How you can begin to seek the shalom of your suburb

October 3, 2018

Shalom is the word we reach for to talk about justice, mercy, and the God-honoring relationship between people, places, and things. It’s the interconnectedness that we long for; it’s the satiation of desire and longing; it’s the proper relationship between earth, humankind, and our work. Our word shalom points to the acceptance, unity, peace, flourishing, and rightness of the created order that God originally intended and to which we are moving.

What would it look like for the suburbs to flourish, to experience shalom? Suburbs are built on the premise of safety, comfort, and insulation. But safety is more than that—it’s security that is deeper.

Experiencing shalom, suburbs would evidence strong marriages and stalwart communities. Children would be safe and free, and yet live for more than the latest gadget or what they could acquire. Imagine children growing up in safety, but not a safety borne from walling out others who aren’t like us. Imagine people working hard, not for their beach vacation but for the good of the community. Imagine a tight knit community where we valued our particularities and differences, we knew each other’s names, and we saw needs and sought to meet them. Imagine homes flung open in hospitality, not traded in for bigger and better.

Imagine a community where it was safe to be broken, where kindness was the first word, where privilege and affluence bred generosity, justice, and humility not simply for that community’s sake but for the communities around it. Wouldn’t that be a revolution in the suburbs?

Then imagine how the church is called to hold out the hope of the gospel and live it out in your suburb. Here’s one small way our church is beginning to dream about meeting the deep need for safety in our community: we’re brainstorming how to mobilize the gifts and knowledge of our people to offer free community classes on parenting in which we engage the culture of affluence, the influence of technology, and how parents can stay connected to their children in a culture of busyness.

We hope that we’ll be able to start discussions about how safety and success shouldn’t be turned inward: instead, families would use safety and socioeconomic and racial privilege to move outward—to bring others in, create friendships, and use their power and authority not to puff themselves up but to actually help create a culture of flourishing for all people.

Paper birds and pain

Opening up space for lament is one way we can work toward shalom in the suburbs. This is the lesson I learned from my son, Porter, one spring morning. He called me out to our suburban patio, and with a joyful gesture he pointed out how he’d spied our mama bird up on the house next to ours. She had made a nest in a little pot on our patio; even strewn with weeds it had held her eggs for three seasons. I wondered why she wasn’t watching over her eggs. I turned to look at our pots we’d just cleaned up yesterday in a Saturday morning spent weeding. Her pot was missing. My stomach dropped. I got fidgety. Where was the pot? Where were her babies?

I went to the source, and when I could bear to peek, I peered into the trash can. There the nest was nestled in the bottom of the green bin. There were no more eggs. I stomped like a two-year-old, I slammed doors, I ugly cried. I hugged my husband and then pushed him away. I couldn’t contain the sadness. I wanted to run forever. Then came the guttural sounds inches from my bedroom floor, echoes of the ones that had reverberated over a toilet I sat on a dozen years ago: “No! No! No! No! Not another baby lost!”

Meanwhile, my son Porter rushed to the couch, scissors in hand. I ran and collapsed on my bedroom floor, no words for the pain. A few minutes later, my son presented me with his gifts. He took to paper and scissors when he saw ache, loss, and how broken the world is. He cut out and drew a mama bird and then a baby bird coming out of an egg—paper gifts handed to me with his outturned lip. He proceeded to create a bird family and unbroken paper eggs, and a baby bird that looked like a phoenix rising from the ashes. He dove right into my pain, anger, and confusion, and created art.

That is shalom. He saw pain and dove into its cracks, pointing me to something better, something that communicated deep sadness with a hint of redemption at its edges. Shalom in the suburbs dives into pain and makes paper birds.

Knowing our neighbors’ pain

Pain may look different in suburbia than homelessness, hunger, and insufficient resources, although those are there too. It looks like crippling debt behind closed doors. It looks like hidden poverty. It looks like microaggressions when you don’t fit a dominant racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic mainstream. It looks like windows closed so wives and husbands can vent their rage. It looks like disconnection and emotional vacancy. It can even be an anesthetized version of safety, peace, and security when underneath we are not really living life. It looks like an outward presentation of manicured lawns while our souls grow lazy with our consumption, pride, and greed.

We have to know our neighbors and our own hearts well enough to ask hard questions and draw people out of hiding. We must practice vulnerably sharing our failures first and the goodness of Yahweh-Shalom to redeem our failures—to call us men and women of valor, even when we’re hiding out.

Be purposeful in your place

Be purposeful in your place: whether you move to a needier spot in your suburb or commit to staying put, or even keep an old car. As agents of shalom, we dig our hands in: we build houses and plant gardens. We commit to lives of vulnerability and hospitality—not to “bigger is better”—because Jesus did that. We say yes for the long haul to a particular people and place. When we attach ourselves to a place, writes Kathleen Norris, we “surrender to it, and suffer with it.” That means that, yes, we suffer with the suburb’s idols and idiosyncrasies.

But we also hold out hope for a life of abundance that isn’t defined by working harder. It means we can exhibit the shalom of God in our contentment and help others get off the moving walkway of hustling for their worthiness. We do this in countless small ways. We invite people into our homes. We engage difference with compassion and questions, not condescension. We ask for eyes to see all the ways our affluence blinds us.

Then we take one small step. I easily get overwhelmed with the state of racial, social, and economic injustice, and I feel powerless to change anything. The call to be radical and world-changing can stifle any small ways we work out shalom in our neighborhoods. But, it must be said, these acts of kindness may be how shalom in the suburbs starts. Acts of kindness are not the sum and substance of shalom, but they may be one baby step we take to begin to see others. We must start small and start somewhere if we’re not going to be overwhelmed and do nothing.


As you create habits of smaller “acts of kindness”—as you sit down to family dinner more often than not, as you open up your home to neighbors and neighborhood children, as you donate your time and money, as you dream with others about what your suburb would look like redeemed—your vision extends. We begin to see those on the margins. We see the homeless man who we’ve been driving by. We see the person of color who steps into our white church and we make an effort to offer welcome. We ask, Who’s excluded because of their race, or who has no access because of their class, gender, or ability? Who isn’t seen because they don’t look right, sound right, or have the right education or house? Then, as we embody and practice the welcome of Christ, we don’t just react to those on the margins, but we learn to move toward the marginalized, the broken, and the invisible.

The call to the suburban Christian is to wake up. And if God isn’t calling you elsewhere, we stay put. We start small. We don’t settle for the absence of conflict as an indication of peace. We instead seek the flourishing of our place and all the people—prominent and invisible—who are our neighbors.

Adapted from Finding Holy in the Suburbs by Ashley Hales. Copyright (c) 2018 by Ashley Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Ashley Hales

Ashley Hales is a writer, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother to four. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and she lives in the southern California suburbs helping her husband plant a church, Resurrection Orange County. Her writing has been featured in Books & Culture, Think Christian, (in)courage, The Well, … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24