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Lauren F. Winner


God of the Latté

Faith in the suburbs.

A few weeks ago, I visited a church in a locale I'll call Levittown. The building was mid-century churchy: stained glass windows; deep, dark wooden pews; prominent pulpit and altar; upright piano on a dais. But about twenty minutes into the service, something decidedly contemporary caught my eye: a giant (should I say venti?) Starbucks cup sitting proudly on the piano. How's that for contemporary iconography? I wonder if it was a paid product placement.

Starbucks is an icon of suburbia, of course, even if the great coffee institution did start in Seattle, and it is fashionable to decry suburban living. Indeed, one of the few things agrarians and urbanites share is their utter horror for the suburbs, whose gated communities and starter mansions are poison for the soul. Even suburbanites themselves often engage in anti-suburb diatribes, albeit a tad sheepishly.

Two new books propose to redirect the conversation. David Goetz, a former editor at Leadership Journal, and Albert Y. Hsu, an editor at InterVarsity Press, ask what a spirituality of suburbia, a spirituality for people who drive mini-vans and tend manicured lawns (or pay someone else to tend them), might look like.

Suburban life, if pursued unheedingly, "obscures the real Jesus," writes Goetz in Death by Suburb. "Too much of the good life ends up being toxic, deforming us spiritually." But if obscured, Jesus is there somewhere, and Goetz's book aims to help suburbanites find him in the ocean of lattÉs, in the aisles of Pottery Barn, and in the bleachers at the soccer field: "You don't have to hole up in a monastery to experience the fullness of God. Your cul-de-sac and subdivision are as good a place as any."

Goetz identifies eight "environmental toxins" that plague suburbia and offers a spiritual practice to purge each toxin from your system and help you realize that "even in suburbia all moments are infused with the Sacred." By packaging his insights in this self-helpy formula—7 habits, 8 practices, 40 ...

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