Can We Know the World and Still Love It?

Peter Armstrong | OnFaith Voices By on

Four years ago this week, my wife, Lily, and I arrived in New York City. I couldn’t believe we found a parking spot right in front of our building.

That whole first year was a honeymoon — at least for me. It was like the first year of life. Everything about this place was absolutely fascinating. People and places and rats, oh my! We were renovating our apartment and our souls. I look back on that year in wonder at both our naiveté and the generosity of friends and relatives who rescued us.

The renovation of our apartment was a surprise. We wanted to remove the drop ceiling, but once that came down it was like we pulled a thread on a sweater. The whole apartment disintegrated before our eyes. We had been in the city for 10 days and could no longer live in our apartment. A family friend whose children were newly in college took pity on us. My wife and I, along with our feisty cat, Zookie, lived in her spare room until her son came home from college.

But after that first year, we were able to start welcoming people into our new apartment. We broke bread with friends and strangers with great regularity. A church planter who had been here a few years told me the greatest gift you can give New Yorkers is your time. Desperate, I decided to start doing that. We had people over for dinner a couple times a week, and then 20 people started showing up at our apartment every Sunday night to eat, share our lives, pray, and study the Bible. We decided to call ourselves Dwell Church.

As pastor Tim Keller says, paraphrasing Woody Allen, “New York City is like every other place, only more so.”

The last three years have been a whirlwind. Walking with people through cancer, divorce, death, mourning, depression, unemployment — everything NYC or any other place can throw at you. As pastor Tim Keller says, paraphrasing Woody Allen, “New York City is like every other place, only more so.”

Perhaps more joy as well. Creating a home and a life and a family. Starting this beautiful and diverse church that has brought people from loneliness into community, from despair to faith. Recently, I looked out on a theatre full of people from all walks of life worshiping the risen Jesus. A couple of years ago, this theatre was literally and metaphorically dark every Sunday. Now there is life and light.

My first child, a son, was born a month ago. There are now two rules for every person who visits our apartment. They cannot arrive without food and they cannot leave without posing for a picture with our baby.

As I looked at the photo album we’ve created, I got a glimpse of the community that has surrounded us. Black, white, Hispanic, Latino, gay, straight, Christian, atheist, whatever. They have loved us well. We have experienced God’s love through them. We will raise our son to love God and his church, but also to love the world in all its brokenness and pain.

I’ve been reading Steven Garber’s new book, Visions of Vocation, very slowly all summer. It needs to be digested one chapter at a time. He holds out this question: “Is it possible to know the world and still love the world?” It is possible to really know a place? To really know a people? And, still, to love them deeply? I want to try.

OnFaith Voices is a series of perspectives about faith.