Joel Kotkin – The Future of Suburbs at #Qconf

You may be “suburbed” out from hearing of its problems and to its hope but this is a conversation that isn’t going anywhere.

Here are my notes: 

Joel Kotkin – The Future of Suburbs

Began by giving a history of how the suburbs came into our American lives.

There was the Victorian Industrial City.

The British alternative, Garden City. 

Town and country must be married,” Howard preached, “and out of this joyous union will spring a new hope, a new life, a new civilization.”  – Ebenezer Howard

In the West, the single family home became the predominated desire.  It was the social universal aspiration – everyone gets their own home and yard.

Today, 50% of immigrants come first to the suburb.

– We now have multi-generational, multi-cultural neighborhoods in our suburbs.

– Employment as moved into the suburbs.

The archipelago of the  towards “smart crawl”. It won’t end sprawl but will “smart” will make it more efficient. 

May appear as a village system.  (there was a cool artistic rendition shown of beautiful country field with a future looking “village” with a couple roads leading into it.)

The belief that work will return to the homes similar to pre-industrial models.

The goal will be to restore the “Sense of Place”           

“City is a state of mind, body of customs and traditions.

You can read a more indepth article Rule, Suburbia off his blog that was published in the Washington Post

Q Conference – Why Austin? – Post 2

Each year Q is held at a different city that has cultural significance to our country.  The first year being Gabe and the Q team’s hometown, Atlanta, and last year was New York City.  According to the Q site “(Austin) is against that backdrop – a city seeking to maintain and re-express the heart of its identity – that Q 2009 comes to Austin.” You can read more and also listen to Gabe Lyons talk about it here.

For the first session, Gabe interviewed David Taylor who among many things serves as a pastor in Austin and Lisa Hickey who works for (and from the sound of it pretty much runs) Austin City Limits.  Each spoke of the hip uniqueness of Austin including their live music scene, its affordability, its vintage shops and its friendliness. It’s small enough where you can go grocery shopping downtown with your car but big enough that there’s a fair amount of public transportation.  For me having lived outside of Philly and now NYC, it was hard for me to appreciate the alleged abundance of public transportation (I think I saw a bus or was it a van …) but that was just my perception.  What I did appreciate was the Austinians  had gone to great lengths to insure that their downtown was not overrun byt franchise restaurants like Chill’s and Applebee’s (I pray for the day when Time Square gets rid of that Olive Garden).  Indeed, there were quite a bit of cool eateries, among them was a restaurant owned by Sandra Bullock whose food was far better than Miss Congeniality.  Anyway, they want you to know there’s more to Austin than SXSW and Stubb’s.  That was helpful for me because that’s all I think of when I think of the town.

If you want to understand Austin then you need to appreciate a couple of their unofficial mottos – “Just like God loves the whole world, we love Whole Foods” and “Help Keep Austin Weird”.  It’s a cool town with a lot of personality despite it’s size, and I still can’t believe that I parked all day for $7.  Having Q here the year after NYC added credibility to the idea of distinctive cultural centers and I hope to make it back. Next year is Chicago and I know they got a culture of mediocre pizza, mediocre baseball and now an above average NFL quarterback to complement its mediocre wide-receiving core.  Looking forward to be shown otherwise. Who wants to go with me?

The Q Conference, Austin, TX – What is Q? – Post 1

A couple weeks ago, I attended the Q Conference in Austin, TX.  A lot was said and among my goals is to put out these posts before next year’s conference (yeah, I’m pretty ambitious).  Anyway, because it’s not very publicized, many do not know what the Q Conference is or who the Fermi Project are.  Well after my second year attending it, I’m not real sure I do either.  But whatever it is, it’s good – real good.  Here’s what I know.

The Fermi Project was started by Gabe and Rebecca Lyons a few years ago.  Prior to that,  Gabe was on the Catalyst Team and as the story goes (the one not told by Gabe), he was given a great deal of credit for the success of Catalyst.  After a few years there, Gabe felt compelled to work in a different direction, one smaller and more conducive to conversation and eventually the Fermi Project was born. 

So what does Fermi mean?   Yep, that’s a good one. It’s “a metric unit of length equal to one quadrillionth of a meter … (That clarifies it all, right?).  Basically, “In contrast to things that are big, Fermi represents the beginning of a chain reaction”  (and slightly fuller explanation here.) But the name certainly matches their origin story.

The Fermi Project puts on the  ‘Q’ Conference (‘Q’ is for ‘Question’).  The tagline is for Q is Culture, Future, Church, Gospel.  The speakers focus on one of these and are from one of the 7 channels of influence which are: media, business, education, government, church arts/entertainment, and the social sector.  Similar to T.E.D.S., each regular session presenter is given exactly 18 minutes for their message (there’s literally a countdown clock next to them) and also there is the keynote presenter who receives 36 minutes.   This was the first year they did the 36 min. and I think it worked out  pretty well.  It’s hard to stay attentive for 30 speakers, so the time limit is a great idea that keeps everyone focused.  In addition, there are talkbacks, panel discussions, music (Over the Rhine, Zach WIliams), group discussion, free fair trade coffee (Land of a Thousand Hills from Rwanda), and after-parties at local pubs and billiard places.

Most of my friends know that I enjoy attending conferences and I find them to be extremely beneficial for so many reasons.  Hoping some of you can join me next year.  Til then, I’ll try to communicate the goodness of Q.

Our Seminary Retreat with Andy Crouch

This weekend, our Biblical Seminary retreat will have a fantastic guest speaker, Andy Crouch. Because I know people who know stuff, I’ve been familiar with Andy’s work for a little while.  He also writes for a small independent spiritual journal called Christianity Today.  (It’s ok, if you haven’t heard of it).

Andy is the author of the highly acclaimed book Culture Making.  If you are familiar with Andy’s work (like at the Q Conference, his articles, or seen his small group curriculum Where Faith & Culture Meet), you know some of the premise of the book.  If you’re new to Andy and engaged in the culture conversation (and bothered by some of Christian music/movies/art/general outlook of culture) you’ve probably even said very similar things while drinking non-corporate, free-trade coffee with your intelligent friend who loves literature and gardening.  However, the book is the other 200 pages of well-written thought that your refill probably didn’t cover.  

Anyway, I find myself in a good place in life right now.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’ve been so proud of places like my denomination for bringing Dave Kinnaman (from UnChristian) and organizations like Youth Specialites for bringing in speakers like Phyllis Tickle, Tony Jones, Tom Sine, and Scot McKnight for the National Youth Workers Convention.  I’ve really had amazing opportunitues to hear some incredible speakers/thinkers.  So if I have to be away from my beautiful wife and son, then I am thrilled that Biblical Seminary has invited Andy am looking forward to hanging out with my cohort friends.

Francis Collins – Q Conference – Session 3

Session 3 with Francis Collins was a little more controversial.  Again, we sat in round tables of 10 so whispers were easy to hear.  Not to insult your intelligence, but in case you don’t know, Dr. Collins is the chairman of the Genome Project, author of The Language of God, a devout believer, debates Richard Dawkins on NPR regularly, but does not hold to conservative Christian views of origins.  Frankly, he wasn’t very specific of his position.  One of his points was to leave the audience unsettled with theirs. 

He discussed how science and faith are not enemies stating, “Regardless of what we have heard from the atheistic horsemen, we do not have to choose between the two.” 

I was proud of that because I’ve been teaching my students that for years.  In fact, back when I was in 4th grade and heard of the Big Bang Theory and how that threatened the teaching of Creation, I immediately asked the teacher, “Why couldn’t God create the big bang …” The budding theistic evolutionist trajectory was quickly squashed when I entered youth group.  Today, I am certain that God is sovereign and that not even Francis Collins can figure it out.

Back to Collins, he showed 2 pictures – one of spiritual (stained glass window) and the other – DNA view along its axis which resembled each other.  Cool although the skeptic in me couldn’t help but think this was a little gimmicky for a world class intellectual.  Fortunately the next slide was not Jesus in the nucleus but his point was to segue how the spiritual world and the material one intersect.  It got everyone’s attention.

Collins was not raised in a religious home, his parents did not criticize religion but did not promote it.  He was an agnostic throughout college and then in med school, he was touched by the faith of those in hospital beds.  A woman asked him what did he believe and he did not have an answer, he researched it, found CS Lewis and continued his journey. 

The most unsettling moment (and this would come up in various conversations I had with people) was when he showed a slide of the human chromosome and the chimpanzee’s.  I am paraphrasing but he said the key difference was with the one part in the middle that has  a something mysterious in it while the chimp has two parts but not this particular thing (sorry I didn’t get what it was he said) inside it.  It’s here where they split.  He said something to the effect of it is possible that they had been the same until a certain point in time when God pre-ordained/pre-programmed/pre-something or other to split and create a new species.  Again, this was the unsettling moment.  He mentioned in passing literal meanings of Genesis 1, quoted Augustine, and Chesterton, and asserted his faith in the Almighty God.

Again, each Q speaker only had 18 minutes and his “big point” was, “science and Religion are not incompatible … God cannot be threatened.”  Some attendees were as upset as if he had just slapped their wives and ran out the door.  As for me, maybe their view deserved it.  So the possible lessons are don’t marry your theology or don’t marry an ugly wife, or be smarter then Francis Collins or maybe keep your theology open-handed and maybe your wife won’t get slapped by Dr. Collins.

Leroy Barber at Q Session 5

Leroy Barber (pastor, Atlanta) from Beloved Community was the Session 5 presenter. 

These are the notes I took:


6 aspects that King shared from Jesus regarding Community:


1. All people can share in the wealth of the earth

2. Poverty hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated.

3. Racism discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced with a spirit of brotherhood.

4. Violence will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution

5. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. 

6. Conflict is part of human experience and will be reconciled and resolved peacefully.


I appreciated the last point the most.  As I am past the point of frustration with all those that say, “If we would just obey God, all will work out …” type of stuff, I find myself saying similar things like, “The struggle is inevitable, you will experience pain whether you are obedient or disobedient to the Lord, evil surrounds you, this is part of the human condition …”.  When Jesus promises us suffering … for the obedient.  He promises suffering for the disobedient, how do these prosperity gospel preachers drive their Bentley’s in good conscience?   Certainly people need to be encouraged, I value that.  But I think saying these types of things sell out the gospel in order to fill the offering plate.  Guys like Leroy are to be appreciated and I hope the Lord’s presence fills Beloved Community in Atlanta.

Chuck Colson – Session 4 at Q

I appreciate a lot of what Chuck Colson says, can’t stand some of it, what can you do?   He’s been very critical of the emergent conversation and quite frankly, I don’t think he really understands what is actually being said.  But it was good to see him at Q. 


This picture has received a lot of praise and it summarizes his session.  To paraphrase what he said emphatically,  “We (as a Church) are ignorant (of the Gospel message) for if we took it to heart, we’d all be changing the world.” 


To read more Chuck, feel free to stop by Breakpoint or read any of his 67 books.  He told us at Q, he wanted to write more books then Jesus.  (Not true but neither is what he says about the emergent conversation).


Reflecting on Q Conference – Session 2 – Post 3

Environmentalist, Bill McKibben – “More vs. Better”

He wrote the book The End of Nature which is considered an important contribution in this discussion and now considered ahead of its time. He has a new book Deep Economy is out now – took time and lived off the fruit of local farm.

His first argument was from science:

– “How can we have grown large enough as a species to affect the planet?”

– “Science went to work on that issue.”

– We dramatically underestimated the pace of our growth

– The earth is more finely balanced then we thought …

– There were 275 parts/million of CO2 in atmosphere before the Industrial Revolution.

– We now have 385 parts/million of CO2 in atmosphere after the IR.  And we need to get it down to 350 parts/million of CO2 immediately. He said James Hansen, “greatest climatologist in the world”, endorsed this.

In his second point entitled, “Argument from Hebrew Bible”, he said:

 “4% of world population (us) produces 25% of CO2 …

– “We are not the good samaritan, we’re not even the levite.  We’re the suv driver that backs up to run over the pediastrian.”

            – “We are not loving our neighbors, we are drowning our neighbors” – (what a line).

He endorsed the Evangelical Climate Document and urged everyone to check out which is an effort to build first global grassroots, open sourced plan to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.  It’s a great site, they talk about the Q Conference and there’s a ton of stats and other necessary info. Also, 350 calls for a rise of artists, all types of speakers, and peaceful protests.

When I say he “pleaded”, I don’t want to make him out to sound whiney.  He wasn’t at all.  I would tell you he was more angry.  I was happy to see Q have him.

This is something I need to work on.  I have been and have been making some progress but I survey my lifestyle and am convicted.  I’ll probably blog more about this later but I wanted to post something today and wanted to get these names and sites out.