Pleasant Valley Sunday is a song co-written in the 1960s by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. (Okay, yes I love Carole King and yes, the amazing Monkees recorded this song and yes, I remember the ’60s…) It’s a song about the suburbs where people live in ‘rows of houses that are all the same.’ And it’s true. I’m not criticizing the ‘burbs, I understand the social and economic factors driving them, but the mystery is how developers build look alike houses squeezed into postage stamp lots and then market them as prestige living.
Anyone who has spent time in the Greater Toronto Area knows that there are huge suburban tracts of thousands upon thousands of acres upon acres of row upon row of houses upon houses. Excavation recently began for two thousand new houses in the fields a kilometre south of our home. Two thousand. And a high school. And a strip mall, no doubt. And this is just one location.
New communities spring up with names containing ‘meadows’, ‘oaks’, ‘shores’ or ‘hills’ in them even though there are no meadows, oaks, shores or hills anywhere in sight. Golf courses, one of the last bastions of suburban nature, are now popular places to surround with tall, new housing. As costs go up, prices (and profits?) also go up, and so does the average square footage because, well … people need huge houses, right? One of the developments near us even offers houses that are somehow themed by a celebrity chef.
As I suggested last time, quiet mobs also exist – group influences that are closer and more personal than the larger, out-of-control mobs. The goal of thousands of people is to have a big house in the suburbs – nothing wrong with that but do they need it and can they afford it? Are our choices and opinions in fact wise ones or are we just convinced by the crowd?
Do we need to eat out four times a week or are we just joining the restaurant mob? Do we need to be part of the two-new-car mob or would one used car do? There are mobs of people who think that working longer hours or stepping on others on the way up is a measurement of success.
There’s the mob that believes everything the media says and the mob that believes conspiracy theories, forgetting that either (or both) can be biased. Liberal mobs and conservative mobs, socialist mobs and capitalist mobs even though all political sides say whatever is strategic for themselves.
Religious mobs can irrationally believe that their bubble of belief or doctrine is more correct than the rest of the religious world. And while I’m at it, church mobs can blindly go to church week after week, busying themselves with programs and songs and shallow teaching, slurping on the same tired spiritual food.
Our instinct isn’t to be strong, wise, truthful but to lazily follow the popular wisdom of the crowd. Even people who say they go against the grain usually do so out of a need to be recognized, admired or rebellious.
My point? I hope that you would realize that the ‘crowd’ is often, if not frequently, wrong, and that you will question popular opinion because the crowd can be just another form of a mob intent on it’s own agenda.
My prayer is that you would be independent, thoughtful, informed. That you would be discerning in every facet of your life: your gifts and purchases, your beliefs, who you follow, who you lead, your relationships, your soul. That your heart and mind would be filled with knowledge, truth and the kind of fresh air that guides you into full humanness.
We can learn to resist the crowd and live in the fresh air of truth through:
- Observation – What precedes and follows a person or movement? Ever notice that some people/crowds are always in conflict and leave broken relationships behind when they leave? Does the person or crowd cause stress, pollution, hurt, exhaustion, poverty, separation, etc.? On the other hand, who brings healing, peace, forgiveness, quality, etc.?
- Never trust leaders with power; human beings are broken and we must always be vigilant. Trust and power are why we have politicians, coaches, clergy, police and others guilty of abuse.
- Education – What are your sources of information and truth? Educate yourself fearlessly with information from various sources and perspectives. Walk a mile in other’s shoes and consider their perspective before you judge or form an opinion. (Mark Noll wrote The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind a few years ago to highlight how fundamentalism has now betrayed evangelical’s stellar intellectual roots. That said, there is a renewal of good thinking and resources for anyone.)
- Examination – Fill your mind and soul with goodness: good conversation, good work, good books, good music, good food, good recreation, good people. And with God.
- I am not someone who throws around the Bible or prayer as simplistic solutions, but I know a person very well who was going through a time of emotional lowness and extreme stress who began to read the Bible every day. A few months later she realized that her mind had cleared and she was feeling strong and positive again. There is something ‘other’ about immersing yourself in the raw emotions and deep hope of scripture and prayer.
- Orientation – Know yourself. Who are you, really? What are your inner motivations? Are you justifying yourself? Are you seeking to be seen, to impress, to ‘fit in’, or is your heart oriented toward honesty, truth, healthy outcomes? What are your heart and conscience and quiet moments saying?
‘You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.’ – Jesus, in Matthew 7