City People Really are Wired Differently

Photo by Jerry W. Lewis via Flickr (Creative Commons)

In 2002, Kristen and I considered a position at a lovely church in rural Nebraska. The nearest large city was Lincoln some two hours away. The town was quaint and cute as a postcard. But as we dug into the realities of moving somewhere with one coffee shop, a small grocery store, a gas station, and three farm implement dealers we realized that we really couldn’t see ourselves living 45 minutes from the nearest town with a  supermarket. (Or hospital, mall, or even Applebee’s.)

We loved the idea of a ministering in a simple, farm town. And we adored the church and their vision for the community. (Nearly half the town attended their church each Sunday morning!) But, ultimately we are wired as city folks. We were used to riding the cramped train to work. And, in Chicago, we were never more than a few blocks from the nearest Starbucks. Even in our 5 years of living in Detroit’s northern suburbs we found ourselves constantly annoyed by the monoculture of suburbia. The quiet and wide open space and all of that stuff kind of raises my stress level a bit. When it’s that quiet and wide open I find myself humming the Dueling Banjos from Deliverance.

I feel alive and free in an urban setting while visiting or living in a more rural place raises my anxiety level. (Folks from Romeo will remember that we chose to live in the village and not out in the more rural areas of town.)

I always thought this was just my personal preference. But, it turns out that city people and rural people really are different neurologically. A recent article in Time Magazine shared some insights from recent research on the differences between rural and cities people’s brains.

In an international study, researchers at University of Heidelberg and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute at McGill University report in the journal Nature that people who live or were raised in cities show distinct differences in activity in certain brain regions than those who aren’t city dwellers.

Those who currently live in the city, for example, showed higher activation the amygdala, the brain region that regulates emotions such as anxiety and fear. The amygdala is most often called into action under situations of stress or threat, and the data suggest that city dwellers’ brains have a more sensitive, hair-trigger response to such situations, at least when compared with those living in the suburbs or more rural areas. Read more

All of this is kind of locked in during the first 15 years of life. Your developing brain is either used to the stimulation of the city or in suburban/rural settings and that becomes comfortable with one or the other.

As the article goes on to point out– there are positives and negatives to either. City people tend to be more anxious over their lifetime than rural people. And people raised in the country are less likely to ever fully feel at ease living in the city.

Why does this matter?

Understanding yourself is often half the battle to managing life stress. As the article concludes, “So what does this mean for avid city livers like me? I’m not giving up my urban lifestyle, but I may have to balance the high-energy hum of city activity with more downtime. “In general when it comes to stress, it’s important to keep a balance,” says Pruessner. “These results suggest the need to keep things in balance so after a period of working hard, you balance that with a period of off-time as well.”

Read the full article here.

Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

What Good Works?


I’m a rubber meets the road kind of guy. I want to know the big picture early on in a discussion. And I want to know what I’m being asked to do.

Perhaps that is why I’ve always wrestled with Ephesians 2:8-10.

For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith– and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

In this passage Paul addresses the question, “Why are we saved?” More importantly, he points us to the biggest struggle of the church today: Do we exist, as believers, for the church’s good works or for the good works of the city we live in?

I think church leaders morph the meaning of this verse and lift it out of context for their own purposes.

Church leaders interpretation: You were created in Christ Jesus to do good works, and we’re going to point you to good works right here in the church building. We have many programs of the church that could use your good works… especially in the nursery. Did you know we have a growing nursery and a shrinking pool of volunteers willing to hold babies so their parents can worship Sunday morning?

Let’s be honest. That’s a very seperatist view of the the world. Much of what we do as church leaders is kingdom building for our local church. We address our most current need as if it were the communities most current need. In America, our view of a  good church is one that is full of people, has a great pastor, and has a huge building. But what good are those things to the people of the community? Do they see the church as a place of good news for them? In most cases they don’t. American churches serve themselves more than they serve the community! Most churches in our country have little to no impact on the community they live in. They reach 2-3% of the populuation and all of their programs essentially benefit themselves or that 2-3% of the population who come to their building to worship.

To the community– a lot of churches are bad news.

Paul’s explanation in Ephesians 2:12-13: (The part pastors don’t read when asking you to volunteer for something) “Remember that at that time [before you were saved] you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ”

Paul is reminding his people… you were once locked out of the being a part of God’s family because you weren’t born into it. But Jesus tore down that wall of separation. There is no “good works for Jesus” and “good works for the world” in God’s eyes. A good work is a good work. Verse 14 makes this even more explicit, “For he himself if our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.

So… why are we saved? What is our purpose in the city we live in? To do good works both within the church and outside. There is no separation and one is not better than the other. They are both good works! The purpose of the church isn’t to create a holy huddle… it’s to create a sending place of good works and renewal into the places we live.

Perhaps this is why the program-driven church is so repulsive to people exploring a walk with Jesus today. They read the New Testament for themselves and cannot reconcile what is described as a movement of God’s people to change the world with the church they are presented with… one that exists to feed its programs.