s about living justly in this world. We must seek out ways in which we can be more aware, more active and committed to a life of relationship in which we seek the welfare of others as a means of peace.

“What Jesus left us was a series of relationships. By joining with justice, we are claiming to be a part of two thousand years of interconnection with God incarnate, the people he ministered to, and the people they in turn ministered to, down through the generations. Our lineage of faith relationships literally goes back to the Lord himself.”

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Adam Butler is a senior M.Div. student, with an emphasis in Children, Youth and Family Ministry, studying at Luther Seminary. Throughout college and prior to beginning seminary he worked in multiple youth and outdoor ministry settings. He is an avid sports fan, enthusiastic pontooner, a craft beer homebrewer/consumer and patron of the arts. He currently resides in Minnetonka, MN with his wife, Kayla, while they await a call in the South Dakota Synod of the ELCA. You can find his blog at and follow him on Twitter @adamkbutler.

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