Mission: Silicon Valley

July 31, 2008

Andrew Hamilton, or “Hamo“, has begun to blog a series focusing on suburbia — though in fact he has been blogging for years about the challenges of mission in the suburbs. In What Is Suburbia? he initially puts forth a geographical understanding of suburbia — that is, the region between the outer limits of the city and the beginnings of rural areas. But then he goes on,

I say ‘geographically’ because I’m not sure if that is the only way to frame an understanding of suburban life. I have a sense that suburbia might be equally described by the values and patterns of life that give form to it. Things like stability, security, conformity and consumerism are some of the more common aspects.

This got me thinking about the peculiarities of mission here in San Jose: How do the geography, the patterns of life, and the values of Silicon Valley interact? What are the channels for the gospel, and what are the barriers which must be overcome or actively opposed?

Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is, as the name says, a valley. Nestled between two sets of mountains on the south and the east, bordered along the north by the San Francisco Bay, this highly populated center of technological creativity is surprisingly unimpressive. In this photo, you can see the mountains, with the valley filled by suburban housing. It feels like one giant suburb. In fact, when locals talk about “the City,” they are referring to San Francisco!

The Santa Clara Valley is actually comprised of a dozen cities and towns all mashed together, with no discernible boundaries (other than posted signs). To get from one place to another, you generally take a highway. You take a highway to work, you take a highway to go see a movie, you take a highway to visit your friends. So friends, coworkers, church members, even home fellowship members, have little to no locality. There is little sense of belonging to a shared space.

This has profound implications for evangelism, particularly in our postmodern age where the path to discipleship is not information transfer but shared life. Because fellow disciples do not share friends, coworkers or neighbors, evangelism remains trapped in 1-to-1 relationships. My normal, undiscipled friends have little to no opportunity to interact with Newbigin’s “hermeneutic of the gospel,” that is, a community of faith. With no way to safely observe and participate in a group of people seeking to live into the Way of Jesus, how can they be expected to ever encounter the Person of Jesus?

I have many more thoughts to pursue from here. But as I read what I just wrote, I realize there is an even deeper problem: I am not part of such a group in the first place. But I sure wish I were.

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

2 responses to Mission: Silicon Valley

  1. That sounds like a tough context Jon. Then again everywhere is tough I reckon!

  2. Hi Jon,
    I hear you.
    The Willamette Valley in Oregon is not characterized by highways used to traverse short distances within a wall-to-wall carpet of concrete and steel people call towns. Here, there is actually space between towns, and in many places, neighbors know one another.
    But it is still suburbia in some philosophical ways, so some of our thoughts and dreams are along the same lines as yours.
    I can’t see myself moving back to The Bay Area, but there’s plenty of room up here (and even a smattering of high tech).
    As The Orchard is still in our fledgling state (it’s just me and Cathy right now!), our prayer is that like-minded people will come along…but only a few. We want the rest to be made up of folks who’ve never followed The Master, so we can learn alongside them together in community.
    Your previous post referenced was very much like a personal ad. In that light, how do you feel about long-distance relationships? =O)
    Our eMail exchange of thoughts on the worship list way-back-when was beneficially challenging so maybe today’s majordomo is blogs and eMails and a phone call or two from time to time, and such.
    In the mean time, we’re encouraged by your activities (the JW post humbled us) and as we’ve planted ourselves here and pray for God to grow around us a community of The Way, we also pray for others, like you, hoping and dreaming for the same thing.
    For us, it involved a call from Him to use our initiative to start something, rather than find something. A quote a friend gave me was instrumental in this:
    Traveller, there is no path.
    Paths are made by walking.
    ~ Anthony Machado
    May you find (or create) your path as you follow Him on The Way.
    Peace, my friend
    (and stay out of trouble with Kay out of town!)
    ~ Keith