It’s hard to believe, but I’ve lived in Atlanta for a year now. It’s crazy how much I’ve learned, how many people I’ve met, how many places I’ve been, how much I’ve changed. But it’s just as crazy how much I have yet to learn, how many people I’ve yet to meet, how many more places I can go, and how much more I can change. All in all, it’s been a good year. But it still feels like it’s just the beginning.
What are some things I’ve learned in the year I’ve lived in the ATL?
Diversity is beautiful and essential. In all honesty, I’ve never spent this much time around so many people of so many different backgrounds. I’ve even learned about becoming the minority and participating in the density and diversity of the city. It’s awesome because I’ve gotten to experience new and different perspectives, cultures, artistic expressions, social atmospheres, and so much more. It’s challenging because I’ve had to compromise my own cultural norms and comforts at times, and because it’s shaped my worldview in a way that makes me aware of problems that I didn’t realize existed before. I see things differently because of the diversity of the people in my life. I think that’s one of the essential functions of diversity, and I know I want to continue to seek it out, wherever I go.
Life needs a balance of stability and adventure. I’ve always loved adventure, but living ITP (inside the Perimeter) has practically forced a new kind of adventuring on me. Every day I step out into the city could easily become an adventure– good, bad, or both– in no time at all. You never know the people you’ll meet, the interesting places or events you’ll come across, the things you’ll find yourself doing. There is so much to discover around every corner.
But I’ve also established rhythms and language and friends and hangouts and driving routes. Adventure is great, but so is stability– it preserves your mental health and it’s the best way to really get to know people and the city itself. Becoming a resident here is probably more important than being a permanent tourist. I think making memories by learning to live well in a place is better than always hunting for the next photo op.
Of course, even in the city, it’s difficult not to get into a rut of never varying from the normal. Thankfully, I have enough of a sense of adventure to drive me to try new things, but I still struggle sometimes to branch out, to switch things up, to stretch myself.
There is still hope for the local church to be a powerful presence in the world. The church I work for and attend in Atlanta is often viewed as a model for gospel-centered communities in an urban environment. They might be overestimating our greatness– Blueprint isn’t perfect by any means, but I’ve seen firsthand the way God has used the people of Blueprint to influence individuals and impact our city.
Many think the American church is going the way of the American buffalo, but I think the truth is that we need to change our tactics and get back to the roots of Scripture, especially the gospel. No matter where a church is located, its people should have a heart for the city (along with their own neighborhood, of course), because that’s where most of the people in the world now live. Instead of focusing on issues, programs, and presentation (all important in their own ways), churches should focus on people. Most often, intentional community is what God uses to grow us. Without it, we’d just be a nation of nominal Christians who sit beside one another on Sundays and don’t interact on any meaningful level the rest of the week. Oh, wait…
But seriously, my time here has taught me the importance of people and community. Blueprint’s mantra is, “The gospel changes people and people change the world.” Here’s the kicker: We are those people. We change the world by bringing people the gospel. And so on and so forth. But we don’t just bring people the gospel– we live with them in the gospel. That’s the hope for the Church. And I pray with all my heart that’s the direction we’re headed.
There is value in being ready for anything. I remember one of the first days I was in Atlanta, during my Generation Send internship. Our city coach texted us and told us to be at a certain place by a certain time. From when he told us about this, it was literally impossible to make it on time. As a planner, I was stressed and frustrated and furious. My team definitely noticed. Though we laugh about it now, I still see that as the point where I began to learn flexibility in a way I’d never had to before.
The culture of Atlanta and my community here is one where you never know when change might blindside you. I might not always like it, but I have learned (I think) not to be so stressed when I can’t plan everything out in advance. Because while it’s good to plan (and I’ve learned that sometimes my planning nature is needed to help bring structure to situations), life isn’t usually like that. The city isn’t like that. Community definitely isn’t like that. Atlanta has taught me to roll with the punches. And for that, along with so much else, I’m grateful.