This morning's New York Times feature an interesting article on a new group of upper middle class Americans referred to as "relos". Relos are "members of a growing segment of the upper middle class that hopscotches from one satellite suburb to another every few years." "Today's relos are the successors of itinerant white-collar pioneers of the 1960's, like the computer salesmen for whom I.B.M. meant I've Been Moved. They are employees of multinational industry: pharmaceutical salespeople, electronic engineers, information technology managers, accountants, data analysts, plant managers, regional vice presidents, biotechnologists, bankers, manufacturers' representatives and franchise chain managers." "Relos" are by and large rootless. But from the sense of the Times article, most wouldn't be offended by that characterization. They have very little sense of place or community, living only for a hyper-individualized and highly consumerized version of the so-called American Dream. "What is the American dream?" said Karen Handel, chairwoman of the Fulton County Commission in Alpharetta. "It's to have a house of your own, the biggest house you can afford, on the biggest lot you can afford, with a great school for your kids, a nice park to spend Saturday afternoon with your kids in, and deep in amenities that get into the trade-offs with traffic." Things like homes and other material goods are not means to pursuing the good life, they are constitutive of the good life itself.
The article is not earth-shattering. It seems to describe a phenomenon that many Americans are aware of and/or participate in. What is a bit more troubling is that the family used as the quintessential example of the "relo" seems to be an evangelical one. They are members of my own denomination to boot. Given the way this family is quoted, it doesn't seem like anything they heard in their Presbyterian church caused them to pause and question their "relo" lifestyle or its presuppositions. Rather than finding themselves in an earthly city that isn't their own, they seem to want to own all they can in order to create a little earthly city all their own.
I was at a wedding this weekend that was refreshingly "anti-relo". Oh there were likely relos among the friends and family of both the bride and the groom. But for every relo (or at least every two or three) there were Christian pilgrims in attendence who know that this city and their lives are not their own. The wedding began with a welcome and call to worship issued by my wife Fairlight. She began her greeting this way: "Welcome to the rehearsal." She explained that many expected to attend a wedding today, this was really only a rehearsal for the ultimate wedding and the ultimate feast, the marriage supper of the lamb. The welcome and call to worship framed the service. The Eucharist was central, moreso than in many Sunday services I've been to, and it was more eschatologically oriented than usual as well. The party afterwards was grand. There was good food, good drink, and good times which were had by most, if not all the guests. I think what strikes me as wonderful about the whole affair was that at most major junctures it pointed away from itself. Most everything was done in a spirit of gratitude, with a profound sense of the penultimate nature of even the most treasured experiences.
I spoke with the groom a couple of days after the wedding and he said that his family as well as the bride's commented over and over again on the quality of their friends in attendance. Mostly GenX'ers, these folks were by and large only a bit more rooted in terms of geographical "place" than their "relo" counterparts. But we did have a sense of "place". Our place was there with one another, supporting and celebrating with our friends as they attempt to make a more faithful witness to Christ together than they believe they could apart. Our place was at a moveable feast, albeit a peultimate one, a feast which pointed to the Feast which will end all feasts.
What I encountered at the wedding and in the Times article about relos was longing. Perhaps in a culture of "relos" one of the most profound ways we can bear witness to Christ and his Kingdom is by what we long for and how we long for it, letting our longings shape and direct our lives.