God vs Defensive Architecture (Leviticus 23:22)

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Urban spaces are more complex than we give them credit for. I guess we’ve all had the experience of wondering why a public bench is so uncomfortable, or why we’re stumbling over humps in the pavement. The answer, quite often, is that someone’s trying to manipulate our behaviour.

“Defensive Architecture” or “Aggressive Design” or whatever you want to call it went viral over the weekend. Photos of nasty looking spikes embedded in a doorway to deter rough sleeps hit Twitter, raising questions of how compassionate the design of our public spaces should be.

In one sense it sounds ridiculous to say that spaces can have a moral quality like compassion. But we build our cities, our civil structures, our open structures. They are designed and created and funded by us, and so spikes in a pavement can sometimes say as much about a society as our greatest cathedral. Sidewalk or sanctuary, there can be something intimately spiritual about public design.

There’s a command, way back in Leviticus, that talks about landowners not harvesting the edges of their fields – the produce there was to be left for the destitute and refugees. Now that’s predominantly an economic command, but there’s something symbolic about it – it reflects God’s heart for the poor and the marginalised, it forces an interaction between haves and have nots (the outcome of the Book of Ruth ties in to this passage) and it forces us to consider how we ‘re using the spaces around us.

This consideration is vital because, as Matthew 25 implies, it’s the things we do for God when we’re not actually thinking about God that can be the real test of our character. How we create spaces for ourselves is evidence of how we feel about other people.

So yeah, homeless spikes send a message. But so does a lack of funding for hostels, or demonising food banks, and a thousand other things beyond rough sleeping – public toilets, wheelchair access, transport networks, benches, all of these have a moral dimension. They all take our spiritual temperature.

There’s an opportunity here for Christians though. Think about all the land owned by our churches: do we need a revolution in ecclesiastical design? Are there ways in which we can transform our public spaces, develop missional architecture, reflect God’s heart for the world around through surrounding our sanctuaries with community gardens or libraries or art galleries or debt counselling, not to replace the heart of our faith, but to recognise that it expands into every corner of human experience. God cares about what we do with the edges of our fields; he cares about our church car parks too.

How do we respond to that?

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4 thoughts on “God vs Defensive Architecture (Leviticus 23:22)

  1. In the area where the missional community I an part of is active we have social housing that is built on an old slag heap, and social housing that was built in a spot specifically because you cannot see it from the main road – it’s ‘hidden’ because it is in a dip in the geography and you can only access it via one small side road.

    Spaces absolutely can have morality (or not) and compassion (or not): and the spaces that are occupied not only send a message to people who occupy it, but to people around those spaces – so the people who live on the slag heap, and in the hidden parts of the community, are framed in that context and the narrative of their lives and how they live, is premised on *where* they live. Assumptions are made – we see it *all* the time.

    Thank you for this – I’m going to share it on our communities facebook page too! šŸ™‚

  2. Pingback: Homeless Jesus Revisited | The Left Hand of Ehud: Matt's Bible Blog

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