For the Good of the City
Our city of dreams
Los Angeles is built on dreams and ambition. Even back in 1890, Andres Arroyo said, “Los Angeles is not a culture. It is a commodity.” Long before the entertainment industry arrived, L.A. was selling a dream of a better life. It is probably why the entertainment industry took root so well. People come to the City of Angels to get discovered, make their mark, and make money. They buy the house, the car, and create the fantasy to match their dreams. This is the dream people come with, but it is not the dream of a spiritually mature woman or man.
A spiritual vision
God is calling his people to enlarge their hearts and enlarge their vision for their life. If you are blessed enough to have great success, it is wonderful you can afford a home and a nice car. Yet, the real blessing is when you look beyond yourself and see the city the way God sees it. God calls his people to be a blessing to the city where they live. To use the terms of St. Augustine, God wants us to have His vision for the city. He wants us to help the city become more and more like the city of God instead of the city of man. The prophet Jeremiah gives us insight into how God wants us to do this, even if it is a city hostile to our faith.
Working for the good of the city
The prophet Jeremiah is more than the father of all performing and shock artists. He was used by God to show us a better way. He illuminated a God-inspired response to the sin within our cities. While living in Babylon far from Jerusalem and the culture of God’s people, Jeremiah reminded us of our calling to be a symbol of God’s hope and redemption wherever we live. It is built on the idea in the Pentateuch that God’s people are his ambassadors and his royal priests (Exodus 19:5-6). We are called to model the life God called us to live. We are also to share with others the hope and joy found in a relationship with the God of Israel.
The key verses for this discussion are Jeremiah 29:4-7
“4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 5 Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (NIV)
God is still sovereign, even over your city
God is in the creative process of redeeming all things. This includes Los Angeles, New York, London, or any other city in the world. He calls us to put down roots, connect with our community, and invest in our city. This is maybe the most counter cultural thing you could do in L.A. L.A. is practically the anti-community, which is why it is so hard to connect with others. Like many major cities today, there is a very transient population. This makes it hard to find stability and community.
We cannot just adopt the culture around us and become cynical or passive. We need to maintain hope and invest in community. The text tells us to, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” We dare not pretend our earthly home is so unimportant we just dream of heaven and give up on this world we live in. We are called to invest in the people and the culture where God has placed us.
Seek the shalom of the city
We are called to seek the Shalom of the city. Shalom is a rich word which refers to a more holistic well-being. Shalom can bring beauty and peace to a community economically, physically, and spiritually. Like St. Augustine’s goal of pursuing the city of God within the City of Man (which we unpack more in our Institute). We are called to invest in our city so it becomes more like the city God wants it to be. It is essentially an outworking of the Lord’s Prayer- “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.
Praying for the good of the city
Prayer is the final step. Jeremiah tells us, “Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” I have heard too many Christians frustrated with Hollywood or New York just giving up on these cities. Here we realize that God calls us to the exact opposite. We are called to pray for the good of the city, and to pursue its health. As an artist, this means our art should not despise the city, nor portray the city as evil. Our lives and our art should offer hope to our cities. This can include a variety of applications, including public works of art, and parks designed to be a blessing to everyone in the city.
Pursuing the good of the city doesn’t mean merely financial health of the city. We have plenty of very wealthy people in L.A. who do not “care for the city” in which they live. The picture is about how these successful people choose to invest back into their community. The idea in this passage is that the wealthy individuals get involved in helping the less fortunate and caring for the orphans and widows. This image reflects a healthy culture led by godly, wise business women and business men who run healthy companies who treat their employees well and who invest in the city.
An honest assessment: artists being abused
Sadly, Los Angeles has a long history of corporations using up talented people and then discarding them as if they are mere cogs in a factory. It has happened in the aerospace industry, the scientific community, as well as the entertainment industries. Some entertainment companies are infamous for how poorly they treat their own people when it is crunch time for the release of a movie or a video game. This may meet the short-term goals for production, but they do so at the cost of the long-term health of their employees and the city around them.
We need counter cultural people to find creative ways to pursue shalom in their industry. If we are pursuing the good of the city, our employees and contractors will be treated fairly and enabled to care for their families. A Christian with a heart for honoring Jeremiah 29, will begin to bless others through their art, their work, and their personal resources. They will see the goal of pursuing the good of the city as part of the very fabric of the good news of the gospel.
An honest caveat: Christians are not always better at this
Christians are not always better at this. Sadly, in the name of “ministry” Christians ask people to volunteer or get paid less for their work. It is no better than mainstream productions treating a production assistant poorly because there is always another student willing to do anything for almost no pay. We forget that everyone needs to be treated with dignity, as well as put food on the table and pay their rent. Whether it is a church project, an art installation, or a feature film, we should strive to pay everyone what is fair, and not be overbearing in what we require. Granted, if it’s just you and your dorm room friends in college. . .then have fun at it, and everyone pitch in. But when you start raising real money for real projects then pay everyone real money.
A new dream: creatives pursuing the good of the city
Imagine if we insisted on treating everyone with dignity? If we paid them decently? And for those who were talented and worked hard – we helped them get a leg up in the industry?
Consider the impact of a CEO who refuses to put his or her people through unnecessary crunch seasons. They could lead a change in the industry. They don’t have to make a case from the Bible. The CEO could express how it is too destructive for marriages, families and other healthy relationships. Such a leader alters the way business is done so it facilitates human flourishing as much as possible. So make the case to stock holders or executives that creativity thrives where people are valued, and where families and relationships are not placed under added stress. The good news is some companies are already doing it. My friend Chris Skaggs, the COO for Soma Games leads his company from this kind of healthier model. May God bless Soma, and may more leaders follow their model.
Human dignity is essential to the good of the city
From the Israelites leaving ancient Egypt to the people of God today, we all believe that God made us in His image. Therefore, we treat each with other dignity. We promote that dignity in our work ethic and our artistic creations. Naturally, artists should push the boundaries creatively. Also, we can’t be the ones glamorizing cheating on your spouse, hating others or promoting the ideas of rape, racism, or sexism.
Imagine if godly men and women in leadership were fierce in protecting each other and our young from being abused in the church or in Hollywood. We need mature leaders who have solid convictions, and strategic minds to apply those convictions firmly and consistently.
All men, women, and children must be protected, honored, and made to feel valued in our presence, in our companies and productions. It can be hard to keep that focus when people become their own brand and they are willing to do projects and promotions for money that denigrate their own dignity. Yet, they must be treated like people made in the image of God. This means we may have more respect for their human dignity than even they do.
There can be an obsession with getting to the next level, but Christians should care more for each other’s sanity and soul than their status. Over time others should see we have an eternal perspective that brings a gracious, stable, sanity to our business and friendships, as well as our marketing and promotions. In the end, it will be the gift they are most thankful for.
The good of the city is our calling
Your passion may be art, film, dance, or music. Your talent may be astounding. The real challenge over the course of your life is not how famous you became or how much success you achieved. According to Jeremiah 29, the question will be, “how did you use your gifts for the good of your industry, and the city to which God called you?”
Copyright © 2019 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.