Get Dirty

WARNING: this is an incomplete thought. But that’s never stopped me before.

I may have found a common ground between Christian agrarians and Christian urbanists like myself. It’s dirt.

A true Christian agrarian isn’t just about living in the country. He’s about getting his hands dirty in the soil, actually being connected to the land. I submit that you can’t really be an agrarian without getting dirty.

A true Christian urbanist isn’t just about living in the city. He’s about getting his hands dirty in other people’s lives, actually being connected to those around him. I submit that you can’t really be an urbanist without getting dirty.

I like this symmetry, especially because it harmonizes these two major approaches to life.

Now, Leithart has pointed out that the essence of modernity is the avoidance of dirt. But I think that, as Christians, we do not have this option. We were made from the dirt, and we will return to the dirt. As such, we are called to be involved in dirt, whether that be the actual dirt of the ground or the dirt of other people’s lives. Removing ourselves from the dirt is to remove ourselves from our created place.

So, how are you getting dirty for Jesus? If you can’t think of the answer, maybe it’s because you’re not.


8 responses to “Get Dirty

  • Barb

    So where does that leave Christian suburbanites? Perhaps not as dirty? Or maybe not coverd with dirt, but with grass stains from our picture-perfect lawns? Note: my thoughts are incomplete, as well. And as one who grew up in an inner-city Pittsburgh ghetto I understand your point. But I think those in the middle are being overlooked here. There’s enough dirtiness to go around.

  • Chad

    Stand clear for a hasty generalisation –

    With regard to the suburbs, it seems to me that the epistemological foundation for the creation of “suburbia” was to flee the “dirt”. It promised the best of city and country life without any of the supposed drawbacks. Families could supposedly enjoy the fresh air of the country without the pests, the hard work, and the redneck neighbors. And they could enjoy the convenience of the city without the smog, crime, and crumbling infrastructure. It was a fantasy world of sterility, in concept. A congregation of utopians with no real connections except a common range of economic purchasing power – they could qualify for roughly the same size mortgage. Its hard for a suburbanite to get dirty in the way that Seth is using it here because there is nothing local in suburbia, its very existence is predicated on being separated from the rest of real life in a self-contained housing area where all the products of the dirt must be shipped in or visited via minivan. Thus life in suburbia becomes a series of vehicular excursion to get involved in someone else’s dirt, a placebo for actually getting dirty.

  • Jeremy Beach


    Though I believe that your depiction of the foundation of suburbia is spot on, I disagree with your assessment of suburbia as somehow being a clean and sterile environment. Much of my life has been spent in suburban areas, but I’ve still encountered numerous incidents of suicide, drug activity, rape, murder, domestic violence, and theft. Suburbanites might hide it well, but they’re just as dirty as those who live in the city. For Christians, I don’t think the problem lies with where we live. Rather it’s our contentment in keeping to ourselves instead of washing the dirt from the feet of sinners. Christians could be in every corner of the Earth, and it wouldn’t matter a lick if none of us are willing to serve Jesus by taking dominion over the dirt wherever we encounter it. I’ve lived in the city, in the suburbs, and the country…and I’ve fallen short of serving Jesus well in all three settings.

    Lord Jesus, please forgive me for failing you. Please save me for you are the only one who can, and please redeem me so that I might serve you better tomorrow than I have today. Lord, I implore you for the grace to change myself and the grace to change the world as you see fit to do. Amen.

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    Hey, Barb. Sorry that I missed you while we were in Erie. Were you ill on Sunday?

    True story: when I was writing this post, I thought, “What about the suburbs? How do they fit into all of this?” In the end, I decided to leave that out. Honestly, I’ve not done a lot of thinking on how to live as a Christian in the suburbs, except to consider how very hard it is. In the city, people aren’t usually “nice”. I view this as an advantage, actually. It’s harder to break through to “nice” people, since they don’t see that they have any problems.

    At the same time, I’ll quote Jeremy here: “Much of my life has been spent in suburban areas, but I’ve still encountered numerous incidents of suicide, drug activity, rape, murder, domestic violence, and theft. Suburbanites might hide it well, but they’re just as dirty as those who live in the city.” I ran across this theme in my reading for Dirty Secrets. Most of Ross MacDonald’s later novels are set out in the suburbs, away from the squalor of the cities, dealing with the sins and crimes of the upper middle-class. In MacDonald’s novels, the sins of the fathers are visited on the children, even to the third generation. I recommend them.

    So yeah, there’s dirt enough to go around. At the same time, the suburban Christian needs to overcome the lack of community that Chad points out. In both city and country, there are certain assumed points of connection. For example, for better or worse, the gang is a manifestation of community bonds, locally organized. So is the neighborhood watch (which can just be another type of gang). There is an understanding that we share a common space and have to survive in it together. This understanding is generally lacking in the ‘burbs, and, honestly, I do not know how to begin to overcome it.

    The only thought that I have right now is this: be the change you want to see. I know that you gather with several other households for dinner on a regular basis. Let this be the beginning of this change. Work to find other ways of extending your life past the borders of your home into others’ lives, and let them do the same for you. Make this a part of your life, and make the necessary sacrifices to go with it.

    Yes, the last paragraph was mostly platitudes, and I’m aware that, in the end, we’re simply talking about a long, hard pull with little obvious success at the beginning. But do not despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10); our God uses our faithfulness with little, and from it brings forth much.

    If you have more thoughts or questions, Barb, feel free to post. I’m more than happy to share my ignorance with you. 🙂

  • A Dark And Quiet Room » Hey Barb! Got a comment for ya!

    […] took last week off from blogging, so I didn’t reply to your comment until now. Thought you’d like to […]

  • Jeremy Beach


    Don’t forget that suburbanites have gangs such as the PTA, Elks Clubs, and (as you’ll recall from Lawrence Park) the Dairy Mart Crypts. Soccer Moms can be pretty brutal as well. Of course, I’m joking about all this. ; -)

  • Seth Ben-Ezra


    Truer words were not spoken. Especially about the Dairy Mart Crypts. 😉

  • Adiel

    I just wanted to add my two cents in here. An aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked is the environment that one experiences in the workplace. Seth, you get to work at a Christian organization with people who share your beliefs. You get to be relatively “safe” during the day while I know that Barb deals with various form of persecution at her job on an almost daily basis. So she’s getting plenty dirty where she is five (sometimes six) days out of the week. Your mission field is your neighborhood while hers is her workplace.
    I’m not saying that you have it easy because of your job or that Barb should be let off the hook in some way, but since the workplace always affects the home (and therefore the church, neighborhood, community, etc.) it can’t be overlooked in this debate of where a Christian should live.

    This all made sense in my head, but if it’s not coming out right feel free to ignore me like you usually do, big brother. 😉

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