The cities of men follow the pattern of Cain
Del and Stephanie Belcher are perhaps the most enthusiastic residents of any town in the history of the universe. I wrote this letter to acknowledge their godly ability to balance ambition with praise.
You can’t be famous on a farm. If you want to be famous, you need to live in a city. The bigger the city, the greater the opportunity to make a name for yourself. You’ll have some neat opportunities in Cleveland, but if you want to change the world you’ll need to have a presence in a city like Manhattan, Tokyo, or London.
The greatest city in the ancient world was Ur, the birthplace of Abraham. Its 220 acres were filled with canals and harbors, gardens, markets, industry, and artistry. Ur demonstrated the potential in bringing together prosperity and power, peace and security. It was everywhere associated with “order, creation, civilization, life, and beauty.”
Perhaps the most famous feature of this enduring civic wonder was the ziggurat—a stepped temple rising above the alluvial plain, resembling something designed with Lego. This tower-temple was called “the mountain of God” and symbolized the relationship between society and her deities, between heaven and earth, and between the people and the priesthood.
But Abraham left Ur because he longed for a city “designed and built by God.”
What was wrong with Ur?
In one sense, absolutely nothing. Ur sounds like the kind of city where most of us would desire to live. It had a stable infrastructure, fantastic amenities, and a vibrant spirit. Ur was a place where you could leave your mark on the world, where you could be exposed to new ideas and have your competencies stretched and your presuppositions challenged, where you could become a better version of yourself.
But Ur had one critical flaw, a flaw common to cities both ancient and modern. Ur confused domination for dominion and conquest for cultivation. Like the city of Cain, Ur was trying to employ God’s gameplan without God. Ur was a place promising imagination, vocation, and connection while denying its Creator, his Mission, and his Presence.
Every person in every city is trying to make a name, either for themselves or for God. There’s nothing wrong with being famous—just as there’s nothing wrong with being wealthy, influential, intelligent, or powerful—but there’s an appropriate means of employing fame, as either an idol or an icon, a mirror or a reflector.
Every city is a temple. In all our modern cities there are clues as to the “god” in the center of town. Maybe that god is the financial deity of Wall Street or the libidinous deity of the Vegas Strip; the siren of Nashville or the eco-preneur of Vancouver. Sometimes you can’t even pinpoint precisely who that god is, but you know the city is spiritually organized around something, some force, some power, some dominating echo of an invisible reality. It’s the thing you identify when you name that place.
Like our ancestors in Eden, our peers guard and keep the city-temples in which they live and move and have their being. They are priests in a parody of peace that rejects God.
I’m telling you this because I know you feel the lure of the city. Cities are cool. They’re desirable. There’s something about living downtown, walking back and forth in the public square, being caught up in the energy of the crowds and the excitement of the urban thrum. And it’s right that you want this energy. In fact, the desire you have for the density and diversity of downtown has been placed there by God. He gave us a garden, but he also gave us a yearning to turn that garden into something else.
The city is the lure in the heart of man, the dream of our cooperation with God.
But we must never forget that dream came from God, is God’s, and can only satisfy when we tailor our noble efforts to godly purposes. We must be the fulfillment of Habakkuk’s prayer: Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known.
We must be the ones to glorify God and make him known. Everyone else is too busy glorifying themselves.
 The Bible differentiates between cities and “great” cities. “Great” doesn’t refer to the quality of the city, only the size. Jackson, Michigan is a city, but Los Angeles is a great city; not because Jackson isn’t a fantastic place to live, but because Los Angeles is 133 times larger.
Conn and Ortiz, Urban Ministry, 86.
 Ibid., 84.