Occasionally people wince a bit when I tell them that I live in Church Hill. Perhaps it’s since many homes are still abandoned, despite the recent revitalization efforts. Maybe it’s because the East End of Richmond used to be one of the murder capitals of the US. Sometimes I can feel their anxiety rise after I tell them that we don’t plan on moving out of Richmond, and that we want to stay here and raise our children here.
It may seem strange, but I love the beauty of the city. Of course, the concrete sidewalks and skyscrapers cannot compete with the beauty of green rolling hills or mountain views. The heat from the pavement in the summer can’t compare to ocean breezes. The unruly alleys are not as pretty as well-manicured lawns. And it’s true that there’s a lot of garbage, a lot of litter, and a lot of dysfunction too. But the city is still beautiful. I think that’s because the city possesses a different kind of beauty: it’s people.
My neighbors are wonderfully diverse. There are Pacific islanders, African-Americans, Caucasians, Korean-African-Americans (you read that right), Russian-Americans, twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, families, singles, grey hairs, grown-ups, children, Southerners, Yankees, college students, white-collar workers, and blue collar workers—and that is just on my street alone.
I love it that way. People have their own stories, backgrounds and goals. I always loved imagining people’s stories as a kid. I remember walking by people in the mall or at the park and wondering what they were thinking, what they worried about, who their parents were, and where they liked to vacation. I was really interested in their story, their skills, their talents, and their dreams. Perhaps that made me a bit of a snoop or a creepy people-watcher, but I’ve always wanted to know what makes people tick.
I think my curiosity points to one reality: people are beautiful and interesting. After all, humans are the crown of God’s creation. We are the only bearers of his image. In a way, then, cities are some of the most beautiful places because they have more of God’s image bearers per square mile than anywhere else! All these image bearers have been uniquely crafted to glorify God in different ways. He created them all, and he loves and cares for each of them. That’s the biggest reason I love to live in the city close to all the beautiful people that God has created.
Doug and I are not naïve. People are also sinful and in need of grace. So, the city’s higher concentration of people brings a higher concentration of brokenness. But that just means even more opportunity to take part in God’s restoring work—picking up trash, participating in revitalization efforts, helping our neighbors, sharing the gospel with them. And in all of this, we get to experience a different kind of beauty, the beauty of loving and serving many people that we might not have otherwise known.