On a nasty night, Christmas Eve 1965, members of my family walked into my father’s hospital room. We had just returned from my grandparents’ home, where we had celebrated a Swedish smorgasbord, caroled and opened presents. The sideboard boasted turkey, meatballs, limpa bread, inlagd sill, lutfisk, spritz cookies and svensk plum pudding.
In 1992 I had a clinical depression. It was a long time in coming, but in hindsight it was inevitable. I was hunkered down in my study trying to write a sermon on the atonement. Behind the stormy sky in my mind, I saw not a smiling Providence offering a gesture of boundless love in sharing his son Jesus, but a scowling ogre, an angry, petulant father. Whether this torment was a function of the descending depression or a contribution to it, I cannot say, but I called my wife and said, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m coming unglued.”
In the spring of 1976, I took my New Hampshire youth group to Philadelphia for the bicentennial celebrations. Not wanting to break the bank on hotels, we slept in a church hall in a suburb north of the city. There, for the first time in my life, I encountered row after row, block after block, street after street of identical beige cinderblock houses.
Philip Bess likes cities, especially Chicago. He likes cities that work--cities that do not just promote commercial and cultural activity and move traffic, garbage and pedestrians efficiently, but that create a space for human flourishing. Cities are not utilitarian entities governed by impersonal market forces. They are moral entities, Bess argues.