“I am from a mid-sized city in the heart of the Bible Belt, home to a culture shaped by college football, suburbia, and our finest export, cultural Christianity.” With these words Rodney Calfee opens Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission, the crew at Upstream Collective’s foundational treatise on how to regain the Great Commission where we live. The reason these words jumped out to me is that they are a fairly accurate summary of where my family and I have lived for the last seven years: Ankeny, Iowa. Definitely not a city anyone outside the state of Iowa would know, Ankeny is a city of 45,600 that has been in a population boom, growing over 140% since 1990. It is a commuter suburb to Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, a metro area with over 650,000 citizens. So although not in the defined Bible Belt, the societal priorities of sports and suburbia spoke to me immediately. But even though I have lived here for seven years, I still felt quite ignorant about what makes my city tick. With a median age of 32 years old, a 96% graduation rate, a community college of 29,000 and a median income 45% higher than the state average, I already knew it was a well-educated, upper-middle class and young community. But that was just skin-deep. It was only until I started applying some of the mapping methods laid out in Tradecraft, that my eyes started to be opened. When first encountering terms laid forth in the book like paths and nodes, districts and edges, I was actually a bit intimidated. It sounded like something more suited for a cartographer or city planner. What what a portfolio manager with a finance background do with this knowledge? But I persevered through, headed out into the city with my camera and my two boys…and started to see my city in a new light. Through the Tradecraft method of mapping I learned:
I am oblivious – I am too task-oriented and self-focused. I need to open my eyes and really see. Look around a bit and actually see the people. See the need. See the opportunity. Until I started mapping, I never knew that from a city planning purpose, the entire city was split into four section based on two main nodes (roads). Nor did I realize that due to the recent growth of the city and the establishment of two additional main nodes, that the city has basically been split into nine sections. It is no wonder that the conflict and tension among different segments of the community has increased significantly. And it’s also no wonder that due to this growth, the opportunity to get lost (economically and spiritually) in the midst of the growth has also increased greatly.
I need to get out more – It’s the curse of the commuter town – everyone is out with the sole purpose of going somewhere else: to work, back home, to the store, to school. So it’s not like I’m physically not away from home, but mentally I’m not. I need to get out of my self-focused mindset and focus on getting INTO the community. Change where I shop for certain things so it’s more local. Take that extra 120 seconds to engage my barista, cashier or waiter. Chose community theatre over the super-plex. Little things…but important things. And just like when you save money, its starts to add up.
Time to get to work – Mapping was just the first step. Utilizing the methodology from Tradecraft was a fantastic start but more needs to be done. Even in the mapping itself, it takes time to properly understand the social and spiritual layer of a city. That is why throughout the remaining chapters of Tradecraft, the focus becomes more personal, more difficult and absolutely necessary. From exegeting culture and building relationships to engaging tribes and thinking through alternative paths, the hard work cannot be done in an afternoon with a camera. It requires a lifestyle change and it requires commitment. Be we can do this. We must do this. I must do this. It is what we were asked to do by our Savior.
So let’s go…